The first thing Grant wants you to remember (well, the first thing I was around for!) is that you are reviewing for the benefit of your readers and not for the benefit of the restaurant. The vegan community can be very insular. As a result, it's tempting to give a restaurant a glowing recommendation simply because it's vegan. But what's at stake is your readers' trust in you as a writer- as a result, it's more important to be honest than to be unilaterally supportive.
And telling it like it is can be hard. As Grant reminds us, words can be very powerful tools. Be choosy with the words you use to convey the truth of what you experience at that restaurant.
Here are some other tips from Grant:
- Always give a restaurant at least three chances. Especially if they're smaller or famliy-owned. Even the best restaurants have "off" nights, and maybe your bad experience could be an isolated one. If you can't go back again, however (for example, if you're on vacation), it's okay to write your impression of a place- that experience is just as valid.
- Go with a large group. You'll be able to order a wider range of food and thus sample more of the restaurant's menu. Your friends will also have different perspectives that can help you formulate a balanced review.
- Be anonymous. That can be difficult in this day and age, but if a restaurant knows you are a blogger or will be reviewing the place in a high-profile spot, it may change the way they do things, and you want as authentic an experience as you can get.
- Go on a regular night. Opening nights and special occasions are not the best places to see a restaurant working at its best. Ordinary routines are disrupted and service or food may not be what you or your readers can expect on a regular day.
- Try to inform and engage your readers with your review. Encourage comments, especially if they've had different experiences than what you've had.
- Fact check! Make sure the prices, hours, location are accurate. Know the type of food you're talking about (like how it should be prepared, and how it's spelled). Looking like you don't know what you're doing only undermines your opinion on the food.
- Champion your values as a vegan. "It's vital to the future of our movement to encourage vegan food, vegan restaurants, and vegan-friendly restaurants."
So, what does Grant look for in a restaurant?
- A distinct point of view: "I hate restaurants that have 80 items on the menu and none are done well."
- Places that use good-quality rather than fancy-sounding ingredients: "I feel there are some restaurants [in Portland] that for every descriptive word on the menu, there's another dollar added to the price."
- Value for what you're getting: this doesn't necessarily mean paying the lowest price possible for food as much as it means paying appropriately for the quality you're getting. "I've definitely had $5 burritos where I felt I was getting robbed."
- Places that can make the ordinary seem extraordinary: "I love a good basket of fries" (fry-wise, he recommends Dot's Cafe in SE Portland)
- Restaurants that recognize their locals/regulars: "it's a wonderful thing"
- How clean its toilets are: "if they don't take care of the toilet, what does the kitchen look like?"
- Knowing how to cope with disaster: "even at the best restaurants, disaster strikes several times a night"
- Keeping their website updated on a daily or weekly basis. Especially new and current menus!
"Championing vegan food at mainstream restaurants is the most important thing we do... in terms of moving veganism forward, I think it's essential that we challenge restaurants to take vegan food and vegan customers seriously.... When the vegan dish is more appealing than the roast chicken on a menu, more people are going to order it. The more people go in and don't order chicken, that's an indirect act of compassion."