Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Review

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Sample Student Restaurant Review with Comments

Macaroni and cheese is an American comfort food
Macaroni and cheese is an American comfort food (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Macaroni and cheese pizza from Cici's Pizza, a...
Macaroni and cheese pizza from Cici's Pizza, an American buffet-style restaurant. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This is a thoughtful  approach, but it doesn’t have a ‘bang’ moment when you provide a specific that really grabs me, that makes me want to keep reading or rewards me for sticking with the review in spite of being just a little bored. Can you be more excited,  about … something?  The phrase I am going to use is “drill down.” Is there a moment at which something reminded you of earlier dining experiences or your life as a student? Perhaps, that’s my point. This is a bit of a generic review. I read it and I don’t know *precisely* who the writer is. Student? Experienced food reviewer? Guy who has never had to do this before? Is there a moment where the fact you are reviewing rather than experiencing  caused you to look at things or taste things or think about things in a new way? Arguably, if it's your first restaurant review, you will learn something about yourself. You will 'interrogate yourself,' as we talked about in class. Any light bulb moments?? You have some good detail, but the writing lacks energy and personality, both of which you have in abundance. On third read, I realize that you need to think more about the lead - Chronological approach often produces weak leads.  That first sentence does not make me want to keep reading, nor does any of the first paragraph. Don't assume the headline writer - which if you are a blogger is you - can save the story by dragging the most compelling detail or moment  out of the review and put it in the head. Frequently, a powerful head identifies the info that should be the lead. A good exercise would be for you to go through your review and identify what you think the most important bit is, the old 'Tell your roommate' approach: I went to this restaurant last night, and you would not believe the ....  We can probably find publications where the food review leads are as bland as white rice. Perhaps, the publication's reputation is so well established that readers do not need to be coaxed into stories. We will not assume we are writing for such a publication. We are fighting for eyeballs.

After seeing the same restaurant always jam-packed every time I walked down Clement Street, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. The outside of Q is very unassuming and has a look that would make you think it was a nice quiet little restaurant. Specifics? Flowers? Misspelled sign?  But, once you pass through the curtain covering the entrance, placed here, this sounds like a thesis statement - and it doesn't mention the food it comes alive with a very lively atmosphere, upbeat workers and fascinating wall decorations.  
            The dangers of the chronological approach! As a rule when I go out, I care more about food than the decor of the restaurant. Perhaps your lingering on the decoration would work if you had a transition like, "Good thing the look of the place kept our interest because the food sure didn't." The walls of Q are unlike anything I have ever seen before in a restaurant. For starters, there is a giant half moon on the ceiling, adding some mood lighting to the restaurant. Below the moon and on all the walls, there is new age art hanging on the walls. There are some very abstract pieces and sculptures hanging as well as drawn art. In the back of the restaurant is a table for a bigger party, that has Real tree? a tree growing through the middle of it. Christmas lights and bicycle chains hang from the tree. Somehow the tree table fits right in and does not seem at all out of place. Because? I have no idea what would come after “because” but go for it My favorite oddity was the magnetic letters next to each table with which you make words with while you wait for the food.
            I'm starting to think, "What about the *food*, dude. The wait staff is very friendly, and our server Alex was very upbeat. I even caught him flirting with the bartender male \or  female? and singing along to some of the indie songs playing over the speakers. Throw in a lyric here?? When we sat down, he started us with almost shot glass-sized cups of water. Knowing I wouldn't be ordering a soft drink or alcoholic beverage (still no fake I.D),  good detail I asked if I could upgrade my shot of water. Alex returned with pint sized beer glasses. Good detail
            The menu of Q seemed to have a little of everything. Alex described their eclectic menu as "American funky comfort food" with a touch of the Southwest.  They also had a very extensive wine list - a xxxx for $x and a couple of yes ranging from $y to $y. Sadly, all I could do was admire. Nice little payoff on the ID thing
            I decided to be adventurous and try something I had never eaten before; the "Slammin' Loch Duart Salmon Burger on Potato Eocaccia with chili-lime aioli and garlic Kennebec fries." Price? The chili-lime sauce put a spin on the salmon that was new and different, however I felt that it left something to be desired because ???? try for a ‘taste’ description: my tongue was. .. On the other hand, the garlic fries were out of this world delicious and rivaled the infamous garlic fries sold at the San Francisco Giants baseball games.  Good comparison
            My girlfriend how does she feel about this? Supportive? Checking out the waiter?????ordered the "Macaroni & Cheezy with tater tots. Price? One thing Q is very good at is naming their entrees. This dish wasn't the usual bland macaroni and cheese that you would expect. This dish includes herbs and spices that add an extra kick you are not ready for on the first bite. The dish works perfectly with the tater tots making it the "comfort food for all comfort food." As my sweet mama said???????
            Following suit with the comfort food theme, the desert menu offers ice cream, apple pie, and milk and cookies. Unfortunately we were too full to try to desert, but it sounded delicious from the descriptions on the menu. Any specifics?
            Because the kitchen is in the same room as all the diners, it both adds and detracts from Q's overall appeal. The sizzling sounds from what's cooking while you wait for your food make you anxious and excited for what is to come; however, the clanking of the dirty dishes and the dishwasher can get a it loud.  Good detail
            Overall, it was an Aha! Your review does NOT convey excitement. exciting experience, which provided artwork to make you wonder, and comfort food for the soul. 

Now add hours, credit card info, phone number, rating system

Summary: This is a solid B, but I’d like to see you let loose a little. The chronological structure doesn’t help. It suggests that nothing in the experience made a strong impact. You are simply presenting  things as they happened, like beads on a string. This is workmanlike, but not exciting. The implication is that the food was the least important part of the experience. If so, say so, which could lead to a meditation on those instances when the look of a restaurant matters more than the quality of the food. Maybe you have to admit that your have taste buds of wood and really can't tell the difference between the good, the bad and the burned to a crisp. If that's so, say so. Tell your readers to look elsewhere for that kind of judgment.


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