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What does a food critic do?
A food critic is sometimes also known as a food reviewer, a food writer, a food journalist, a food blogger or a restaurant critic. They visit food establishments to test and analyse various dishes and beverages for taste, quality, portion size and presentation. They may also evaluate the atmosphere and the level of service. They will then share their dining experience with the public via written articles/blogs or videos/vlogs/podcasts, and may even give a business a rating.
Food critics can visit many different establishments, such as restaurants, cafes, pubs and other eateries, and may also sample food and drink at events. They may decide to specialise in specific cuisines, dietary preferences or premises. Some may only visit high-end establishments, e.g. those with Michelin stars, or those for people on a budget. Therefore, what food critics do will depend on the places they visit, who they work for, and the food they analyse.
Food critics will carry out many tasks, including keeping abreast of the latest food trends, premises and chefs, tasting and evaluating various food and drinks, taking photographs, reviewing the overall dining experience, attending events and launches, etc. The role does require a substantial amount of time on the computer typing up reviews and articles or producing and uploading videos.
A food critic’s main aim is to review various establishments, food and drinks to help the public to choose where or not to eat. When people go out for a meal, they want it to be a positive experience, especially as they are paying for the privilege. Food critics give reasons why people should eat at that particular establishment and assist the public in making informed choices. If food businesses receive positive reviews from a food critic, it can also attract customers and increase business. It can also encourage higher standards and healthy competition within the industry.
Food critics will work with various people, such as those working at various publications and other companies. They will also liaise with external stakeholders, including social media teams and followers, food business owners and their staff, other customers, other food critics and even local authority environmental health officers and the Food Standards Agency. Some food critics try to remain anonymous, but this is not always possible for those who are well-known.
Most food critics are freelance and work for publications, such as magazines, newspapers, travel guides and food-related websites, on a contract basis. They may also be self-employed and have their own websites or publications. More successful food critics can end up working on television or radio. Permanent full-time employed roles are uncommon.
A food critic’s responsibilities will depend on the food/drink and establishments in which they specialise and whether they are employed, freelance or have their own business.
Some of their duties can include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Keeping abreast of the latest food establishments, practices, standards, food trends and upcoming chefs.
- Tasting and analysing foods for taste, flavour, quality, portion size and presentation.
- Evaluating the standards within the establishment, e.g. cleanliness, ambience, service, decor and layout.
- Reviewing their overall experience fairly and consistently and without bias.
- Writing, typing or filming original, creative and engaging content for various publications/outlets accurately representing the establishment.
- Taking photographs of dishes, drinks and the premises to add to their reviews or requesting the use of existing photos.
- Meeting deadlines for publishing and being flexible.
- Attending promotional events and launches.
The hours a food critic works are variable and will depend on many factors, including whether they freelance for other companies or have their own business. They can work more hours if deadlines are strict, and work is not always guaranteed. Therefore, they can have periods where they work fewer hours. Some permanent roles may offer regular working hours, but as stated, these roles are few and far between.
Being a food critic is not a 9–5 job. Some food establishments only open in the evenings, and there may be events and launches at weekends and bank holidays. Therefore, those looking at entering this profession must be committed to working unsociable hours. Travel is necessary to get to various eateries, which could mean local, national or international travel.
What to expect
There are many positives to being a food critic, especially if individuals love food and enjoy sampling new and different cuisines. Visiting various food establishments, testing their food and drinks and reviewing the overall experience for others can be exciting and a lot of fun. If individuals like dining out, this role would be a great fit.
The role can also be rewarding. Food critics’ reviews give customers an informed choice, so they do not waste their time and money visiting an establishment that would not be for them. They can also be great for food businesses, as positive reviews can increase custom and turnover. Food critics can go home at the end of the working day knowing their articles have made a difference to customers, food businesses and the whole industry. However, sometimes it is not all positive if food businesses receive negative reviews, but this should encourage them to raise the bar, as it is a very competitive industry.
With hard work and talent and building the right connections, food critics can become renowned and work for respectable, well-known publications. Some even go on to work in television or radio and earn significantly. Many meals and drinks are paid for by the company that the food critic is freelancing for, often saving them money on their grocery bills.
