Dividing Up A Shrinking Pie

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I'm not only going to borrow a couple paragraphs from Scott at DallasFood.org, but I'm also lifting them out of context. Hope he doesn't mind.

In the midst of a thoughtful post discussing a blogger code of ethics proposal, Scott wrote:

The professional has to blow part of his budget on repeated meals to openings like Hully & Moe's, Bella, DiTerra's, Cibus, Fedora, etc. There are two consequences of that.

First, spending that way over the course of a year leaves substantially less budget for more worthwhile restaurants. In other words, even if some professional food writers have more budget to work with than some independent bloggers, what's the use of a budget advantage if it has to be squandered on a great many mediocre restaurants?

He brings up an interesting point. Thanks to the economic downturn, food critics have indeed been forced to juggle budgets, even more than usual. I work with a budget separated into pools for reviews, revisits to previously reviewed restaurants and a pittance for running the blog. Although the most important of these--the amount set aside for reviews--has been slashed by a rather noticeable figure, the three budgets still allow for dining five nights a week.

Days six and seven are devoted to playing football, which sorta keeps me in shape (and may soon kill me), watching soccer or being coaxed by incessant meow-ing into throwing toy mice around the flat for what seems like hours on end.

In order to fit something with Aurora-like prices into the review line up, visits to places such as Hully & Mo (I'm assuming it's relatively cheap; still haven't been) or Agave Tex-Mex become necessary. Instead of cutting into our ability to review high-end restaurants, however, these side trips allow us to build up a nice reserve of reimbursement funds which, in turn, gives us enough cash to hit the expensive places. In fact, it creates more of a budget for worthwhile restaurants, rather than less.

At least, that's how we have to look at it. Besides, a visit to one of these 'less worthy' locations may uncover some hidden talent. Could happen, really.

But I understand Scott's frustration. For me, a restaurant is up for review if it is new (and somehow deserving, but that's another conversation), if it changed chefs, if it underwent a massive change in menu or concept and, finally, if the place has not been reviewed in, say, three years or more--if ever. My thinking is along the lines of 'why review York St. when everyone still considers it a stellar destination?' Yet restaurants can hold onto a reputation, even as they begin to slip.

Which, I gather, is Scott's concern. Step up reviews of places like Abacus, Pappas Bros., Bijoux, Aurora and the like to develop a real sense of how they are weathering things. Also seek out the authentic little ethnic dives tucked away in Garland or Irving or wherever--what I believe he means by "worthwhile" restaurants..

Oh--by the way, I'm not suggesting York St. has dropped off. Just used it as an example.

Budget cuts haven't affected our ability to visit new fine dining restaurants, really. But they have cut into the money many of us used to throw at exploration--hunting down the worthy unknowns. Even worse, responsibility for updating the blog cuts into the time once spent in the search process--at least at publications operating under post quotas. Like I said, I have two free nights a week and, now, no free days until the weekend.

Yeah, fine. I could give up on the toy mouse chase game. But it's apparently engrossing...and I don't relish being faced down by an angry 7-pound beast if I don't participate.

Not that anyone else in the working world has time, either. Seeking out hidden gems, well, that should be part of the service we provide. Thanks to the current situation, however, many of us spend less time in this pursuit.

That's the real damage of budget cuts (and expanded office duties). But we should rebound sometime, right?

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