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eG in Toronto Life


sadistick
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I was just browsing through this months issue of Toronto Life and saw an interesting article where James Chatto was going 'undercover' with their new food editor Chris, to a few of the city's upper tier restaurants to try and dispell the myth that he [Chatto] gets better food/service due to his 'fame'

Here's the quote...

"It's time for the acid test," says Chris. "Read this." He hands me a printout from eGullet, an internet foodie forum, in which one of the interloutors queries my enthusiasm for Avalon and its owner-chef, Chris McDonald. The quote reads, "Personally I think he (McDonald) buys these reviews and probably Mr. Chatto"

Good to know that T.O. Life is keeping an eye on these forums. Question is, who was the eg'er who made that quote (I'm sure easy enough to find out..?), and which handle does Chris/Chatto go by :wink:

Furthermore, regardless of whether the food/service is the same for him as it is the rest of us "normal folk"...what percentage of the food and wine which he consumes is on the house? Do they actually make him pay for food which he will write about and possibly make or break them?

Interesting article, would love to see more along the same lines...Too bad though that T.O. Life's content is 60% advertisements.

Edited by sadistick (log)
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See, what I don't get is how Chatto can be subjectively treated in a restaurant when his face is so well known... Being incognito can't work well for him.

I think the whole point of the article was to show that at good restaurants everyone gets first rate food and service. Chatto knows that people know who he is, but he observes how others are treated while he is dining and he feels the same as I do . . . that generally in most decent Canadian Restaurants people are all treated well.

I have eaten in a lot of Canadian restaurants and I have always felt that I was treated as well as those around me. I have had great service and horrible service, but i have never felt that I was being singled out in either case, it seemed those around me were treated the same.

I think Chatto's point was simply that the treatment he recieves is always about equal to those dining around him only becauce most Canadian restaurants treat everyone well.

Edited by Stalder (log)
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....I think Chatto's point was simply that the treatment he recieves is always about equal to those dining around him only becauce most Canadian restaurants treat everyone well....

I guess my question is whether those around him are getting better service since he is there? I would expect people to come clean if they have affiliations with any places they review also.

officially left egullet....

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I should note that I haven't read the article yet. I was just making my comment in general. I mean, truly, how can you get a subjective treatment from staff if they think you're possibly reviewing them? Or even if they know you're not - you're still considered to be very influential in their industry. They're going to kowtow to you no matter what.

foodpr0n.com 11/01/17: A map of macarons in Toronto // For free or for a fee - bring your bottle! corkagetoronto.com

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an experiment might be to visit a restaurant twice: once just dining normally, and once taking notes throughout the meal, see if you get different service. Personally, I think the difference would be small compared to the normal day-to-day variation in service. (Obviously nobody's going to mistake you (well, me anyway) for James Chatto, but if they think they're being reviewed by some other publication...?)

that makes me wonder, has anyone noticed a sudden change in service after starting to take pictures of their food?

about comped food...do you think that would really factor in to the decision? Especially since the magazine pays for meals anyway, so in neither case does Chatto pay out of his own pocket. I just figure if you dine out that much, you're going to be less impressed by "hey, it's free" and look to evaluate the food itself.

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I've never really noticed a change in treatment when I take photos of my food - however, that might change if I pulled out a pro-style DSLR instead of my minicam.

Likely not as everyone and their dog takes their camera these days.

officially left egullet....

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I've never really noticed a change in treatment when I take photos of my food - however, that might change if I pulled out a pro-style DSLR instead of my minicam.

Likely not as everyone and their dog takes their camera these days.

Yes, but not everyone or their dogs take DSLR's - Let alone take pictures mostly of their food :wink:

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Yes, but not everyone or their dogs take DSLR's - Let alone take pictures mostly of their food  :wink:

It'd be an interesting experiment. As much as I know many people who shoot food porn, it's still a fairly odd thing to do for everyone else not so deep into foodieland.

I have had someone ask me if I worked for a magazine (which, technically, I do, but not as a writer per se), when they saw me shoot my food, but that was in Noe Valley in San Fran... not yet in Toronto!

foodpr0n.com 11/01/17: A map of macarons in Toronto // For free or for a fee - bring your bottle! corkagetoronto.com

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once, a nearby diner noticed me shooting my food, and started telling his companion about his friend who takes food pics / writes reviews on her website, and is now banned in a lot of restaurants because they're afraid she's going to write about them (uh.......suuuure??).

I think the idea of being mistaken for a journalist after shooting photos is a little strange though. Don't magazines usually set up separate photo shoots under conditions more optimal to both parties?

I get more reaction from restaurant staff when they see me taking notes. Most often I'm asked if I'm a chef (hah). A cook once thought I was reviewing, and asked how she was doing so far.

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If you're a really good food reviewer though, they won't ever know that you were even reviewing them. And to me, that would be the optimal way to get a review down, so you KNOW you're not getting a better or worse treatment than anyone else would have that day.

I think notes because photos don't necessarily remind you how a particular dish tasted...!

