Last week's food reviews of Big Bird's Burgers racked up dozens of comments a boiseweekly.com, most of them chiding writer Nathaniel Hoffman for dissing the restaurant's Christian theme. "Amazing that your bigotry allowed any space to mention the food at all."; "Criticize the food, not the personal beliefs of the restaurant owners."; "This article is a perfect example of why we don't read the Boise Weekly ..."
Food reviews in BW are not something we approach cavalierly. I've had more than one restaurateur tell me a BW review put them out of business, and whether I believe that, we do put a great deal of thought and effort into each review. Striking a balance between supporting the local business community and communicating to the public honestly about a business is no easy task. We approach food reviews from a man-on-the-street perspective, that is, the perspective from which we assume our readers dine in any restaurant.
Those upset with Hoffman's assessment of Big Bird's fell into roughly two categories: those who took issue with Hoffman mentioning atmosphere and those who took issue with what he said about the atmosphere. Regarding the former, we believe that dining out is an entire experience, which encompasses the food itself, how it's presented, the service, cleanliness and decor. And each of those things is fair game in a BW food review. Regarding the latter, Hoffman represents "a medium-sized segment of the population" who will not feel welcomed at Big Bird's. In places like Idaho, where Christianity is the dominant religion, a majority of people will not understand that assertion. However, that doesn't make it untrue.
The overarching goal of a BW food review is to tell readers what they're getting into. A reviewer does that by employing his or her own paradigm. When I say a Thai restaurant is lackluster, I'm drawing on several months experience in Thailand. Therefore, a reader who prefers authentic Thai food may choose not to patronize that restaurant. We've often insulted restaurants by describing the decor as kitschy, gaudy and immature, yet none of those adjectives have elicited much response. Was Hoffman brash? Yes. Did he draw on his own non-Christian past in sizing up Big Bird's? Yes. But neither of those things are uncharacteristic of what we do at BW. Those readers who fall into that "medium-sized segment of the population" will steer clear of Big Bird's regardless of how good the food is. Those who don't are helping Big Bird's to have what, I presume, is a record week in profits.