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Malawry

The Ethics of Reviewing

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Tom, could you talk a little about your ethics and food writing? You've made it clear that you insist on anonymity. How did you make that decision, and have you ever written a review that wasn't anonymous? To what degree do you allow restaurateurs and chefs to influence what you write? Have you ever accepted free meals? Why or why not? How did you arrive at these conclusions?

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I try to be anonymous -- I make reservations under other names and use fake credit cards or pay in cash -- but that's not always possible in a market as small as ours. Getting recognized means I have to work harder to guage service, etc.

To avoid being influenced by chefs, I write my review before calling the restaurant to fact-check the piece. That prevents me from changing anything when the chef tells me "You know, I think you were in the night my wife left me" or "the dish washer never showed up for work" or whatever.

I decline free food or drink. That's what expense accounts are for. If a chef wants me to try a new dish, and he's offering a sample to others in the room, I don't have a problem with that, though. Most often, I remind the host that "I need that to be put on my bill." Most operators understand.

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Um, "fake credit cards"?

Doesn't asking to have a complimentary course be put on your bill raise flags that you are a critic? Who else would ask to pay for something they didn't order?

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Um, "fake credit cards"?

Doesn't asking to have a complimentary course be put on your bill raise flags that you are a critic? Who else would ask to pay for something they didn't order?

Rachel, I think it would only be a confirmation, not a flag. Would the average customer usually be offered complimentiary food in the first place, I mean unless they were a well-known regular, a public figure, or a celebrity? Or, as Tom says, unless it's being offered to the whole room.

(I guess one exception to this would be free drinks, which I could see being offered simply because you are coming off as a "big spender".)

As for the "fake credit card", that's pretty easy if its under the name of a shell corporation of some type, a spouse, etc. Right?


Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

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Let me clarify something. While I try to visit anonymously, that doesn't always happen. And in THOSE cases, I insist that any extra fillips are put on my bill and I stay at the table my party was assigned. (More than a few times, I've followed my guests by several minutes and had managers want to move us to a better table once they see that I am part of the group. It's a big, loud signal that we are sitting in Siberia or someplace inferior.)

If I know that a restaurant recognizes me, I will use my own credit card or pay in cash. No sense in wasting a good alias, right? (I also change those fake names every few months as restaurants learn them.)

After all`these years in the business, I am not going to be swayed by any extra attention. I hope readers are smart enough to know that, and that I've built up some trust in my tenure.

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