Boredom will never be a problem for food critics, as no two days will be the same. They will visit different food establishments, meet new people and try various food, drinks and cuisines. There may be opportunities to travel locally, nationally and even internationally.
Even though being a food critic is rewarding, and there are many positives, individuals should consider the cons and challenges, for example:
- Not for fussy eaters – food critics must be prepared to eat various dishes that may look strange and have unusual ingredients, so being a picky eater is not an option. It may also not be a wise career choice for those with food allergies, intolerances or dietary preferences unless they specialise in critiquing specific foods, such as gluten-free, vegan or vegetarian.
- Potential weight gain – eating and drinking too much can cause weight gain. Therefore, food critics must be mindful of this when considering the role. There will usually be many courses and drinks, increasing calorie intake and alcohol units significantly. Food critics may need to control the amount they eat and drink and increase their exercise.
- Potential sickness – unfortunately, some establishments may not follow good food hygiene practices, leading to food critics becoming ill with food poisoning. Although uncommon, it is still a risk that individuals should be aware of, as it has happened in the past.
- Damage to food businesses – poor reviews given by food critics can damage a business’s reputation meaning a loss of custom and turnover. Food critics must consider this when reviewing businesses and ensure a fair and accurate evaluation. Business owners and chefs will not look kindly on negative reviews and may get angry at food critics. Therefore, there is the potential for criticism and verbal and even physical abuse. Businesses may take legal action against food critics if a review is inaccurate.
- Mental demands – being a food critic can be mentally demanding. The deadlines can be tight, and there is a lot of pressure to create original and captivating reviews. Some businesses will go to the media if they believe the review is wrong, which can increase stress for food critics.
Every career choice has pros and cons, and prospective food critics must know what to expect before deciding whether it is a suitable career. It is mentally demanding, and there is the potential for weight gain. Some dishes can be unpleasant and strange to eat, food poisoning is a risk, and there can be issues with food business owners/chefs if a critic gives negative reviews. However, there are many positives too, and those who become food critics really love their job.
When considering whether to be a food critic, individuals should look at the pros and cons. They should also ensure they have the right personal qualities to carry out the role and responsibilities required.
Personal qualities needed to be a food critic
Some of the personal qualities that a food critic requires will include (this list is not exhaustive):
- A passion for food and drink.
- A passion for writing.
- Confident, determined, motivated, persistent and assertive.
- Honest, consistent, fair, discrete and objective.
- Knowledge of the food industry, latest food trends, best practices and upcoming chefs.
- Excellent written and verbal communication skills.
- Creative writing skills.
- Critical thinking skills.
- Networking skills.
- Interpersonal skills.
- Time management and organisational skills.
- Being thorough, accurate and having attention to detail.
- The ability to write clearly and engage people with original content.
- The ability to distinguish between different flavours, tastes, textures and dishes, i.e. a good palate.
- The ability to work quickly and efficiently and meet tight deadlines.
- The ability to work under pressure and remain calm in stressful situations.
- The ability to eat all types of cuisines without being fussy.
- The ability to be flexible and adapt to change, especially when working at short notice and unsociable hours.
- The ability to accept criticism and rejection.
- The ability to use IT and software packages.
There are no specific entry requirements to become a food critic. However, having a qualification in food and/or writing can maximise an individual’s chance of being successful. Individuals could go to university or college, apply for an apprenticeship, or start their own business or freelance. They could also do work experience to help them enter the role.
Many renowned food critics are university graduates, so having an undergraduate or postgraduate degree can help individuals stand out from the crowd.
Some examples of relevant courses are:
- Creative writing.
- Communication and media studies.
- Food science.
The entry requirements will depend on each university, and individuals should check before applying.
Undertaking a college course can help individuals get into the role, for example:
- Level 2 Creative Writing.
- Level 3 Creative Writing Diploma.
- HND Journalism or Journalism Diploma.
Individuals may want to enrol on a food-related college course, e.g. culinary arts. Private training providers also offer writing courses, including specific ones on food writing.
