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Topic: e-book

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August 7, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Yelp Help: Writing a better restaurant review


Everyone’s a critic, thanks to online review sites like Yelp. That makes criticism worth reading even harder to find.

Enter Hanna Raskin, until recently the restaurant critic for Seattle Weekly, known for her thorough research, an eye for out-of-the-way restaurant gems, an engaging style, and unapologetic honesty. She’s doing her part to teach the secrets of well-crafted, useful, online restaurant reviews in her new e-book, “Yelp Help” (available on for $2.99, or in print form for $5.99 in selected bookstores.)

In the book, Raskin goes through the basic workings of a restaurant kitchen (for those who have wondered what the ‘expediter’ does or when the prep cooks go home,) gives a brief history of restaurant criticism, then gets into the meat of things – where most online reviews go bad and how to avoid the most common errors.

(Sample: “Rather than declare a restaurant ‘definitely overpriced,’ quote real numbers.” Sample #2: Avoid ambiguous words, even the ubiquitous ‘flavorful’: “Spoiled milk has a strong flavor. So does a 2-day-old scallop.”) She shows how professional critics research and write, and – that writing class essential – how to develop your own voice.

Seattle Yelp-ers who take her advice still won’t be competing directly with Raskin; she’s leaving town for a new job at the Charleston, S.C., Post & Courier. We talked by phone about why people hate Yelp reviews, food clichés to avoid, and where a critic eats before leaving the Northwest (the list includes lots of Asian food in the I.D., a dim sum run to Vancouver, B.C., Ma’Ono, Terra Plata, Poppy, Renee Erickson’s restaurants, and Il Corvo pasta.)

Here’s a condensed, edited version of our conversation, and, as a former critic, my favorite piece of advice from her book: “It’s hugely important for reviewers to remember that different restaurants serve different purposes. The critic’s job is not to judge whether a restaurant meets a predetermined set of criteria for greatness, but whether it succeeds in doing what it has set out to do.”:


Comments | Topics: e-book, Hanna Raskin, Rebekah Denn