City Cast

What It’s Like To Be a DC Food Critic

Kaela Cote-Stemmermann
Kaela Cote-Stemmermann
Posted on October 2   |   Updated on October 18
food critic

Food critics always remain anonymous! (Visual Generation/Getty Images)

Washington Post’s food critic Tom Sietsema is probably D.C.’s most universally envied job title. Being paid to eat out for a living? Sign me up. But there is more to it than just ordering food and assigning stars. We asked Sietsema to spill some tricks of the trade.

What Goes Into Writing a Review:

Sietsema says he goes at least three times (often more) to each restaurant to sit in different areas, get different servers, and try different dishes. He also pays attention to other patrons’ experiences, the service, and the cleanliness of the restaurant (especially the bathroom).

How To Stay Anonymous:

These days, being recognized is almost unavoidable, but Sietsema has lots of pseudonyms and tricks for flying under the radar. “I've used burner phones before. I call from friends' phones to make reservations. I have probably 15 Resy and OpenTable accounts. And I have different names on different credit cards,” said Sietsema. Another trick is he’ll arrive after his friends have ordered and received the food, in case staff recognize him.

Sietsema’s review of the new Ukrainian restaurant Ruta.

Sietsema’s review of the new Ukrainian restaurant Ruta. (@tomsietsema/Instagram)

How To Stay Hungry:

First and foremost, Sietsema often tries restaurants with friends so they can share plates and try lots of menu items without getting stuffed. Also, he often refrains from finishing meals (though he’ll take them to go) and will even throw salt on his desserts to stop himself from mindlessly eating them.

Who To Eat With:

Sietsema says, “The ideal person is not a food person. I love to experience a high-end restaurant through the eyes of someone who would never be able to afford that.” He added that the best dining companions have few dietary restrictions and are good conversationalists.

Do you want to become a food critic? Sietsema’s got lots of tips on how to get started!

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