Sunday, April 14, 2019 1:00 am
Behind-the-scenes look at reviewing eateries
RYAN DUVALL | The Journal Gazette
I get questions all the time about how I do my job, what the “rules” are when I go in to review a restaurant and how I don't weigh 800 pounds given how much I like to eat.
So I decided it was time to lay it all out for you, the diners and restaurant owners who are curious about the process.
On my own
All of the meals that I eat are paid for by The Journal Gazette.
I make at least two visits to each restaurant in order to give a place that is having a bad night a chance to redeem itself and vice versa.
The newspaper covers two appetizers, two main courses and two desserts for each meal.
That is it.
If I want to order an extra dessert, which I have been known to do, I have to pay for it.
I choose the restaurants I review. Nobody at the newspaper instructs me where to go.
We do not write stories based on advertisers. If you see an advertisement for a place I reviewed, it is a happy coincidence.
Nobody scouts out places for me to visit. I do receive recommendations from readers and others about places that I should consider reviewing.
But if someone comes into your establishment claiming to be my representative hoping for a discount, do not believe them.
I also don't have an agent. I keep close tabs on the restaurant scene here and am active on social media to find out about new places and trends.
I give new places, especially independently owned ones, some time to settle in and get acclimated to all they are doing before I visit.
And when it comes to doing another review of a place I have reviewed before, there are many things I take into consideration.
If ownership or its style of cuisine changes, if it gets remodeled or expanded, or if a new chef comes in and revamps the menu, those might cause me to take another look. If nothing significant changes, it will likely be several years before you see it reviewed again.
I make my food selections based on novelty, popularity and reputation – special offerings that go viral, for example.
I also do my best to diversify what I order. I try to focus on at least one healthy dish, though that is not always an option at some places, and do my best to try several vegan and vegetarian dishes.
I will try gluten-free offerings when offered also.
I will not, however, order one of these specialty items unless it is truly worth it.
For example, substituting gluten-free pasta at an Italian restaurant is not something I would go out of my way to try just for the sake of trying it. But if that restaurant had a special gluten-free section with unique dishes that are not just gluten-free versions of regular menu offerings, you can bet I will try them.
Though the newspaper pays for those meals and I get to choose them, I do not eat two appetizers, two main courses and two desserts on my own. I bring people with me on reviews and sample the food they order.
That is how I am able to avoid weighing 800 pounds.
You might think it is fun to join me on a review, but that isn't always the case. I do my best to allow my guests to choose their meals, but I do not accept bad choices.
My dear wife pays the price for this often. When she is dieting and tries to order the plain grilled chicken breast with steamed vegetables when helping me review a place, she is always met with a veto.
“Honey, why don't you get that fettuccine Alfredo with Italian sausage instead? And how about fried cheesesticks instead of the garden salad as an appetizer?”
She doesn't protest much when I let her choose dessert, however.
With the growing popularity of breweries in and around the Summit City, many of which I have reviewed, I have been asked why I didn't go into much detail about the beers those places offer.
Though beer is an important part of a brewery visit and cocktails are a big part of many people's restaurant experiences, I am not a beer, wine or liquor expert.
I do not neglect alcoholic drinks and will highlight special ones that truly add to the dining experience.
But The Journal Gazette does not reimburse me for alcohol.
I also will not review niche restaurants, signature events or uniquely staffed places.
You might know of a cool pop-up place, but reviewing a pop-up or a limited-time restaurant that lasts only a night or a few months will do my readers no good because they are already over by the time my review is published.
Ryan DuVall is a restaurant critic for The Journal Gazette. The Journal Gazette pays for all meals. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org; call at 461-8130. DuVall's past reviews can be found at www.journalgazette.net. You can follow him on Twitter @DiningOutDuVall.