The Zimbabwe on a Plate Review Team is selected annually and comprises people from all walks of life, sectors of society and age groups, who dine out regularly and are discriminating and exacting in their appraisal of eating establishments. They must also write well to qualify. While they are passionate about great food and dining experiences, to the extent that they eat out very regularly and are always in search of excellence, they are not “foodies” as such.
Some reviewers carry out their duties in pairs, conferring over score sheets and alternating the review writing. Others operate alone and take different friends or family members on their covert operations to assess entrants under cover of anonymity, appearing to be just another diner on just another day or night. The advantage is there is no alteration of behaviour on arrival of said ordinary diner! Hence an accurate portrayal of how this particular restaurant operates, cooks, and serves all clients, can be captured.
While there are several well established members of the review team, some changes are made every year, to bring in fresh blood. Reviewers are regularly briefed and updated. They all participate in the judging process for annual awards, to which process they bring not just their experiences at restaurants they reviewed but also at other entrants’ establishments. All such information helps inform the choices of the ultimate annual winners in each category — so they are never off duty, when dining out.
They are also on the look out year round and at any entrant’s restaurant they visit, for outstanding Service Personalities to nominate as a Service Personality of the Month, all of which nominees ultimately go forward as Finalists for the Service Personality of the Year Award.
By entering, a restaurant demonstrates considerable courage, for in so doing, they consent to an anonymous reviewer being dispatched at some unknown time during that reviewing year to partake of the particular dining experience they offer the public. It requires courage and a conviction that standards are high enough to meet the expectations of this high profile national competition and its fastidious reviewers!
The competition is of course designed to assist the trade, not to work to the restaurants’ detriment. In criticising some aspect of an entrant’s dining experience, the hope of the reviewers is that the entrant will then address the issues raised and so, the following year, attain a higher score and more favourable review — thus increasing the quality of what they offer, and so, attracting more clientèle!
Occasionally an entrant has been advised to withdraw from the competition when standards are found by the reviewer to be unacceptably low.
Zim on a Plate would rather advise a restaurant accordingly and encourage them to re-enter when they have addressed the issues, than publish a damning review that could damage their reputation. — Our Correspondent