Girding Your Loins for the Critic Visit
What to do, and when to do it—whether you're front or back of house.
December 2, 2015 ● 3 min read
There's no handbook on dealing with the existential meltdown that occurs when a fancy-ass critic strolls into your dining room. Maybe you're ready, maybe you flip out—either way, there is actually a right way to handle it, even if you don't typically realize what works and what doesn't until after the fact.
ChefsFeed Industry Editors Shannon Waters (exec sous chef, Aatxe) and Liz Subauste (opening consultant, everywhere from AL's Place to Toro New York) pulled a few choice pointers from their personal cache of advice—an email chain that's always circulating amongst their friends—to help you nail being reviewed, without losing your mind.
If you're FOH...
1.Talk about your protocol at every line up before the review. The more your staff is familiar with it and the more you guys talk about it, the more familiar and less stressed everyone will be.
2.Have a game plan, and go over it before every service. Assign a server, your strongest one, to be the potential critic's server. Switch sections accordingly once the critic arrives. Make this strong server's section smaller so they can focus on the critic's table and the ones around it. Have a manager help with the rest of that section.
3.Treat all the tables around the critic as the critic table. A lot of times, the critic's are paying more attention to the tables around them since they know that the restaurant will be giving them special service. They want to see how the rest of the guests are being treated.
4.Always keep a nice table open during prime hours until you get reviewed, just in case a critic comes in as a walk-in or the critic's table is not ready on time for his or her reservation.
5.Once the critic has been spotted, the host needs to alert the kitchen and the manager before seating them. Immediately after, they need to check the bathrooms.
6.Have a specific runner assigned to the critic as well. The only ones who will touch the critic's table that night will be the assigned server, the assigned runner and the manager. No one else! And they need to be in constant communication.
7.Check all wines before presenting them to the table. Are they under the right temperature? Is the vintage the same one as the one on the list? If by the glass, taste it before pouring it.
8.Make two of everything: drinks and plates. Taste both and send the best.
If you're BOH...
1.Know what they tend to like and dislike. Do they like to be treated special or do they like to be left alone? No little food gifts, and no comping food off just because they're critics. No need to buy their review. Remember, they don't pay for their meals anyway. This is their job and it almost always goes on a company tab. Taking items off their bill doesn't make them taste any better or worse.
2.If there is an open kitchen, ensure everything is clean, neat, and the cooks have everything they need and aren't running offline or scrambling during their dinner.
3.If the executive chef plans on cooking all of the critics food, let the line cooks know about this ahead of time, so they can be prepared and service can still go seamlessly. Make you there is a manager who can expo if the chef plans to leave expo.
4.If the chef prefers to have the line cooks cook the critics food, the chef, or sous chef must taste every single component of the mise en place prior to cooking to double check for quality.
5.Make two of every dish. Plate them up side by side. Taste one. Make any final adjustments, and send the other one out.
6.Have the sous chef or chef be an extra set of hands on the line to ensure the critics food gets additional attention while making sure the cooks are still executing the rest of the guests dishes without any hiccups.
7.Remember, the flow of the food, as much as you want to taste and pick away at it, still has to move along. Don't get too tied up in picking a dish apart.
8.Make sure only one server and manager are touching the table and that both are extremely educated on the dishes they've chosen. Food and beverage knowledge is crucial beside these tables.
9."I'm not positive, let me double check with the chef" is far preferred over a lie or a guess.
10.Communicate, communicate, communicate. Just like with any other guest, tailor the experience to what would make them enjoy their night the most.
11. Keep calm. Be proud of your food and your menu. At the moment the critic sits down, there is nothing you can do to change your menu.
12. Make sure plates are wiped, cold plates are cold, and hot plates are hot.