Individuals usually need two or more GCSEs at grades 9 to 3 (A* to D) or equivalent for a Level 2 course and four or five GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent for a Level 3 course. They should check the entry requirements before applying.
Even if individuals decide not to go to college, they will still need a decent secondary education, including GCSE maths and English. Having additional qualifications in writing and food technology will help.
Individuals are not guaranteed success with courses and qualifications. However, it will demonstrate to employers and companies that they are keen on the job and may give individuals a competitive edge.
There are no specific apprenticeships relating to the food critic role. However, some relevant routes could help individuals enter the profession, e.g. digital and creative content, content writing, creative writing and journalism.
To be successful, individuals will usually need four or five GCSEs, grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), including English and maths, but this will depend on each employer.
Opportunities are found on Government’s Apprenticeships, Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, and Indeed.
Having the right personal qualities and skills to be a food critic is essential. Being able to write clearly and engagingly and having food knowledge will go a long way.
If an individual decides to go to university or college, they could enhance their writing skills by seeking out opportunities to review food establishments or complete articles for student newsletters. They may also be able to do work experience at a publication or find internships in writing and publishing.
Individuals should gain as much writing experience as possible. Companies will want to see writing samples, so having a strong portfolio with many writing examples is important.
To gain experience, individuals could:
- Visit different eateries, try various cuisines, analyse dishes (finances depending) and write about the overall experience.
- Start their own blog, vlog, podcast or social media page.
- Practise different writing styles and ask for feedback to hone their skills.
- Submit samples of their writing to various publications and outlets.
- Ask food businesses or other companies if they could write professional reviews for their websites and literature.
- Apply for entry-level writing jobs or go freelance.
- Attend various food and writing events to network and build connections.
Volunteering can also help individuals build their knowledge and skills. Individuals could volunteer and write for charities and community schemes. There is information on volunteering and local opportunities on Do-IT, NCVO and Volunteering Matters.
Any work experience in food and writing can help individuals stand out from the crowd. Even community courses can help, e.g. creative writing and digital content creation. It does not matter whether the writing experience is relevant to food, although it would be beneficial.
Learning does not stop with experience or once someone becomes qualified. Attending relevant training courses and having additional certifications can help individuals enter the profession, enhance their employability and give them a competitive edge. Many colleges and accredited private training providers can provide relevant training courses.
Some examples of courses that may be useful for food critics include:
- Blogging and vlogging.
- Data protection and the GDPR.
- Food safety and hygiene.
- Creative writing.
- English grammar.
- Social media.
- Food and wine tasting.
- Time management.
- Business management.
- Other languages (for menus).
Professional bodies, unions, charities and associations, such as the Guild of Food Writers (GFW), the Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIOJ), the British Association of Journalists (BAJ), the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), and the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) can also advise on reputable training courses. Some also provide events and support to help individuals become food critics/writers and give those already in the role the means to continue their professional development.
The type of training required will depend on what employers/clients are looking for (if employed/freelance) and the eateries, food and cuisine in which a food critic wants to specialise. It is worth looking at several job advertisements to identify the training needed for freelance and employed roles. Jobs can be found on websites such as GOV.UK find a job service, Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Copify UK, contentwritingjobs.com and newspaper/magazine websites. Recruitment agencies may also offer food critic jobs.
More relevant training and competence (skills, experience and knowledge) will open up more opportunities. Refresher training is also advisable as practices and standards change. It also keeps an individual’s knowledge and skills up to date.
There are additional responsibilities associated with being self-employed. If an individual decides to become a self-employed food critic, they must:
- Have the correct insurance, i.e. public liability, professional indemnity, car, home and business. If employing anyone, employer’s liability insurance will be required.
- Register with HMRC.
- File tax returns.
- Register with the ICO to hold personal data (to comply with the Data Protection Act 2018 and the GDPR).
Further advice and guidance on being self-employed can be found on GOV.UK.
Food critics will be visiting various eateries to review, so they will need the means to get there. They will either need a full driving licence and access to a vehicle or should be in an area with regular public transport.
