At first glance, this sounds like the sort of story that would strike fear into the heart of a professional restaurant critic. A French court fined a critic for giving a restaurant a bad review. Yikes!
Ah, but take a closer look. According to this article from Grub Street, it wasn’t just that it was a bad review, it was the timing. The review was written and published before the restaurant had even opened. Actually, there is nothing in the ethical guidelines of the Association of Food Journalists that specifically states that reviews should not run before a restaurant opens its doors but it’s sort of taken for granted.
I’ve seen this several times and for local restaurants. It’s common for friends and family of new restaurant owners to jump the gun and hit sites like Yelp with glowing reviews sometimes even before the new business has passed final inspections. And it isn’t unusual for there to be fake negative reviews on those sites, too. But most of those commenters at least wait for the restaurant to open.
This all reminds me of something that helped me make the decision to leave the newspaper. There was so much cost cutting going on that I joked that the editors might one day come to me and ask me to write a review just based on the menu. Suddenly it didn’t seem so far fetched.
But this serves as a reminder to take all reviews — other than those from critics you know and trust — with a proverbial grain of salt.