We’re the only media in this town to pay for our food and write both positive and negative reviews.
BK Magazine has been enthusiastically supporting Bangkok’s dining scene and moving it forward for 14 years. One of our most controversial features is our reviews (a half-page out of our weekly 5-7 pages on food and drinks). We’re the only media in this town to pay for our food and write both positive and negative reviews. We get a lot of questions about that, so read on and find out how BK Magazine’s restaurant coverage works.
What is your policy for restaurant coverage?
This is one of the most confusing aspects of BK Magazine. Different sections of the magazine work differently:
- In New & Noted, we may announce a new restaurant opening without even having set foot there, to get the news out quickly.
- In Open Door, we’ll visit the restaurant and will most often be hosted (meaning the food is free, yay!) by the owners, meet the chef, listen to the PR spiel, etc. That allows us to profile new venues according to what they are attempting to do. Open Door is not a review. It contains neither high praise nor strong criticism.
- Months or years later, we might do an actual review. Our restaurant reviews are in the section in BK Magazine labeled “Reviews.” They range from negative to positive and have a star rating. Reviews have their own set of guidelines (see below).
OK, so what are the guidelines for reviews?
- The restaurant must be at least three months old. If the restaurant is struggling--meaning it’s gone through three concepts and as many chefs in as many months--we’ll usually give it some more time to find its feet.
- Of course, we eat at the restaurant we’re reviewing.
- We dine unannounced. We don’t call ahead. We don’t sit with the chef or PR or owner. We avoid sending someone they can recognize from the Open Door visit, or a buddy of the owners.
- We pay for our meal. Typically, we’ll try two appetizers, two mains, two desserts and two drinks.
- We review the whole dining experience, which includes more than just food. Reviews are also based on service and atmosphere.
Why do you do negative reviews?
We know how much work goes into a restaurant. We’ve been covering the dining scene for many years. We’re very close to scores of restaurateurs and chefs. But our respect for their work doesn’t mean we don’t have opinions on their venues: there are places we love and places we don’t. What makes BK Magazine special is that we write, and publish, those opinions. We believe it rewards good places and moves the scene forward. If you don’t believe magazines should have opinions, that journalism should be “objective” (whatever that means), let’s agree to disagree.
But bad reviews can damage a restaurant’s business.
We’ve given negative reviews to places that have gone on to thrive for years after that. Don’t overestimate us. People are looking for where to eat, not “where not to eat.” If a restaurant which got a negative review from BK Magazine fails, there are probably a host of reasons beyond our review. In short, don’t shoot the messenger.
Can’t you say things more nicely, though?
We don’t use foul language or make personal attacks. We don’t make libelous statements or innuendos. We keep it professional. But a bad review is never going to sound like a good review, no matter how you write it. As a side note, negative reviews are perfectly legal--yes, even in Thailand.
Why are your reviewers anonymous?
On occasion, they’ve been threatened. Some of our reviewers are foreigners, which makes them even more vulnerable to powerful people. And powerful people love owning restaurants (or their kids do). Also, our reviews are meant to be unannounced and incognito to get the same service anyone else would. This magazine has an editor, though, who is ultimately responsible for everything printed in the magazine. In that sense, the review is not completely anonymous. You have someone you can talk to if you want to discuss the review. We take responsibility for our words.
How does the star rating work?
- One is “forget about it,” which is pretty self-explanatory.
- Two stars is “stuck in the neighborhood.” While that sounds harsh, we regularly eat at two-star places. They’re decent. They’re just not the kind of place where we’d ever say, “Hey have you checked out [insert name of restaurant here]?”
- Three stars is a place we’d recommend. There might be issues here and there, but the whole package is very good.
- Four stars is for totally awesome places—essential dining for any serious Bangkok foodie.
- Five stars is for places we feel offer a flawless dining experience, as well as the annual Top Tables’ top 10, which is voted on by a panel of foodies and industry experts. See the whole list here.
As you can see, we’re very tough. While 3/5 stars on most online rating websites would mean average, a two-star in BK Magazine is average.
What makes you qualified to review restaurants?
You don’t need to direct a movie to earn the right to slam some crap you paid 120 baht for and wasted two hours watching--even if 1,000 people worked on it for three years. On the topic of restaurants, we expect our reviewers to have sufficient points of references to rate the restaurant comparably to how we’ve rated other restaurants. Our body of reviews must be coherent. They need to be savvy diners but we’re not interested in whether the reviewers went to Cordon Bleu, staged at Robuchon or can fry an egg. Restaurant reviews are just opinions. They are not high court rulings.
What can I do if I disagree with your reviews?
Write to us! We owe it to our readers that our reviews match their tastes at least most of the time. BK's reviews are meant to help you eat at great restaurants, so If you think we’ve completely lost the plot, it’s essential you tell us. Also, we sometimes get stuff wrong and serious mistakes deserve to be corrected. You can reach the editors at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What can I do if I think you’re great and totally admire you for being the only ones gutsy enough to do real reviews?
You sound amazing. Are you single? Can you cook?
Photo credit: Yes, that's the lovely food critic from Ratatouille, the Pixar film.