Hmn. I haven't actually taken notes before. I get to snapping the menu these days though. I can never remember exactly what I ate by the time I'm done...

foodpr0n.com 11/01/17: A map of macarons in Toronto // For free or for a fee - bring your bottle! corkagetoronto.com

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that makes me wonder, has anyone noticed a sudden change in service after starting to take pictures of their food?

about comped food...do you think that would really factor in to the decision?  Especially since the magazine pays for meals anyway, so in neither case does Chatto pay out of his own pocket.  I just figure if you dine out that much, you're going to be less impressed by "hey, it's free" and look to evaluate the food itself.

You know, I'd say that the photo and note taking might have contributed to some stellar service (extra tasting courses i.e. a 3 courser becoming nearly 18!; 5 wait staff serving me; meeting with the chef) I experienced a couple years ago in Tokyo. But then again, that was the sister branch of a Michelin 2 Star-ed restaurant. Besides French Laundry, I'd say the service I had there has not been surpassed. I remember being asked at the beginning (after I inquired if it were gauche to take pictures (no flash)) if I was a food critic. That was funny. However, I believe that the attention given to me probably came from the fact that I was a female, "young-ish", dining at a high end establishment alone, taking pictures and notes that signaled to the kitchen and staff that I was there for the food. I've no complaints. That was a superb experience.

I'll probably have to wait until after this week's journey to Avenues, Moto and Alinea to see if the picture/note taking and dining with (or through the connection of) those who know the chef really does make a difference in order to be able to comment further on this. Seriously though, as a paying patron, I really hope to have memorable food and service. However, having connections, I would assume, ensures things will be great overall. :wink:

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  • 3 weeks later...

This probably isn't the best way of introducing myself to the forum, but I'm the editor who James Chatto mentions in his piece about dining incognito.

I'm writing because it's disturbing how little some of the posters to this forum appear to know about how restaurants are reviewed. Maybe it isn't as obvious as we expect it is. And without question, there are plenty of "restaurant reviews" published elsewhere that don't take the reviewer's responsibility to readers seriously.

But here's how it works at Toronto Life.

First, when we review restaurants, we always pay the whole tab, plus tax, plus tip. There is absolutely no "I'm reviewing your restaurant tonight so the tab's on you." Any reviewer who did that wouldn't be a TL reviewer for long. The magazine spends thousands of dollars each month on restaurant bills—it's one of the single biggest line items in Toronto Life's editorial budget. That's the cost of what we do and there's no way around it.

Restaurants aren't informed in advance when they'll be reviewed or who's reviewing them. We don't announce, "Oh, we're coming for dinner tonight, so please try extra hard." The goal of a good reviewer is to have as typical an experience at a restaurant as possible. And TL's reviewers know that and strive for it. Reviewers at the magazine most often make reservations under an assumed name, or, better, have their dining companions make the reservations. Ninety percent of the time, a restaurant doesn't know that we've been there to do a review until our fact checker calls.

Let me also dispell some readers' impression (though not one that I've read here recently), that reviews are connected to advertising. They are not connected in any way. Period. I assign the reviews. I edit the reviews. I choose when to run the reviews. Much though I'm sure our advertising department would love it if we'd review all the restaurants that advertise with us, and that we'd review them with kid gloves (and I don't blame them for this—it's their job) we don't. Not even close.

On dining incognito: great idea. And also, frankly, impossible to do consistently—and this is important: for a living—in this city for any period of time. Toronto is a small town. It has a relatively tiny restaurant industry. The same waiters, cooks, managers, wine stewards and hosts move through a handful of jobs at top-end places. When you dine out a lot, these people begin to recognize who you are, even when you're not a critic.

The alternative for a publication like ours, one that reviews a few dozen places each month, is to use reviewers kind of in the same way that narcotics squads use undercover agents: let them work until their cover's blown. After that they get a gold watch and a desk job. For obvious reasons, this just isn't feasable.

Mr. Chatto's article (aside from being smart, beautifully written, hilarious and vastly entertaining) does a great job, I think, of addressing just how, given these realities, a professional restaurant critic in Toronto does the job. I urge you all to read it.

Finally, for anybody who wants to learn about how restaurant reviews are done elsewhere, I recommend the book "Dining Out:Secrets from America's Leading Critics, Chefs, and Restaurateurs," by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page.

Edited by C. Nuttall-Smith (log)
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Thanks for the post and welcome aboard. I do think however you may not be giving e-gulletteers quite enough credit, as the vast majority of us are well aware of all the things you mentioned.

Toronto Life does an AMAZING job with dining and food options in Toronto. Your restaurant guide and your food guide are my two favourite publications each year.

As I said I think most of us are aware that a professional kitchen can't really turn on a dime when they see a reviewer in house, even if they want to.

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First, C. Nuttall-Smith, welcome to eG Forums.

I'm writing because it's disturbing how little some of the posters to this forum appear to know about how restaurants are reviewed. Maybe it isn't as obvious as we expect it is.

