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What is a Food Critic?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A food critic is a writer who specializes in writing criticisms of food. Like theater and movie critics, food critics are supposed to provide thoughtful, well-informed, and unbiased information to the public, so that members of the public can make decisions about where to spend their money. Food critics primarily write about restaurants, ranging from fast food establishments to fashionable and very exclusive restaurants, although some may also engage in more general food writing.

Becoming a food critic takes time. Many food critics pursue professional experiences in the world of food, attending culinary schools, working in restaurants, participating in farming, and so forth, so that they can learn about every aspect of the food industry. A good food critic is extremely knowledgeable about every aspect of food, from how certain foods are harvested to the history of various dishes. Food critics also have very well-developed palates, and they may specialize in a particular area, such as traditional French cuisine, fusion cuisine, or so forth.

Once a food critic has amassed experience, he or she can start writing articles, and using these samples to apply to magazines and newspapers. Food critics may move between publishers over the course of their careers, or start working for the food section of a paper and working up to a position as a food critic. A handful of critics become well known and well respected, with most primarily being known only in the area they serve.

Professional integrity is very important for food critics. Many make reservations and visit restaurants anonymously, so that they get an idea of how a restaurant serves ordinary customers. They also make repeat visits so that they can make fair and balanced assessments of a restaurant and its offerings. Avoidance of commercial considerations such as gifts from restaurateurs, offers of free food, and so forth is also very important for food critics, as implications of bribery or favoritism can discredit a food critic.

Food critics describe the meals they order, talking about how the food is presented, what it looks like, and what it tastes like. They also evaluate it, providing comparisons, opinions on the quality of the food, and discussions of similar dishes at other establishments. Food criticism is also concerned with restaurant service, the ambiance of the facility, and other factors which can impact the enjoyment of food. After considering all of the aspects of the dining experience, the food critic generates ratings which can be used as a quick rule of thumb by readers who are trying to decide whether or not they want to visit a particular restaurant.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Practical Adult Insights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By RoyalSpyder — On Feb 15, 2014

@Chmander - This is just my opinion, but maybe some people become food critics because they want to know more about the restaurants, and they want to know more about who serves the food? After all, not all restaurants are safe places to eat, and not all of them are sanitary. I don't know if food critics have the power to make or break an establishment, but by writing a review, they can even tell the restaurant owner what needs to be worked on. After all, there is such a thing as constructive criticism, which always helps in the long run.

By Chmander — On Feb 15, 2014

I don't want to sound cynical, but I wonder if some people simply become food critics just for the food. Obviously, this isn't always the case, but it can be sometimes. After all, who doesn't love to eat, and even more so, who doesn't love dining out? In fact, I once heard of this story where a man was passing himself off as a health inspector in order to obtain free meals. It's a funny story, because it shows how people love to eat. However, what's the true reason people become food critics if they're not in it for the grub?

By Viranty — On Feb 14, 2014

@turtlez - I like how you make note that the whole point of being a critic is to catch restaurants off guard. I find that interesting, because unlike in the movie Ratatouille, where Anton Ego gave Linguini a fighting chance to impress him, I'm assuming food critics don't do that. Besides, wouldn't any food establishment pass an inspection if they knew it would be inspected? By catching a restaurant off guard, it shows the establishment for what it truly is, and not what it "pretends" to be.

By RoyalSpyder — On Feb 13, 2014

@babyksay - I like how you brought up the movie Ratatouille, which was the first thing that came to mind when I read this article. I don't know how food critics are in real life, but Anton Ego (from Ratatouille) seemed like a stereotypical food critic. He was egotistical, no nonsense, and very blunt. He had the power to make or break a restaurant, and everyone knew it. Though I'm not familiar with food critics, I really hope that they're nothing like him, ha ha.

By baileybear — On Sep 30, 2010

@turtlez - I think often times food critics fail establishments without a lot of information to back up their reasoning. I say "fail" but I mean give a bad review, you know. That is what makes me so angry is that some critics feel like they have the power to make or break your business and they should be catered to. Yes, in a way a critic should receive exceptional service and have delicious food - but don't ALL patrons of the restaurant deserve the same treatment? It makes me mad when I hear how some critics manipulate things.

By turtlez — On Sep 30, 2010

@plaid - Agreed here as well. The thought that you say "Food Critic 101 won't solve all their problems and answer all of their questions," is very valid. I think that a lot of information and knowledge is gained from experience acquired on the job. Food critic reviews are well thought out and planned - even though they may not divulge who they are. The whole point is to catch a food establishment off guard and in their natural, everyday serving environment. If you divulge that you are a critic that gives them an unfair advantage of sorts.

By plaid — On Sep 30, 2010

@babyksay - I definitely agree with you on your thoughts about becoming a food critic. I think that that goes for any job, really, though and a lot of people seem to not be able to decide on what they are really passionate about. It's not like Food Critic 101 is going to solve all their problems and answer all of their questions.

By babyksay — On Sep 30, 2010

There is another great article on here on how to become a food critic. I really think that you have to have some other kind of motivation rather than loving food and being a good writer. Food critic work is not easy, by far, and you will most certainly make enemies should your name and face become known. It's not like that movie Ratatouille where people know who you are the second you come in. Most critics don't flat out tell you who they are.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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