Can You Actually Trust New York Times Restaurant Reviews?

When it comes to food criticism, the New York Times has long been one of the top sources for restaurant reviews with style. Since the publication began its Dining section in 1957, it has reviewed thousands of restaurants and likely visited many more. There's no doubt that many restaurateurs dream of the day that their business will garner enough attention to be visited by a New York Times food critic, hoping that the ensuing review will be a positive one and not a zero-star pan like the one steakhouse Peter Luger received in 2019. 

On the other hand, other highly-rated chefs like Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby Flay have expressed how painful it was to receive a negative New York Times rating. Regardless, the long-standing newspaper, which has been reviewing notable restaurants for decades, recently shared some insight into its review practices and criteria (via The New York Times). From what rating stars mean to the anonymity of restaurant reviewers, it's clear that the process has evolved over the years and is more of an art than a science.

How does the New York Times rating system work?

The surprising thing about a restaurant review in the New York Times is that while four stars is the best score available, a zero star rating is also possible. Zero stars mean the experience was "poor" or unsatisfactory in a major way, while four stars mean the experience was "extraordinary." One star, which doesn't sound like a great rating, still means that the experience was "good," while two stars indicate a "very good" rating and three stars an "excellent" rating. For the most part, restaurants end up with rankings somewhere in the middle, but the New York Times doesn't shy away from brutal honesty, either.

As New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells explains in an interview with the paper, another component that makes the review process fair is that food critics are anonymous and don't tell the restaurant that they're writing a review. Many critics will even use fake names when booking reservations. This way, the critic's dining experience is as authentic as possible, for better or for worse. Wells also notes that when a critic is reviewing a restaurant for the New York Times, they're considering everything from the ambiance (as it turns out, music can actually influence how your food tastes) to the value and quality of service. After all, dining is about more than just the food on the table.