The Critical Insights double Agent, a professional restaurant critic, is our spy on the front lines.

There he is: The town restaurant critic, sitting at table four. Peering over his glasses at the menu, with a sour expression on his face. You feel as though you might have a heart attack.

Calm down. This is not a reason to panic. There are things you should know about receiving a restaurant review, and the main thing is that this guy, while powerful, should be treated pretty much like everyone else.

The process of being reviewed can be stressful, there’s no doubt. It may feel as though everything you’ve worked for hangs in the balance—that this one guy’s opinion can mean everything. And it’s true—a positive review can certainly help, and a negative one doesn’t help. But in the world of Yelp and food blogs galore, a review is only one component of your reputation. That reputation will be built mainly on the satisfaction of your customers, and a critic is just one more customer you’re trying to satisfy.

The first thing you should know is that no reputable critic will ask for free food, nor should they want it even if you offer it. A restaurant review is not something that you should have to pay for, in any way. The flip side of this is that you shouldn’t expect a good review or a review at all just because you advertise with a publication—the two things should be completely separate.

So if you realize there’s a critic in your midst (and even this is somewhat unlikely as many critics try to dine anonymously, and you should do your best to let them), the best thing to do is treat him like any other customer. Don’t send free food. Don’t fawn over him, force the chef to go out and speak to him, or make a big deal out of his presence. Most likely, that will just make him uncomfortable. If you know him personally, it’s fine to stop by and say hi. But otherwise, treat him the same way you’d treat any good customer. Sure, send the nice cut of fish, put your best waiter on the table, but do it as if that’s exactly what you do for everyone.

The world of blogging, however, is completely different than the world of professional criticism. Many food bloggers expect and regularly receive free meals. I’d venture to say that the ones who don’t are usually more respected by the public, but bloggers taking free meals is so common it’s hard to differentiate between those who do and those who don’t. Many restaurants have dealt with the blogger conundrum by holding free media dinners soon after opening, inviting all the non-critic food writers and bloggers in town, and feeding them well. This is almost a form of advertising, and it creates good will among people who have a voice and presence in the food conversation. I’d argue that no amount of blog buzz can compare to a proper review by a respected critic, but perhaps I’m just kidding myself.

There is the occasional bad apple out there, the critic who loves the power his job affords him and who might use it for his own benefit. But the vast majority of us go by professional standards, trying to maintain a low profile, paying our own way, and honestly considering the effort you’ve put into your restaurant.

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