Everyone’s a critic, sure. But how often do you get a chance to do it the way the pros do, with a stipend and an audience and the pleasure of spreading the word about a restaurant you love? That’s the appeal of “Check, Please!”, the restaurant review show coming to KCTS. It’s a local branch of a popular show that started in Chicago in 2001 (the most famous episode is this one featuring then-Senator Barack Obama) and spun off to San Francisco, Miami, Kansas City, Arizona, and now Seattle. (Cue deep sigh of appreciation. I love ya, Portland, but you’re 0-2.)
The show works like this: Three guests are picked for each episode, with each person recommending a favorite restaurant. Each guest, using a stipend, eats anonymously at the restaurants chosen by the other two. Then they get together with the show’s host to review their experiences, accompanied by footage of the restaurant, chef interviews and recipes. Hopefully, it’ll be full of debates and introductions to great new places, and I’m glad to see they’re pushing participants to nominate restaurants off the beaten path. Whether old favorites or new, the producers promise the discussions will feature the most important quality in any restaurant review: Honesty.
“It’s not a reality show. We’re not sending people so we can create a confrontation,” said Chicago-based series creator and executive producer David Manilow, who was in town this week to interview finalists for the host’s job. Vegan guests will not be sent to rib joints. It’s true that, given the format, every place is guaranteed at least one defender. “But it’s also not a complete Chamber of Commerce show where everybody loves everything all the time.”
Sign up now (here’s how); the list of people applying to the Chicago show is around 33,000 people long, and the other cities with a Check, Please! have long lists too.
It’s not really a waiting list – “someone could sign up on a Tuesday and be on a month later” if they fill a particular niche – but it can’t hurt to be the first lawyer or dog walker or code jockey to apply. And if it works as planned, the show will be about the best kinds of food experiences, those that wind up being about something intangible but even greater than what’s on your plate. “Certainly it’s about restaurants, but it’s also about loving your city and seeing the people who live here,” Manilow said.
How can you increase your odds of getting picked as a guest? Be engaging, be passionate about the restaurant you’re recommending, and be able to carry a conversation. They’ll be trying for a good mix of people from all walks of life; “we want an interesting group that hopefully you would not really see sitting at a table anywhere else.”
So, nu (as our mutual friend would say)? Which restaurants do you love enough to nominate? (I might suggest Tagla, or the Little Uncle walk-up (more on that next time), or Travelers Thali House.) Got any hidden treasures for us? List them here, and then go apply. Filming starts next month and the first episode airs on KCTS at 7 p.m. March 8.
Photo of the show’s logo, courtesy of KCTS