Where do food critics work?
Food critics can work for publications, such as newspapers, magazines, travel guides and food-related websites, and even work for retailers and large restaurant chains.
They will predominately visit restaurants but may also visit different food establishments, such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- Mobile vendors.
- Bed & breakfasts.
To complete their review, they may work from an office if employed or from home if they freelance, hybrid work or have their own business.
Food critics will be required to travel to food establishments and events which could be local to where they live or further afield nationally, which can mean overnight stays. There may be opportunities for some food critics to travel overseas and experience different cultures and cuisines.
How much do food critics earn?
What a food critic earns will depend on whether they are employed, freelance or self-employed. Some freelance writing opportunities pay per word, so earnings will be based on the size of the articles and how many an individual writes.
There is no exact salary information for this career, as it is a niche area. However, there is information for general writing roles. According to PayScale, the average salary is £25,876 for a journalist, £23,232 for a content writer and £26,117 for a writer. On top of base earnings, meals are usually paid for by the company the food critic is working for, so there are additional benefits.
There is the potential for well-known food critics to earn well, especially if they make media appearances or gain a substantial social media following. However, not all food critics will get to this level, and the earnings for those at entry level are likely to be low, especially when trying to build connections and a reputation.
As an apprentice, the salary will depend on an individual’s age and how long they have been in their apprenticeship. Apprentices must earn at least the current National Minimum Wage (NMW). Some employers will pay more than this. However, it will depend on the organisation and role on offer.
Types of food critiquing roles to specialise in
Being a food critic is a niche career, so most individuals visit many food establishments rather than specialise in one area.
There may be opportunities for food critics to specialise in different dining experiences, such as (this list is not exhaustive):
- Fine dining, e.g. Michelin-starred and AA.
- Casual dining, e.g. food chains.
- Pub restaurants.
- Fast food restaurants.
- Family restaurants.
- Buffets and self-service.
They could also specialise in specific cuisines, e.g:
- Pub grub.
They could also specialise in specific dietary needs and preferences, e.g:
Individuals could create their own niche in food critiquing. As there are not many food critics, it is essential to be unique and try to offer something different.
Various food critiquing roles will require differing knowledge, skills, experience, talent and qualities. All food critics will need a passion for food and dining out and must be able to create original and engaging content to deadlines. Any additional areas of expertise will depend on what a company is looking for (if employed or freelance) and the specialisms a food critic wants to work in.
If food critics do not carry out their roles correctly, it could result in their writing receiving criticism and them not being offered future work. If their reviews are unfair, inconsistent and inaccurate, it can also result in complaints from food business owners and chefs. In some cases, they may decide to take legal action, as it can damage their business and overall reputation. Therefore, food critics must be competent and only work within their remit and scope.
Food trends, establishments, laws, practices and technologies are regularly changing. Therefore, food critics must keep abreast with the latest developments and changes to ensure they carry out their roles effectively and correctly. Continuing professional development (CPD) gives food critics the knowledge and skills to keep up to date with these changes, understand their responsibilities and progress in their careers.
Joining a professional body, union and association can help prospective and current food critics enhance their skills and overall career. The Guild of Food Writers (GFW), the Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIOJ), the British Association of Journalists (BAJ), the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ), and the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) offer different levels of membership, CPD, support, access to industry contacts and networking events.
As mentioned, food critic jobs are few and far between, and an individual must work hard and stand out from the crowd to progress in this career. They must get their written work out there to be seen and be prepared for critique and rejection. With more experience, connections and an enhanced reputation, an individual can become a food critic for well-known publications, such as newspapers and magazines. Some people have gained notoriety and large followings on social media platforms, which can help individuals become more popular and even lead to TV and radio appearances. Self-employed food bloggers may be able to earn from advertising on their websites and platforms.
Knowledge, skills and experience from being a food critic can also lead to a career in different areas. For example, experience in writing could lead to a career in editing, copywriting, novel writing, digital content creation, marketing or advertising. Having experience visiting various establishments and tasting food and drink could lead to careers in other areas of food, such as specification writing, quality control and food tasting.