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Live Online

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Tom, your Live Online discussions are one of the best parts of your involvement with the Washington Post and Washingtonpost.com. Your willingness to put yourself on the line every week, and your interest in honestly responding to reader questions, come through in your hourly chats every Wednesday.

What do you think of Live Online? How has your involvement with Live Online changed the way you review restaurants? Do you see Live Online as a shifting medium? (You posted a letter emailed to you directly from a chef to the chat recently, and used it as a jumping off point for discussion. This is a little different from your usual Q&A format, and I wondered if it was indicative of your wanting to stretch what your Live Online sessions usually entail.) When taking on your role as lead reviewer for the Post, did you ever consider not continuing the Live Online sessions that your predecessor, Phyllis Richman, had started? Why do you think you are the only major newspaper restaurant reviewer hosting this sort of interactive discussion regularly? And how did your involvement in Sidewalk.com influence what you've done with Live Online?

Thanks for taking the time to join us here at eGullet, and for responding to all our questions. Even if I didn't live in the Washington area I'd be reading your reviews, and your Live Online transcripts, every week that they appeared.

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I have a love/hate relationship with the online chats. I relish the hour-long back and forth with the posters every Wednesday morning, and I hope they are getting some of their restaurant questions addressed in the process.

But, because the forum is live, I come out of the hour wiped out, as if I had just finished final exams in college. The pressure is high, because there’s not the luxury of contemplation that I have with my written work, which increases the risk of making a mistake or saying something I might later wish I hadn’t. So Wednesday is not a productive day for me, as far as my own deadlines go. (I always intended to continue the food chat started by my predeccessor, by the way.)

When I look at the transcripts afterwards, I sometimes regret a response here or a snarky aside there, but … that’s the nature of the beast. I want the chats to be useful and entertaining and open and am glad to host a restaurant program. But it is trickier than you might imagine.

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Could you say a little more about how the chats influence you? Does having this kind of direct interaction with your readers influence how you approach your writing? Do you make a point of going back to places that chatters disagree with you about or say have changed to the better or worse since you last visited?

Chief Scientist / Amateur Cook

MadVal, Seattle, WA

Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code

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Whether in the form of a call, a letter or an email from readers, I do try to keep tabs on various restaurants and revisit them as necessary (as complaints arise, etc.)

I really enjoy the spontanaiety of the Live Online chats. They provide me with an immediate sense of what's on readers' minds. Occasionally, I even get tips I can use.

One problem is, the audience knows ME -- my resume is right there for all to scan -- but I don't know all members of the audience. So I have to be careful. The anonymous poster complaining about Restaurant XYZ might just be a jealous competitor. The person who raves about Restaurant ABC might be the owner of the joint.

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Do you wish more food pros posted and participated openly in your online chats?

Hello Steve,

Good question for Tom. I think many food professionals do either participate or print out the chat after it happens. I make a point of logging on to the chat every Wednesday. Let me offer a little critique of it, if I may.

1) The server at the Washington Post seems to be very slow - waiting 5 minutes between updates during a live one hour chat is absurd.

2) There should be an FAQ section that chatters can read. Every week someone asks about: the best burger, the cheapest romantic place, the best pizza, the best enchilada. This takes up time and is, well, boring after weeks of chats.

3) Tom alluded to this in one of his answers: anonymous people post anonymous stuff about restaurants. If he chooses to include it, it is on the internet for everyone to see.

4) I've sent plenty of responses he hasn't included.

I work at Citronelle. There has been plenty of anonymous bashing of us done during the chat the I have not been able to answer- because of the Post editor, the slow server, or Tom. It is not really a "chat" if a third party is deciding which questions or statements can be made and which answers are allowed to follow. How fair do you think this is? I'm curious.

Mark Slater,

Sommelier, Michel Richard Citronelle


BTW, My first post. Hello Everybody!!


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In response to the query from Steve, it's my sense that a lot of people in the business, from chefs to flaks to managers, do weigh in or at least check out the weekly chat. Some of the trade are there "live," most look at the discussion after it's been archived. I know this because they tell me: each week, I get dozens of calls and emails from restaurateurs after the Wednesday show responding to some aspect of what unfolded. Bottom line: I really appreciate their participation, which often makes for a more informed discussion (restaurateurs can explain their end of the business).

Mark raises some good points. Yes, a lot of the same questions get asked, but I try not to address more than a handful of them, because regulars get tired of that (as do I). A FAQ link is a great idea. I simply haven't had the time to put one together. (Contrary to what people think, I am a solo act with no assistant, and I have three weekly deadlines, plus a fall guide, plus Travel section stuff, plus a book I'm writing. Not that I'm complaining, just explaining.)

I have included Mark's comments a number of times in the past (Mark, do YOU ever post anonymously?) and value his contribution. Keep in mind, I am scrolling through dozens, sometimes hundreds of postings, once the hour gets into full swing and I like to offer a range of topics in that time frame. I'm not intentionally trying to leave someone out, but ... it gets busy! And there's competition for your question. I frequently even post comments from people who disagree with me in an effort to be fair.

As for the slow server, I wasn't aware that that was a problem. I'll pass the news along.

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