National / International News

A food critic's power in the Internet age

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-06 12:08

Local restaurant reviewer Leslie Brenner has ruffled the feathers of a chef and some restaurateurs in Dallas. She's been attacked on Twitter and Facebook, and some restaurants are not cooperating for reviews.

In an era of online reviews and food bloggers, does it really matter what one critic writes in a newspaper? More than you might think.  The Internet has changed how reviews impact the business of restaurants and how professional critics do their jobs.

A great place to see that transformation is at the crossroads of tech and dining in San Francisco.

Matt Straus has a classic restaurant story. He started at a local McDonald's and worked his way into San Francisco's fine dining scene. After 23 years, he finally opened his own place, The Heirloom Café. Then a year later, it happened: the bad review.

If you’ve seen the movie "Chef," where Jon Favreau makes mincemeat out of a critic, you are familiar with the fantasy response to getting panned.

What went down in real life with Matt Straus was much less funny, and far more depressing. 

Straus thought he would be ruined. “It was though somebody had announced that we were the 'Emperor with no clothes,'” he says. “It was devastating.” 

But, instead of going out of business, Straus actually saw a bump in business when his regular customers came out to support him. “Many of them came up to me and said, 'Wow, that was a crazy review,'" Straus says.

The Heirloom Café was already regarded as a restaurant worth visiting. It had some good write-ups and positive comments from diners on sites like OpenTable. Plus, it had a four out of five-star rating on Yelp. Online reviews affect business more than a critic's opinion, Mat Schuster, who co-owns Canela Bistro Bar, a Spanish restaurant in San Francisco.

Yelp reviews are one of the most popular ways new customers discover his restaurant, Schuster says. He takes his Yelp ratings so seriously he uses them to reward his staff. The ratings determine bonuses for managers and the sous chef, and if servers are mentioned in a five-star review, Schuster says he gives them a $25 gift card.

Studies at UC Berkeley and Harvard University show that increasing the average Yelp rating by even half a star can have a big impact on business. 

But old-style critics still matter. Heather Irwin, a food writer and blogger in California wine country, says a review in a local paper can put a new restaurant on the map before online ratings accumulate. Plus, it makes a nice trophy. “Even though it might sound a little old fashion,” Irwin says, “the restaurants really like to have that plaque with the restaurant review from the newspaper posted in their lobby.” 

If a review does not go a restaurant's way, it's another story. Brenner, the dining critic at the Dallas Morning News, managed to make a chef and local restaurateurs so furious that they are trying to compromise the integrity of  her reviews by refusing to let her pay. Why? Because, Brenner says, “they're not happy with the star-rating system.” 

The newspaper has used the same star system for decades but that may soon change, Brenner says, as food critics adapt to compete with with the abundant and alluring food coverage online — the host of blogs that can feature sexy photos of artisanal cocktails, chi-chi barbecue and celebrity chefs. 

Some reviewers, like Brenner, are even giving up their sacred anonymity. Critics used to hide their identities so they could secretly review restaurants. That is harder to pull off these days with social media and smartphones. 

There is an upside having a more public persona – it gives critics an opportunity to build their own star power. 

The future of the restaurant critic

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-06 12:08

Local restaurant reviewer Leslie Brenner has ruffled the feathers of a chef and some restaurateurs in Dallas. She's been attacked on Twitter and Facebook, and some restaurants are not cooperating for reviews.

In an era of online reviews and food bloggers, does it really matter what one critic writes in a newspaper? More than you might think.  The Internet has changed how reviews impact the business of restaurants and how professional critics do their jobs.

A great place to see that transformation is at the crossroads of tech and dining in San Francisco.

Matt Straus has a classic restaurant story. He started at a local McDonald's and worked his way into San Francisco's fine dining scene. After 23 years, he finally opened his own place, The Heirloom Café. Then a year later, it happened: the bad review.

If you’ve seen the movie "Chef," where Jon Favreau makes mincemeat out of a critic, you are familiar with the fantasy response to getting panned.

What went down in real life with Matt Straus was much less funny, and far more depressing. 

Straus thought he would be ruined. “It was though somebody had announced that we were the 'Emperor with no clothes,'” he says. “It was devastating.” 

But, instead of going out of business, Straus actually saw a bump in business when his regular customers came out to support him. “Many of them came up to me and said, 'Wow, that was a crazy review he wrote,'" Straus says.

The Heirloom Café was already regarded as a restaurant worth visiting. It had some good write-ups and positive comments from diners on sites like OpenTable. Plus, it had a four out of five-star rating on Yelp. Online reviews affect business more than a critic's opinion, Mat Schuster, who co-owns Canela Bistro Bar, a Spanish restaurant in San Francisco.

Yelp reviews are one of the most popular ways new customers discover his restaurant, Schuster says. He takes his Yelp ratings so seriously he uses them to reward his staff. The ratings determine bonuses for managers and the sous chef, and if servers are mentioned in a five-star review, Schuster says he gives them a $25 gift card.

