Everyone’s a critic, so the saying goes and in the foodie world, that’s certainly never been more true. With the now-established world of food blogging, Twitter and the like, no-one need ever let a bad meal go uncriticised or a good one praised. Just log on, select your restaurant of choice and it’s guaranteed someone, somewhere will have a point of view on it.
Times have changed since Egon Ronay, who’s sadly critiqued his last meal, first started. The story goes that when he first arrived in England at Victoria Station in the 1940s, his very first experience of good old British hospitality was on buying a cup of tea and discovering the spoon to stir it with was both communal and tied to the counter to guard against those pesky cutlery thieves. So outraged was he by the quality of post-war food here that he set up his own restaurant, then went on to found the eponymous guide which changed the eating habits of restaurant-goers nationwide, giving diners a heretofore undiscovered voice against the establishment. Gone (or are they?) are the days when diners were worried of ‘making a scene’ and being patronised by the wine waiter.
Fast-forward 50 years and we are literally living in a different world, but is the system any different? Last week Giles Coren had one of his now-frequent rants against food bloggers, this time for photographing food in restaurants. The fact that this has become an established modus operandi for a blogger – or any diner – says much about our own increasing confidence in eating out.
Other recent ‘innovations’ include the concept of the turnaround time. Numerous diners and critics have written of the ludicrous nature of this, with the newly-opened Bar Boulud in for particular criticism on its 2-hour turnaround time, stringently observed even when the restaurant is half-empty and the table hasn’t even had dessert. Others record their irritation at being asked to give a credit card number over the phone when they reserve; indeed on a similar note, how many have been tempted to walk out of a restaurant after being greeted not by a ‘Good Evening’, but a bark of ‘Have you reserved a table?’ And let’s not even mention those who insist on conducting their meal on the end of a mobile. . .
We’re wondering how much things have changed since Egon Ronay set up his guide. Have attitudes both towards eating out and from the restaurants themselves changed, or are we still seemingly fighting a war of attrition? Have you ever been stopped from photographing your food? What’s the most outrageous turnaround time you’ve ever experienced and did you stage a sit-in? And, conversely, what’s improved? Did Egon Ronay actually change very much or are we still too content to accept a bad meal in malcontented silence?