This solves one of the main problems that restaurants used to have in the days when “old” media was the only game in town: How do you keep people talking about your place after the initial buzz dies down?
Besides the marketing, there are creative implications. For one thing, chefs are much more focused now on sending out food that photographs well. So I end up eating a lot of flowers and leaves that don’t really taste like much but make the plate more colorful, because most cooked food is brown. Ditto all the boards and slates and rocks that are being asked to stand in for plates.
It has also sped up the rate at which ideas about food travel from one place to another. Chefs don’t just use photography for marketing. They are also documenting their work for their peers; you see this in the way René Redzepi in Copenhagen uses Instagram. It’s one reason his style has spread around the world in the span of just a few years.
And how has it changed the way you do your job? What are the pros and cons?
The best thing about having everybody take pictures of food is that I can do it without giving myself away. I used to be really self-conscious when I took out my phone; I’d run to the restroom and take surreptitious notes in the stall. Now I just snap away all night long, and I look like everybody else. And photography is the first stage of my note-taking now. After I get home I reconstruct my impressions of the meal, starting with my pictures of my food and the menu. When I started this job, a former critic advised me to steal menus when I could get away with it, and that’s completely unnecessary now.
What’s your opinion on Yelp, where everyone is a wannabe food critic?
I probably look at Yelp more than some other critics because I’m convinced there’s valuable information in there. The hard part is extracting it from all the useless stuff, which is what most people in food media see when they look at Yelp.
The basic problem is that Yelp was built to reward frequent posting rather than knowledge or insight or expertise. And yet there are people on Yelp who know a lot about food and eat around and have a pretty solid basis for…