Studies at UC Berkeley and Harvard University show that increasing the average Yelp rating by even half a star can have a big impact on business. 

But old-style critics still matter. Heather Irwin, a food writer and blogger in California wine country, says a review in a local paper can put a new restaurant on the map before online ratings accumulate. Plus, it makes a nice trophy. “Even though it might sound a little old fashion,” Irwin says, “the restaurants really like to have that plaque with the restaurant review from the newspaper posted in their lobby.” 

If a review does not go a restaurant's way, it's another story. Brenner, the dining critic at the Dallas Morning News, managed to make a chef and local restaurateurs so furious that they are trying to compromise the integrity of  her reviews by refusing to let her pay. Why? Because, Brenner says, “they're not happy with the star-rating system.” 

The newspaper has used the same star system for decades but that may soon change, Brenner says, as food critics adapt to compete with with the abundant and alluring food coverage online — the host of blogs that can feature sexy photos of artisanal cocktails, chi-chi barbecue and celebrity chefs. 

Some reviewers, like Brenner, are even giving up their sacred anonymity. Critics used to hide their identities so they could secretly review restaurants. That is harder to pull off these days with social media and smartphones. 

Plus with a more public persona, critics have more ways to build their own star power. 

Osborne warns over low oil prices

BBC - Tue, 2015-01-06 12:06
Chancellor George Osborne says the benefit of falling oil prices should be passed on to consumers in lower pump prices and energy bills.

Johnson, Smoltz, Martinez And Biggio Voted To Baseball's Hall

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-06 12:02

Three dominating pitchers and one resilient fan favorite are heading to Cooperstown, as Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio were named to Baseball's Hall of Fame Tuesday.

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VIDEO: Fighting fires in Australia's Blue Mountains

BBC - Tue, 2015-01-06 11:59
As deputy brigade chief and president of the South Katoomba Rural Fire Service, Susie McGregor is one of Australia's most senior female firefighters.

Trusts cancel non-emergency ops

BBC - Tue, 2015-01-06 11:42
Belfast Health Trust cancels all non-urgent elective surgery up to and including 10 January, while other trusts cancel some of theirs, due to pressures on emergency departments.

Ex-governor jailed for corruption

BBC - Tue, 2015-01-06 11:42
Former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell is jailed for two years for public corruption, a much shorter sentence than prosecutors recommended.

VIDEO: Why are hospital A&Es struggling?

BBC - Tue, 2015-01-06 11:35
A look at why hospitals are struggling to cope with increased A&E attendances.

Gerrard would have signed new deal

BBC - Tue, 2015-01-06 11:21
Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard reveals he would not be leaving the club if they had offered him a contract last summer.

VIDEO: Inventors turning sci-fi into fact

BBC - Tue, 2015-01-06 11:20
A self-parking car, a plant pot that knows when it needs watering and a tracker for your pet, are just some of the highlights of the world's biggest gadget show in Las Vegas.

Tight Control Of Type 1 Diabetes Saves Lives, But It's Tough

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-06 11:10

Keeping blood sugar under control reduces the risk of early death for people with Type 1 diabetes, a study finds. But keeping that tight control can be hard, even for people with good health care.

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VIDEO: Farmer forced to cull 'Nazi' cattle

BBC - Tue, 2015-01-06 11:08
A farmer in Devon is forced to slaughter half his herd of Heck cows after they repeatedly tried to attack his farm workers.

Rewatching 'The Wire': Classic Crime Drama Seems Written For Today

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-06 11:02

As HBO releases the high-definition version of The Wire, NPR's Eric Deggans says that binge-watching the show feels more like reading today's headlines — especially on issues of race and class.

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Many Insurers Don't Cover Drugs For Weight Loss

NPR News - Tue, 2015-01-06 11:01

Despite the intensifying efforts to turn back the obesity epidemic, Medicare and many private health plans are reluctant to pay for four medicines approved to help people shed pounds.

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Consumer Electronics Show: Meet the smart home

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-06 11:00

At this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas today, one of the growing trends among the companies exhibiting at the giant industry gathering is the so-called smart home. An explosion of gadgets aims to take objects around the home, add processors and sensors to them, and connect them to the Internet.

Listening to some of the people hawking smart home technologies, you’d think we’re all a bit paranoid.

"We have room motion sensors that will sit up on the corner ... it’s infrared so it detects heat signatures" to differentiate between pets and potential intruders, says Leah Polk, with computer accessories company Belkin.  Sensors can even be added to people, she says.

"We also have a keychain sensor, which is designed to sit on your keychain, or on your kid’s backpack or on your pet’s collar that can tell you if they’ve come or gone," Polk says.

Alarm.com strives to be the Apple of this sensor-filled world. Jay Kenny says his company can provide the platform to make everything work together.

"When the security system is disarmed, the lights can turn on, the thermostat can adjust, the garage door can close. All these things happen automatically as if they are one organism," Kenny says.

