The downside of friends and family

Reevaluating a restaurant industry tradition

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Part of the fun of being a food writer is racking up all kinds of culinary experiences, from judging a flan contest in Tampa to jumping into an inflatable tub filled with grits. But because I don’t accept freebies, I’d never attended a Friends and Family dinner until this past June, when the owners of a restaurant I’d chronicled on a weekly basis as part of a pandemic recovery series invited me to their event. As someone new to the ritual, I was stunned by my fellow diners’ appetite for free food and drink. “What is going on here?” I wondered.

When forced to stand up for a restaurant review that strikes the tenderhearted as too harsh, online and professional critics alike resort to the same defense: Look, they say, the food’s not free. If the place was giving away rib eyes, nobody would gripe about them being overcooked.

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