Five Commandments of Food Writing

It's 2012, people; the number of people writing about food is still growing, and the signal-to-noise ratio is getting worse and worse. Everyone's entitled to their opinion, but not all of those opinions are worth reading. It's not just bad writing, unedited regurgitation of badly written press releases, or an inconsistent publication schedule, though: many people simply don't know the basics of writing about food, whether for a blog or for a professional publication.

5. Thou shalt make judgments.

It's unbelievable how many food blogs out there are simply long strings of photos of food strung together with two-sentence descriptions of the food. Russ Parsons of the Los Angeles Times calls these "caption blogs," which is an apt description. Make judgments about the food; talk about what didn't work in quantifiable, visible terms. If the steak fries were underdone, say so; don't just say you didn't like the fries. Conversely, don't get carried away: very, very few restaurants are 100 percent great or 100 percent awful.

4. Thou shalt know thy stuff.

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Of course, making judgments is predicated on knowing the food. That doesn't mean food writers have to be experts in every single thing, but research is a must, and an open mind is too. It's excruciating to read reviews of an ethnic restaurant that were written by someone who thinks foreign food is scary. Don't laugh--hatchet-job reviews are written every day of authentic Mexican restaurants for not having beans and rice on every plate, and of authentic Chinese restaurants for not having General Tso's chicken or beef and broccoli.

3. Thou shalt not make special orders or off-menu creations.

Readers of your restaurant reviews want to know what to expect when they go into the restaurant. If you're continually tweaking your order--no tomatoes, please no chicken, can you substitute double beans instead of rice--then you're not reviewing the chef's skill; you're reviewing the kitchen's ability to cook a dish you designed. If a restaurant's menu changes daily, visit a few times, talk about specific dishes, but talk in general terms about the kitchen's ability to design and create their offerings.

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