Shawn DuBravac, a senior economist with the Consumer Electronics Association, says that connecting more everyday objects to the Internet is definitely a trend.

 

To build housing, or not, for oil boom workers

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-06 11:00

When Richard Kail retired to the northwestern Wyoming town of Pinedale in the late 1990s, it was a sleepy place mostly getting by on jobs in tourism and government. Kail bought some apartments and a hotel in Big Piney, at town about 30 miles south of Pinedale. He did steady business, but nothing special. That is, until around 2005, when he started to get a lot more calls.

By the mid 2000s, a new technology called hydraulic fracturing had opened up thousands of natural gas wells around Pinedale. Hundreds of energy workers descended on the area, all looking for a place to stay.

“There were continually calls,” Kail said. “They were willing to pay just about anything you ask them. There was a real frenzy for finding places.”

The demand for housing was just too much for the area to handle, said Steve Smith, mayor of Pinedale from 2006 until last June. “At the end of the day we just couldn’t pull it together here,” he said.

Pinedale scrambled to react to the boom, but there was not enough housing, and too many energy workers searching for a place to stay. What got in the way? First, the free market.

“Everything was going up and up in Pinedale,” Smith said. “Folks that had lived here for a long time that might have been valued for $100 or $150,000 now selling for $300,000. In that market it is very difficult to find land to put in attainable housing.”

Attainable housing—housing that isn’t necessarily cheap, but is available.

The second issue is the sewer lines and roads and stoplights: all the stuff a town has to build along with housing.

“Previous administrations had long-term plans to improve infrastructure. But when you have this many new people coming, and this much new traffic on your roads..."

The third big issue, which was more of a question for Pinedale, is a little more abstract: do you make the energy workers a part of the town and a part of the community? For Mayor Smith, the answer was yes.

“I wanted those people coming into our community to be part of our community,” Smith said. “To pay sales tax and property tax and enroll their kids in school. I thought that was important, and I still do.”

Smith says locals welcomed the idea of their bars and diners filling up with energy workers. But when it came to housing, he was overruled. A housing report commissioned by the town in 2008 recommended it limit new residential development to cushion the real estate values of long-term residents. Ultimately very little worker housing was built.  

Fast forward four years, and the same scenario is playing out again, this time in the northeastern Wyoming town of Wright.  

Roger Jones has developed apartments and townhouses in energy towns in Wyoming and the Dakotas. Right now he’s building some apartments in Wright, which is seeing a surge in oil development. These construction projects take an average of one to two years, so contractors often underbuild because they don’t know how long the boom will last.

“You always want to have a waiting list,” Jones said. He said he was optimistic about the Wright project a few months ago, but the sharp drop in the price of oil recently has him concerned.

Unlike the boom in Pinedale, Wright has had plenty of lead time to track the growth of oil and gas work. Mayor Tim Albin says he wants to see the energy workers in the area living and shopping in Wright, but he says the town has to invest long-term first. That means using oil tax proceeds to build an almost $10 million recreation center, but taking it slow with housing.

“We want to build for the future and have our town be a permanent structure,” Albin said. “We are not trying to just build stuff to handle the overflow and then go ‘we don’t care what happens in two years whether it folds or not.’”

When small towns in energy states are hit with a boom, they know a bust is probably coming, too. Even with plenty of foresight, it's hard to get around the fact that investment in the needs of energy workers might not be a good investment for the town.

“I mean this happens everyplace,” said Pinedale innkeeper Richard Kail. "Nobody is prepared. Those things just happen and we adjust and--it’s a bitch.”

Coach's new shoes: Stuart Weitzman

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-06 11:00

Coach, the luxury handbag and accessories company, has made a half-billion dollar move to acquire Stuart Weitzman, the luxury footwear brand. Coach's stock price dropped by over 30 percent in 2014, and it has been looking for a way to revitalize its offering. Will a new pair of shoes do the trick?

ESPN and Dish break the cable bundle

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-06 11:00

For years, cord-cutters ditching cable had few options for live sports. Dish will soon offer an Internet streaming service that changes that. For $20 a month, its Sling TV will offer ESPN and a few other channels online. It’s an attempt by ESPN and Dish to reach millennials who have little intention of paying for traditional TV. The risk is that it will also attract existing customers who just want to save money.

CNN's ready for the apocalypse

Marketplace - American Public Media - Tue, 2015-01-06 11:00

When CNN went on the air, founder Ted Turner said: "Barring satellite problems, we won't be signing off until the world ends."

Apparently there's an actual file in CNN's video bank called "TURNER DOOMSDAY VIDEO."

The video shows a band playing "Nearer,  My God to Thee." Then the screen goes black and, apparently, we all die.

Korea dropped from 2015 calendar

BBC - Tue, 2015-01-06 10:59
The Korean Grand Prix has been dropped from the 2015 calendar, reducing the season to 20 races.

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