I'd offer a few other possibilities. First, your sample is a bit flawed: there are dozens of topics on eG Forums that discuss this very subject in other contexts, filled with pretty compelling debates (for example, click) about the matter from many different members. If you check those out, I'm quite sure that you'll find that our members, on the whole, understand a good deal about how restaurants are reviewed.

To that end, I'd urge you not to base your impressions of Society members on posts like this one, the source of the material apparently quoted in your magazine, particularly given that the member, who has three total posts, divulged a conflict of interest with Mr. McDonald a few posts down the topic. Veteran members of eG Forums know to ignore such "insights"; with a searchable public record, anyone can find out who's got the real skinny on what.

As for what is and isn't obvious in re restaurant reviewing, let's face it: different reviewers approach the matter in different ways. Thanks for laying out yours, in which it appears that Toronto Life works hard to maintain a high level of ethics, and for that you deserve recognition. But we all know that such ethics are not the low bar over which many happily crawl.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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This probably isn't the best way of introducing myself to the forum, but I'm the editor who James Chatto mentions in his piece about dining incognito. 

I'm writing because it's disturbing how little some of the posters to this forum appear to know about how restaurants are reviewed. Maybe it isn't as obvious as we expect it is. And without question, there are plenty of "restaurant reviews" published elsewhere that don't take the reviewer's responsibility to readers seriously.

But here's how it works at Toronto Life.

First, when we review restaurants, we always pay the whole tab, plus tax, plus tip. There is absolutely no "I'm reviewing your restaurant tonight so the tab's on you." Any reviewer who did that wouldn't be a TL reviewer for long. The magazine spends thousands of dollars each month on restaurant bills—it's one of the single biggest line items in Toronto Life's editorial budget. That's the cost of what we do and there's no way around it.

Restaurants aren't informed in advance when they'll be reviewed or who's reviewing them. We don't announce, "Oh, we're coming for dinner tonight, so please try extra hard." The goal of a good reviewer is to have as typical an experience at a restaurant as possible. And TL's reviewers know that and strive for it. Reviewers at the magazine most often make reservations under an assumed name, or, better, have their dining companions make the reservations. Ninety percent of the time, a restaurant doesn't know that we've been there to do a review until our fact checker calls. 

Let me also dispell some readers' impression (though not one that I've read here recently), that reviews are connected to advertising. They are not connected in any way. Period. I assign the reviews. I edit the reviews. I choose when to run the reviews. Much though I'm sure our advertising department would love it if we'd review all the restaurants that advertise with us, and that we'd review them with kid gloves (and I don't blame them for this—it's their job) we don't. Not even close. 

On dining incognito: great idea. And also, frankly, impossible to do consistently—and this is important: for a living—in this city for any period of time. Toronto is a small town. It has a relatively tiny restaurant industry. The same waiters, cooks, managers, wine stewards and hosts move through a handful of jobs at top-end places. When you dine out a lot, these people begin to recognize who you are, even when you're not a critic.

The alternative for a publication like ours, one that reviews a few dozen places each month, is to use reviewers kind of in the same way that narcotics squads use undercover agents: let them work until their cover's blown. After that they get a gold watch and a desk job. For obvious reasons, this just isn't feasable.

Mr. Chatto's article (aside from being smart, beautifully written, hilarious and vastly entertaining) does a great job, I think, of addressing just how, given these realities, a professional restaurant critic in Toronto does the job. I urge you all to read it.

Finally, for anybody who wants to learn about how restaurant reviews are done elsewhere, I recommend the book "Dining Out:Secrets from America's Leading Critics, Chefs, and Restaurateurs," by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page.

Good Luck on your new position and keep up the good work. I've used Toronto Life's reviews as a personal benchmark in past and hope to continue doing so.

Sante'

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I'm writing because it's disturbing how little some of the posters to this forum appear to know about how restaurants are reviewed. Maybe it isn't as obvious as we expect it is.

I think it's often a question of the vocal minority. I think -- and as someone else has said -- the regulars don't bother replying to posters *trying* to be uninformed...or just inflamatory.

I find both Toronto Life and James Chatto perfectly up front with their review technique. I know the yearly guides include the blurb about compensation, no connection to advertising, ambiance noted but not included, etc.. If memory serves, the monthly issues contain this too.

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Wow. Thanks for all the replies, folks. And if I made it sound like I thought all eGullet members don't get how we review, I didn't mean to. I get the sense that in general you're a pretty informed bunch. I'm happy to be a member.

Best,

CN-S

The pleasure is ours to be in your company.

I have to confess that I've been a Toronto Life subscriber for many years and that the first things I usually turn to are the Dining and Restaurants sections. I also enjoy the guides that come out every month, particularly the food + wine and restaurants editions.

I'm glad to see that the expose from last month noted that there wasn't too much of a difference in food quality or general service between the staff knowing who you (or Mr. Chatto) were vs. being a regular customer (if anything, I suppose the slight difference in attention could be attributed to the comfort level that might be present when you've become a regular/friend to the restaurant or the alert attention they may give to someone who may be dining to give a review). We appreciate the premise for the article, and it was indeed fun to read. :smile:

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