At the bottom of every restaurant review, the San Francisco Chronicle runs this note: “Chronicle critics make every attempt to remain anonymous.” A recent Chowhound thread questions whether this is wishful thinking on the part of the reviewer or the readership. Local hound Robert Lauriston noticed a post that Chronicle critic Michael Bauer wrote about a week of dining that included lunch at Cotogna with a prominent New York critic and a private dinner at Prospect, where a photo of Bauer’s meal also captured his place tag. But is anonymity merely a pretense if a critic attends special events, and has a face that’s well known to chefs and restaurant owners?
Opinions on Chowhound are divided. Expecting a critic to be unrecognized these days is probably impossible, nocharge argues. “Maybe the idea that any influential reviewer’s review of a restaurant represents the ‘average customer’ experience is a charade that deserves to be abandoned.” Agreed, sundeck sue says: A critic who aims for anonymity can’t succeed for long in 2012. Perhaps Bauer could start a discussion about how standards have evolved in the age of omnipresent cameras, posting, and tagging. (For more on the matter, see this discussion between CHOW’s John Birdsall and recently unmasked critic Jonathan Kauffman, who had maintained anonymity for 11 years.)
What are the consequences of a reviewer being recognized? Robert Lauriston sees the first review of Tres Agaves (now Tres) as an example of Bauer overrating an inconsistent restaurant based on special treatment, whereas a restaurant run by owners or servers who aren’t in the know might suffer by providing everyman service.
The question leads back to the statement and its intent: “every attempt to remain anonymous.” calumin wonders if the meaning of “every” has to be parsed like President Clinton’s testimony in the Lewinsky affair, while Ruth Lafler suggests an alternative: “Visits for the purposes of reviewing are unannounced; however, reviewer may be known to the restaurant.”
Michael Bauer’s Twitter avatar from @michaelbauer1