Food news has never been so immediate. Tweeting and blogging can make or mar a restaurant’s reputation

“Calling this food garbage is unfair to garbage.”

Too harsh? How about the critic who tried a restaurant’s specialty dish and then said, “The owner said the lamb was from New Zealand. Must’ve walked.” Ever paid through your nose for a lobster dinner? Then you will probably identify with the diner who fumed: “Had I known the lobster cost $300, I would have brought it home and kept it as a pet.”

Mean professional food critics? Well, actually, all the above comments were made by regular people in the Zagat guide to dining out in New York. Not surprisingly, it’s unfailingly reliable and many New Yorkers only eat at Zagat approved restaurants.

This is just one example of how everyday people are changing their city’s foodscapes. The number of enthusiastic food bloggers, who try out restaurants, and then put up detailed posts accompanied by glossy photographs, grows everyday. With the more popular ones having a following of thousands from around the world, they have a tremendous effect on the popularity of a restaurant.

Now, there’s one more venue for expression — twitter (the burgeoning micro-blogging service.) Thanks to the Twitter foodies restaurants are under intense public scrutiny just minutes after they open their doors. People not only specifically book tables on opening night to do this, but they also tweet about their experiences course by course. Often attaching twitpics. Then come the blog entries. And the online discussion on food websites. Food news has never been so immediate, or so addictive. It’s like watching a live soap opera unfold.

All this is good news for the diners. Thanks to these democratic venues for self expression, restaurateurs just cannot get away with ghastly food, snooty service and obnoxious prices any more. No more suffering in helpless silence.

It’s also good news for restaurants. Well, for good restaurants. With this kind of pressure only the best will survive, after all no amount of money, power or influence can gag public opinion.

Of course there is scope for misuse — which is why websites like Mouthshut.com allow many users to comment on a single restaurant. After reading the pros and cons it’s easier to come to an informed decision about where to eat. Remember, vitriolic users tend to trip themselves up eventually. People follow fair, balanced and accurate opinions in the end.

The Internet’s greatest strength is how democratic it is. To express an opinion, you just need to know how to type. This means a lot of interesting stories of restaurant discrimination are coming to light. Mouthshut features a review by an IT professional on a fancy club in Delhi, where she was refused admission based on her appearance. A man writes about how he paid a hefty admission fee to use a lounge bar and was then humiliated by the bouncer for trying a spoonful of food from his wife’s plate. (She was having the buffet.) Another diner writes about an experience we’re all familiar with: the American chain that comes to India drastically reducing both portions and quality. “Fried mozzarella sticks in the U.S. are fresh and filled with cheese. In India, it’s like eating fried crunchy dough.”

A friend who was recently served a foul plate of noodles by a sassy waiter resorted to twitter for justice. Instead of getting mad, he just flipped open his phone and typed: “Open bet/Dare to the guys who own ‘Restaurant Beep’. Hundred bucks if you eat your own food.” He followed this with a twitpic of the offending noodles. Let’s just say I’m not eating there again — ever. He has 800 followers, each of whom in turn has more followers.

Today I found a tiny dead cockroach bobbing about my sweet lime juice at a fancy hotel. Since I was mid-interview I couldn’t react (besides my desperate silent scream). I did however tweet about it, and in 10 seconds I had a host of people asking me where I was.

Moral of the story? Shape up restaurant folk. On the Internet word spreads fast.

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