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What are food awards really worth?

Wednesday, 1st July, 2020 6:28pm

Being a member of an Irish chef’s Facebook group has given me some highlights over time. 

On Monday morning, I saw a post from a chef who had received an award from one of our food guides (not going to name it here) and an invoice of €2,000 to receive the plaque. Now, I do understand that a lot of admin work goes into these awards (having organised a few events in the past and having been judge on many) but that amount was rather obscene I thought (and about 100 chefs agreed at the time I was reading the post).

A discussion started on which award means the most and all agreed that the Michelin Guide is the one to be included in. This can mean a star, a bib or a recommendation – a chef does not have to pay but needs to meet other criteria.

All other awards are created to make money – but do they still have value? I think so (apart from the price tag of some) but they need to have merit.

I have heard of one plaque from a food writer who sends you an invoice the following year without having been back for a visit – just like a subscription service. Since I heard that (and it was a reliable source of a chef who received the follow-up bill), I don’t trust that particular writer anymore.

I have been an inspector for some food awards and have taken the job very seriously. If done properly, the inspector will have a chart with requirements like how clean was the premises, how was the food presented, did the waiter know the dishes etc. This type of chart guarantees that all premises are judged under the same guidelines.

I don’t get carried away by being obvious and just eat my dinner and look around – something I do anyway. I have never been made as an inspector and that gives me the freedom to experience a normal service.

Otherwise you get special treatment and that should not be the basis of an award. I have been asked to judge some of my favourite restaurants and thought it to be a doodle, only to be messed up by bad service or a bad day in the kitchen. But that is simply part of the job on both sides.

So, I am always reluctant to believe any paid award with some exceptions. One of them is the McKenna Guide – obviously, everyone in the food world knows John and Sally but they are not afraid to take you off their 100 Best Places to Eat if they think your standards have not improved or they have found someone else who is simply better.

But again, you will have to pay for the plaque – although not as outrageous as mentioned before.

I did a survey on my Facebook page once asking people if they follow any guides when it comes to choosing a restaurant and the majority said to follow word-of-mouth before any guide although many have a guide purchased.

TripAdvisor seemed to be on the bottom of references which made me personally very happy. When you find a good restaurant, keep supporting them – especially in the times we are in.

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