The restaurant industry has undergone a period of profound change in the last two years. The coronavirus pandemic has catalysed and hastened problems of supply, liquidity, staffing and more, which were simmering before the disease raised its ugly head in 2020. Now as the tide recedes, and we see a completely different industry, it’s a good time to ask what the future of restaurant criticism might look like.
Pete Wells is the world-renowned restaurant critic for the New York Times, and for many he is at the very top of his game. The problem is that nobody really knows what that game will look like in the near future, or even if the game of restaurant reviewing has a future. Wells is not completely pessimistic, though.
“No matter what happens, there will still be a few people left who want to read restaurant reviews,” he says.
Things have changed in the last decade, and changed a lot. The user-generated review appeared and became the standard way for people to quickly get a sense of a restaurant and the quality of its offering. However, user reviews are so ubiquitous that perhaps their value is somewhat diminished.
“I think that people are so used to crowdsourcing reviews online. You can’t really trust an individual user-generated review, people can’t trust them, but they trust them in the aggregate. People are reasonably comfortable with having an algorithm telling them what they’re interested in and the way that happens with food is through Instagram. For people who really follow food and restaurants on Instagram, they’ll see what the algorithm serves them. I hear people talk admiringly about how well the TikTok algorithm knows them, almost like a girlfriend or something.”