What do you expect from a restaurant review? To me, there are four primary aspects of a restaurant review, references to the food, drink, price and service. Writers should properly address those four key elements in their reviews. There are a number of secondary aspects as well that can be considered such as the restaurant's size, decor, ambiance, parking availability, etc. It seems though that one of the primary elements gets little, if any, attention, by a number of reviewers, from bloggers to print media. Why are these reviewers largely ignoring restaurant's drink programs?
Many restaurants invest much time and effort into developing their wine lists and bar programs. They may bring in experts, sommeliers, mixologists and more, to help design those programs. They may be rightfully proud about their accomplishments, and it becomes a significant reason why diners will patronize their establishment. When considering where to dine, I often consider the drinks menu and I know plenty of others who do the very same. When a restaurant has a particularly interesting drinks list, that should be emphasized in a restaurant review. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen as much as it should.
Let me provide one glaring example. I was recently perusing Devra First's review of Yakitori Zai in the Boston Globe and was dismayed by her meager coverage of the drinks offered at the restaurant. There was a single sentence in her lengthy review about the alcohol program, which I think is a failure to properly address such a key element. She stated that "Wine is available..." yet says nothing about how many wines, what type of wines, the prices of those wines, etc.
She continues with "...a sake list offers a good mix of styles and flavors but yakitori may go best with beer." In this, she first fails to mention (and may be unaware) that sake is a traditional Japanese pairing with yakitori, so it would probably make a better pairing than beer. But she also says nothing about pricing, the specific types and and brands of sake and beer available, etc. If you look at the restaurant's online menu, you will see they only list 4 beer options and 10 sake options. So beer doesn't seem too important to them with such a very limited selection. I also feel the sake selection needs improvement, especially that it should include some kimoto/yamahai styles which should pair even better with yakitori.
After reading that review, I looked at Devra's prior eight restaurant reviews, which span July and August, and all of those reviews were available for free without having a subscription to the Globe. Though this is only a small sample, I think it is representative and was disturbed that her reviews showed a pattern of providing minimal information, if any, about the wine and alcohol programs of the restaurants she reviews. Why is this the case?
Of those eight reviews, two failed to mention the drinks at all. 25% of her reviews ignoring drinks completely? That seems wrong. Of the others, the drinks coverage was only 1-3 sentences, which I consider inadequate to properly cover this important element. More information seems to provided about the decor than the drinks. Only one of the reviews mentioned alcohol prices, saying that a wine list is "respectfully priced," whatever that actually means. In all those reviews, a single wine was mentioned by name and only one review specifically mentioned any beers by name. Overall, I would consider this inadequate coverage of an important element of these restaurants.
In addition, prior to my recent visit to the Painted Burro in Somerville, I checked online for other reviews and saw Devra's review from May. That review merely mentions that the restaurant has tequila, but says nothing else about it or the rest of their bar program. That is a major omission as I later learned the restaurant has a huge tequila and mezcal list, with a number of tasting flight options and plenty of cocktails. In addition, it has a large beer list, with many options from Mexico, and a small wine list. Why didn't Devra say anything about this extensive bar program? After visiting the restaurant myself, I understood how important this bar program is to the restaurant so omitting reference to it in a restaurant review is a significant failure.
Devra is certainly not the only offender and I am using her only as an example. Restaurant reviews should cover all of the major elements of a restaurant, and that includes their drinks program. Failure to do so leads to an incomplete and failed review. You do a disservice to a restaurant by ignoring something of which they might have devoted much energy and attention. You do a disservice to your readers who desire that information. How many consumers decide on a restaurant based on its decor? I am confident that number is but a tiny percentage of the number of consumers who decide based on their drinks program.
Restaurant reviewers, let's see more detailed discussions of drinks in your reviews. If you don't know much about wine, beer and spirits, why not gain a basic education so you can better address your readers about all of the major elements of a restaurant.