There was a time when restaurant critics took great pains to conceal their identities, lest they receive a different level of treatment from restaurants they hoped to review objectively. (Like most journalistic missions, this tradition was born of nobility but soon became cloyingly prideful — witness New York Magazine critic Gael Greene, who famously wore absurdly broad-brimmed hats in the effort to “conceal” her identity. Right.)
The LA Times story focuses heavily on the World Wide Interwebs, and how the little series of tubes has changed the face of anonymity forever. Food bloggers post their pictures proudly, and critics who still prefer anonymity can be outed faster than Sen. Larry Craig at a Clay Aiken concert:
After Google, the rules are being rewritten by the hour. When any human being is searchable online not just verbally but visually, how can a critic possibly hope to retain anonymity long enough to give a restaurant a fair evaluation? Throw blogs into the mix and it’s a mashup of Facebook and a masquerade ball.
As someone who has written restaurant criticism in the past (until the Weekly Dig tried to pay me in ice cream gift certificates — true story), I support the ethics behind anonymous reviewing. Most food writers will insist on visiting a place two or three visits before penning a review, and keeping yourself anonymous is the only true way to know that you’re getting the same level of service and food that the public receives.
But the Berzerker-like rampage of technology means that anonymity will be increasingly difficult to maintain in any fashion, much less while you’re performing a job that can genuinely ruin someone’s professional career (the statistics on how negative reviews affecting the business end of restaurants are truly mind-boggling).
My suggestion to the public is simply to know your source: Reviews by unknowns in an ad-heavy publication often read like press releases for good reason. Reviews by Corby Kummer and other giants of the industry are rock-solid and likely will remain so, regardless of whether you know what they look like.