Dear Advice Guy,
I suspect that a reservation coming up was made under the pseudonym of our local food critic. How should I best prepare, assuming it’s him?
– - Owner
I recently consulted with a restaurant that was inclined to do everything wrong when they suspected that a reviewer was on his way (so-called anonymous reviewers are hardly anonymous in most cities). They brought in the celebrity chef whose name is on the restaurant to be in the kitchen and stroll conspicuously through the dining room. They held an all-staff meeting to let everyone know that they were expecting the VIP. And they added new menu items designed to impress. These actions, while well-intentioned, ultimately backfired by making the staff awkward and stressed. Further, the new menu items were edgy and interesting, but not ready for prime time and also not reflecting the true character of the restaurant.
Interacting with an anonymous critic invokes the same advice I would give to someone who encounters a fearsome predator in the wild: Don’t make any sudden or unpredictable moves. Presumably, you do a good job providing excellent food, beverage and service already if you are the type of restaurant that’s being reviewed. Keep doing what you are doing, with a bit of extra care from management. For example, assign your strongest server to the table, touch the table to check on them (but not too frequently—give them space), and taste the components of all the dishes that are going out to that table. Don’t reveal that you suspect the guest is actually a critic. Be available to answer questions—but don’t over-explain. Otherwise, just do your thing. If you are a good restaurant, you will shine. If you are not a good restaurant, you can’t turn it into a good one just for the sake of a review.
While you can’t control everything the critic experiences, you can game the system a bit if you suspect a reviewer is coming by using your other guests to create a fun and enthusiastic vibe that hopefully the critic will pick up. For example, subtly sending some complimentary dishes to nearby tables or seating the critic near some enthusiastic regulars or fun (but not too fun) guests, can liven the atmosphere in a way that helps everyone to have a memorable meal, critic included.
More on preparing for reviews here.