What is a Food Critic?

If you love all types of food and cuisine, and enjoy writing, you may want to look at being a food critic!

A food critic takes great pleasure in tasting and analyzing a wide variety of food, and also loves to share their experience with the public by writing about it. Food critics will write reviews for newspapers, magazines, travel guides, and food-related websites, and comment on the restaurant's service, presentation, and atmosphere. They sometimes also provide comparisons, opinions, and discussions of similar dishes at other establishments.

After analyzing their dining experience, a food critic will give the establishment a rating which can then be used to help the public decide whether to eat there or not.

What does a Food Critic do?

A food critic asking the server about a dish.

Food critics are writers (many are journalists) who specialize in the areas of food and drink. They encapsulates the dining experience and relay that experience to readers, viewers, or listeners. This may include descriptions of the food, whether it tastes good, the serving size, the ambiance of the restaurant, the price, and how well the service staff do their job.

The food critic must have knowledge appropriate to the industry, and must be able to capture all the important facts in a written format that is both engaging and informative.

Food critics almost never show their faces when they write restaurant reviews, so as to minimize the possibility that restaurant owners will recognize them and give them special treatment. That means keeping all social media profiles photo-free and restricting public appearances as well.

Reservations are typically made in a name other than that of the critic and meals are paid for using cash or a credit card that is not in the critic's name. The ultimate goal of restaurant criticism is to experience the restaurant just as an ordinary patron would do without any special attention.

Responsibilities of a food critic:

  • Consistently evaluate restaurant standards and food quality
  • Supply original written copy to newspapers, magazines, travel guides and websites
  • Maintain time management skills
  • Meet publishing deadlines
  • Occasionally supply original photography, or secure usage of restaurant's photos
  • Competently interview industry leaders and venue representatives
  • Deliver a written summary in a clear and unbiased way

Skills of a food critic:

  • Understand reader expectations for food quality appraisal and service standards
  • Have an appreciation for creative writing, and a gift for words
  • Have a broad and sensitive palate
  • Be able to travel, sometimes over a considerable distance
  • Manage time constraints and multiple projects simultaneously

This is a popular and competitive career, and can be difficult to get a foot in the door. Many food critics will start by organizing their own visits to restaurants they like, and by creating their own portfolio of reviews and features. Finding new work becomes easier with each published article, so it starts out as extremely difficult and gets easier from there.

Are you suited to be a food critic?

Food critics have distinct personalities. They tend to be artistic individuals, which means they’re creative, intuitive, sensitive, articulate, and expressive. They are unstructured, original, nonconforming, and innovative. Some of them are also enterprising, meaning they’re adventurous, ambitious, assertive, extroverted, energetic, enthusiastic, confident, and optimistic.

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What is the workplace of a Food Critic like?

The majority of food critics work freelance, supplying content to various newspapers, magazines, and food-related websites. However, larger lifestyle publications will employ food critics to cover this subject matter in an ongoing way.

While food critics certainly enjoy their share of fine dining at white tablecloth establishments, they also may find themselves chowing down at mom-and-pop family diners and even balancing their food while standing in front of a food truck.

Despite the travelling and continual need to sample restaurants spread over a city or even larger geographical area, a majority of the food critic's work takes place at home. Some reviews or events can mean several days away from home too, so this can have an impact upon family life, should this be a consideration.

Frequently Asked Questions

Should I become a Food Critic?

Fussy eaters need not apply. But that is not the only caveat. Before committing to this career, aspiring food critics should ask themselves if they fulfill some basic requirements of the profession:

Enthusiasm for food and the culinary arts
A love of food; an appetite for adventurous eating; and an interest in food presentation and service experience are essential to becoming a successful food critic.

Superior analytical and sensory evaluation skills
Of course, an ability to distinguish between tastes, textures, and flavours is essential for food critics. This may mean noticing something as simple as a delicate hint of lemon in a pasta dish or discerning the distinct qualities of a burger in its crispy lettuce and perfectly grilled beef on a soft brioche bun.

Capacity to remain objective
Food critics must never lose sight of the fact that their objectivity is the foundation of their career. The reading and listening public looks for and expects honest and unbiased reviews and information.

Awareness of restaurant and food quality standards
Without an understanding and appreciation for standards at all industry levels, a food critic will be unable to build trust among readers and/or listeners.

Expressive writing style
This is a competitive occupation in which both print and broadcast media demand engaging and entertaining material from the food critics they hire.

