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Opinion: Will work for food: Experienced writer seeks running gig as restaurant reviewer

By June Mathews

Of a Certain Age

I know, I know. I’m getting close enough to retirement age to slap it with a short-handled flyswatter, but I’m not ready to go there yet. Over the past 40-plus years in the working world, toiling either for “the man” or as a freelancer, I’ve enjoyed several careers, beginning with retail sales in college to now working for a busy chamber of commerce, and I’ve found something to love in every job. But the thing is, I’ve still got a few careers I’d like to explore.

In fact, I’m considering another career right now, one I’ve got plenty of experience for (I may even be a bit over-qualified) and for which I’ve got more than enough desire to succeed. I want to be a restaurant critic. You know. One of those people who go out to eat at somebody else’s expense then writes about their dining experience, for better or worse.

Now, this idea didn’t come to me out of the blue. I’ve been mulling it over for most of my life. Remember the old Dennis Washburn “Dining Out” columns in the Punch section of The Birmingham News? Starting in my early teens until the column fizzled, oh, 20 years later or thereabouts, I was an avid reader of Washburn’s accounts of his dinner dates, first with Pretty and later, Bunny. (Bhamwiki identifies the women as Washburn’s fourth and fifth wives.)

The basic routine called for the writer and his date to show up at a local restaurant or nightspot, enjoy a sampling of the establishment’s typical fare, soak up the atmosphere, evaluate the service, and later compare notes on what they did and didn’t like about their outing.  Then each week, Washburn would create a review of their experience for the newspaper.

Thing was, the pieces he wrote were largely promotional in nature, so Washburn highlighted the positives and soft-pedaled the negatives – which didn’t make him much of a critic in the strictest sense of the word. At some point, he even admitted his columns were designed to draw advertising, and he feared negativity would turn potential advertisers, as well as prospective customers, away.

“All of them were positive columns,” he once said. “The idea was to get more people eating out because our restaurants were in terrible shape.”

Nevertheless, he’s served as my inspiration all these years for wanting to write about food – and not because our local restaurant community is suffering. (If you think that’s the case, you must not have tried getting into Cracker Barrel right after church lately.) But I mostly think it would be fun.

Besides, I love a good bargain as much as I love good food, so to me, having somebody else pick up the tab is as good as it gets. In return, I’m willing to sacrifice the time and effort it takes to eat the proffered meal then write about it. What a screaming deal for some lucky restaurant owner and/or newspaper publisher, right?

That said, after pondering this whole food critic thing over for lo these many years – and considering I’m not getting younger – I feel the time has come to buckle down and make my long-held restaurant writer dream a reality. And the first step is a little advertising of my own.

So if there’s a restaurant owner out there willing to pay big advertising bucks for a positive story about their business or a newspaper publisher looking to pay a quality writer for mouthwatering descriptions of lemon pepper wings with blue cheese dressing or tiramisu cheesecake, please know I’m available.

Rates are reasonable, and turnaround times for assignments involving baked goods, barbecued ribs, or anything Italian is fast. In fact, I can probably be there in about 15 minutes, depending on how hungry I am.

Anybody want to pretend to be Pretty or Bunny and come along?

Email June Mathews at jmathews120@charter.net.

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