Full Circle Wine Solutions
November 15, 2008, 9:28 am

It Takes A Village

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There is a modern day adage in the restaurant business that says that all it takes to be a restaurant critic is a laptop and an opinion. While that was the source of laughs a few years back, it’s serious stuff today and indeed no laughing matter. Witness a recent article in the NY Times (dated 11/5 by Donald McNeil, Jr.) entitled “Eat and Tell“.

Living in today’s technological age is stimulating and powerful. Anyone not living under a rock who followed the recent election coverage had to be blown away by the role that tech played – from Tom Cruise -like “Minority Report” screens that moved with the touch of a hand on CNN to ongoing day -of invitations from NPR to post your videos of election day issues and opinions to their website. Who would’a thunk that a mere four years ago?

Well, the restaurant and hospitality business is now also privy to the role of the community at large, and people who have passion and opinions about food and love to share them with likeminded foodies. According to this NY Times article, Yelp’s ranks have been steadily swelling to 15 million visits a month to check out online reviews (four million written) of dining establishments. That’s powerful stuff and has taken the world of letting the diner make the call, shepherded in initially by Zagat, to a new level while making it accessible, rich and 3D (if you consider the addendums of video, jpegs and the like) and adding texture to the otherwise mildly-dull-on-its-own written word.

Of course there are polarized opinions as to the validity of these reviews ranging from the “what makes these folks qualified yada, yada, yada…” to those who take reviews and reviewing very seriously – as a form of word of mouth marketing over an additional channel. Personally, if I am going somewhere I am unfamiliar with vis-à-vis the restaurant world, I generally cross reference yelp and chowhound reviews against the more ‘traditional’ sources. I utilize John Mariani’s online newsletter, Food and Wine and Saveur magazines and, of course, I ask my friends.

Though bulletin boards and chat rooms exist for wines at this point, they are dwarfed in volume, reach and scope by those for food and restaurants. After all, if the modern definition of a critic is that “laptop and an opinion”, with wine only the former is a given (with my conscious tip of the hat to people’s on going insecurity about saying what they think about wine when compared to asking for opinions about food).

What’s your hit on the role of the yelps and chowhounds of the world?


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