Flexibility in terms of working hours and location
This is not the occupation for anyone accustomed or dedicated to a nine to five routine at a downtown office.

Ability to meet deadlines
Media outlets have publication deadlines and expect their contributors to meet them.

Strong interpersonal, communication, and networking skills
Many food critics are freelancers whose capacity to connect and interact with potential employers is crucial to their success.

What are Food Critics like?

Many people think that being a food critic is about being critical. This is only partly true. The career is more about paying attention and noticing details. Just because a particular eating establishment is not preferred by one critic does not mean it will not be appealing to a certain segment of readers or listeners. No restaurant will please everyone. The job of a food critic is to present his or her experience as clearly as possible. One of the objectives in this line of work is to avoid misleading your audience.

The food critic’s secondary audience is the restaurant itself. A thoughtful review is an opportunity for the establishment to consider, from an outsider’s perspective, what is working and what is not. A constructive critique need not always dismay proprietors and managers; it can, in fact, result in positive change in food, service, and atmosphere. In some cases, it can even lead to gratitude to the critic.

The quintessential critic loves to write or speak publicly; has an eye for detail; enjoys eating new cuisine; is interested in all aspects of the food and restaurant industries; and is comfortable working in a fiercely competitive field. It is in developing these characteristics and qualities that critics derive their sense of professional integrity and cultivate longevity and respect among their peers and their audience.

How long does it take to become a Food Critic?

Because there are no set entry requirements to become a food critic, there is no definitive length of time required to enter the field. However, as most prospective food critics earn a Bachelor’s Degree in English, Journalism, or Communications, a minimum of four years of study is typical.

Some may choose to complete a Culinary Arts Bachelor’s Degree or take courses to educate themselves in the areas of food composition, chemistry, cooking techniques, styles, and vocabulary. Food critics may also seek out schools that offer curricula in food media or food reviewing. Not all food critics work in the print media. Those who deliver their reviews for broadcast media, such as radio, television, or live internet must, of course, hone their spoken communication skills.

A degree is often supplemented with with practical work experience, either as a freelancer or with an employer. It is therefore not uncommon for a food critic to spend five or six years before earning credibility, building a reputation, and becoming established in the field.

Are Food Critics happy?

There is a degree of awe associated with this career. Many people assume that food critics eat out for free every night, can take a guest with them to every assignment, and that everything they consume is delicious. Of course, this is not the case. The new and exciting restaurants are not always the best ones, and the food is not always inspiring. The job is certainly interesting and stimulating, but it is not without its drawbacks. For most of us, eating out is downtime, off-the-clock time. This is exactly the opposite for food critics and there are instances when the job becomes tedious and boring; even unpleasant.

One of the greatest intangible benefits of the profession is helping diners discover restaurants that they might not have otherwise considered or known about. Most food critics find great satisfaction in this. Providing comprehensive and balanced reviews and maintaining credibility are crucial to their professional happiness.

Building a loyal audience is vital for a food critic. Many critics enjoy receiving positive letters, e-mails, or online comments in response to their reviews. However, such engagement can also be negative. In rare instances, feedback can be mean-spirited and spark fear in the heart of an unsuspecting food critic.

This occupation may present some potential personal challenges. Food critics sometimes have to eat and drink more than they would like, or partake of foods and drinks that are not particularly healthful. Without a strict exercise regimen, this can lead to weight gain and poor health. In addition, if the critic is a freelancer or is not working for a well-established outlet, out-of-pocket expenses can add up.

Those who envy food critics may misunderstand the nature of the job. Simply stated, a food critic is not paid to enjoy luxurious cuisine, but to compose descriptive, informative reviews. And as is the case with all occupations, there are pros and cons to the career.

Steps to becoming a Food Critic

Education. Experience. Expertise. As is true for most careers, these three words succinctly summarize the road to becoming a food critic.

Enjoying food is only one prerequisite to become a food critic. Prospective food critics require two different skill sets. They must possess both professional knowledge of the food and dining industry and polished writing and editing talents.

While food critics enjoy their share of fine dining at white tablecloth establishments, they also may find themselves chowing down at mom-and-pop family diners, and even balancing their food while standing in front of a food truck. Picky eaters do not make great food critics. The best critics are willing to try anything that broadens their palate and adds to their repertoire of culinary knowledge. Developing a palate for different foods and flavors is at the heart of the food critic’s work of serving as the voice for the foodie community.

Food Critics are also known as:
Food Writer Restaurant Critic Food Journalist