Thursday, February 2, 2012

Instructions for Weekend Assignment 3

You will need to use your powers of analysis in this assignment!

Your task is to read the,,

Ideally, I would like for you to pick a restaurant in which you have eaten at some point in the past. Make sure that this restaurant has many online reviews - in a perfect world, reviews that are more than a brief sentence or two. What I want you to do is read through these online reviews to discern what it is about these places that people like and dislike. I am less interested in the actual comments about the food ("the sauce was greasy", etc.) than what you can discern as the deeper cultural meaning of this particular restaurant as described by reviewers.

What you are doing in this assignment is a form of what historians call "source criticism." In this case, the source is an online review of a restaurant. You will make what we call a "close reading" of the review to analyze it for its deeper meaning.

Consider a few different "institution" style restaurants:

Some restaurants do not offer you much opportunity for deep analysis. For instance, there are 236 reviews for the Parkway Bakery & Tavern on This normally constitutes a significant amount of available source material for your assignment. When you read through the reviews, you notice that there are a number of reviews like this one. In it, the reviewer comments on the friendly service at Parkway - something noted by many reviewers. Another thing that emerges is that Parkway is a known tourist magnet yet it also attracts a local clientele. Many people mention the crowds. Some the decor. After you read through dozens of these, a few will stick out that offer more than just some rhapsodizing about the roast beef. Consider this review which ends with "Photos on the wall show the water to the ceiling during Katrina." Or this one that observes "Parkway Bakery is in a sketch part of town but well worth the trip." And yet another quote, "One of the charming nuances of this place is that when it's a busy day (or really whenever the person behind the counter is in the mood), it is customary to leave a "fun fake name" so that when your order is ready, the entire place gets a chuckle." While these are giving you a fuller picture of Parkway, they comprise a fairly lighthearted sampling of diner expectations and conceptions of the restaurant's place in the city's culture.

Taking things a step further, you will see that features 178 reviews of Galatoire's, one of the fancier restaurants in town. With the stakes higher, you will find a greater diversity of stronger opinions about the place of Galatoire's and how it does or does not create community.  Here we find people who absolutely hated the place (and who clearly can't spell, either ...does that say anything?) Yet there are people who have very different expectations and wouldn't have it any other way. Consider this reviewer's statement: "I loved that the busboy in the white shirts say "excuse me ma'am" every time he reaches in front of you. Or the waitress who makes suggestions not based on prices but based on what actually tastes good." You should begin to quickly realize that there is a lot more fodder for analysis when dealing with an upper-end "institution" like Galatoire's.

Some places you might look into would be Jacques-Imo's, Dick and Jenny's, Patois, Vincent's, Mandina's ... but there are many. Just start keying in restaurants and see what sort of things people say about them. Don't just land on your first restaurant and complete the assignment.

After digging through these reviews, you should have some idea of the sorts of things the more observant reviewer will write. Now it is time for you to engage in true analysis! Read the reviews and evaluate them for how they speak to some of the core themes in this class. In particular, you should discuss the extent to which this establishment forms "community." What is community? There are many different kinds. Can a community be exclusionary? Yes. Can it be inclusive? Yes. Be aware that food can forge a cultural bond that does not, for whatever reason, include you. After reading the comments, can you paint a mental image of the typical person who belongs to this community, including the sorts of cultural elements that they value?

Write a 350 to 400-word blog post describing reviewers' reactions to the restaurant that you choose and what it says about the expectations of those diners. As Brett Anderson told us in class yesterday, we eat at restaurants because what they say about ourselves. But then what if that image does not live up to the expectation. Use this as an exercise in thinking analytically about why people embrace the cultural choices that they make.

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