Thursday, January 28, 2010

I Ask the Chron's Michael Bauer a Question about Restaurant Reviewing

RestaurantImage via Wikipedia

I love teaching my Arts Reviewing class because I haven't taught it over and over again, and it's not an area of expertise, only of interest, so it's a voyage of discovery for me and for the students.

I am, perhaps, a little unconventional in that the first review assigned is a restaurant review. I see it as a kind of bridge between feature writing and conventional review writing. A kind of "inexpertness" is acceptable because for most people it is the whole theatrical dining experience that matters, the mood as much as the meal. Remembering past meals and paying close attention to this meal really is enough for a clever person to write a readable restaurant review.

Is the readable review also useful? That's the question that hangs over every critique, since I enjoy reading reviewers whose recommendations I am not inclined to follow. It is the operation of the mind that draws you.

But at the end of the day I must evaluate the students' reviews: I must give them a grade. And one of the areas where I feel a responsibility to have an opinion -- that is, where an opinion might be useful in helping students improve, or at least learn how to satisfy my expectations -- is structure.


Michael Bauer:

My arts reviewing class is doing a restaurant review, and I was knocking together my thoughts on structuring reviews and I wondered WWBS: What Would Bauer Say?

My thoughts:

Key point: structure in restaurant reviews

Chronological method is effective in that it’s easy for the reader to follow, but it always seems a little amateurish, at least to me. One of the disadvantages in the method is that it encourages clutter – “and then the hostesss showed us to our table.” That is, you fall into storytelling mode and include bits that really don’t tell you useful information about the restaurant. Better reviewers usually focus on the points they want to make and don’t present them chronologically because that can waste valuable space and fog the emphasis of the review.

Of course, once chronological order is abandoned, it can result in an “elusive” structure. That is, we aren’t quite sure why the information is presented in the order it’s presented. Some reviews do seem to be exercises in “nut graf” structure. There’s the lead that grabs us by the nose, and then there’s the nut graf making several key points, which are developed in that order. And some reviews do have the feel of the old inverted pyramid structure, as if the points of criticism were presented in order of descending importance. And in other instances, the structure seems purely associational, which does give such reviews a kind of casual, conversational quality.

Bottom line:

Understand what sort of structure you are using or – having “jumped into” writing and having come up with a structure that works – be able to explain why you think it works.

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