The Gobbler

How a Restaurant Critic Avoids Getting Made

This is not Adam Platt.Photo: Royalty-Free/Corbis
Among restaurant critics, nothing causes more chatter and debate than the timeless question of anonymity. It came up again the other week when an owner of Freemans downtown posted this amusingly frank account of being jumped, and subsequently (and, by the sounds of it, justifiably) slammed by the Gobbler’s esteemed colleague Mr. Bruni of the Times. Here are the Gobbler’s top ten rules for surviving the eternal cat-and-mouse game between restaurants and the critics who review them.

1. Big money restaurateurs employ spotters to scan the room for critics, tack up photos for their staffs to see, and trade information on aliases. If they are looking for you, in the Gobbler’s experience, they will find you.

2. Disguises may work for certain ninja-style stealth experts (like Ruth Reichl) but not for the majority of restaurant critics — and certainly not for the Gobbler, who is balding and big as a house.

3. If you’re sighted, don’t let on. According to the restaurant-critic Kabuki dance, both sides must resolutely pretend they don’t know what’s going on, even when they do.

4. Resist ordering the entire menu in one sitting. (The Gobbler has, admittedly, done that from time to time). Also, the optimum number of people at a critic’s table is four; more than that, and the meal turns into a party.

5. Refrain from dining with celebrities or other conspicuous figures who also happen to be close relatives.

6. Avoid scribbling notes under the table (a bad Gobbler habit) or — this can be just as noticeable — visiting the bathroom (the preferred venue for restaurant critics to jot down their impressions) too many times.

7. Some aggressively obsequious establishments bestow the best tables upon critics once they’ve recognized them. To subvert this tactic, send your friends in early and pray they get banished to Siberia.

8. Star chefs will sometimes be summoned to cook when a critic is in the house. Go on Mondays, when the celebrity cooks might be out of town, or during lunchtime (provided the restaurant serves lunch), when they’re at the TV studio or still in bed.

9. Cultivate odd and unpredictable hours. Gobbler often likes to show up at restaurants late, or by himself, or without a reservation. Like many solitary gourmands, the bar is his favorite place to eat.

10. If a restaurant spots a critic, it’s usually too late. At Freemans, it didn’t matter in the end whether they recognized the reviewer or not. In the Gobbler’s experience, either the show works or it doesn’t, and there’s not very much a restaurateur can do about it once he spies a critic waddling through his front door.

Adam Platt

How a Restaurant Critic Avoids Getting Made