Archive | January 2013

Scratch My Back

I suppose that the arrangement is not so new.

I give you extra this, and a little free this, and the next thing I know, you’ve written a perfect review about the restaurant in which I work. In fact, most recently, a company has made a “Reviewer Card” that brings to the service staff’s attention that, in fact, they are a “review writer,” with as much or (more usually) as little experience possible, both in cooking and writing. $100 dollars to flex this muscle. The owner of the company defends it, saying that it’s a “head’s-up for the restaurateur.” Isn’t the presence of the diner, what with the internet “foodies” these days, warning enough?

I’m going to offer the benefit of the doubt, for just  a moment, to the boorish, dolt mentality that invented this sub-concept from its head principle of bribery. Am I giving myself away too soon? Has my thesis yet become evident?

The service that you receive in my restaurant, from my colleagues, will be the best that they have to offer every day. The food that you will receive from my Chef, having looked at and touched every plate, will more than likely be to his or her rather exacting standards, and the view out of any window will be exactly what it was when we picked this location. Are you insinuating, perhaps, that a free bite or two of food will somehow make any of those things better? I’d be amazed that your brain has enough energy to power your legs to carry you into the building if you find that to be true, especially with the knowledge that I have joined you in the shady bribe attempt to get your clearly skewed “praise” posted in a place where people may or may not read it, and so at the expense of the business that I am trying to build. If the best you have for me is to blast your negative opinion (so strong, in fact, that it could have been swayed by a mouth-full of free food), then bring it on.

I suppose the opposite could be stated as well, in that it would be easier just to give that freebie, in hopes of not having to deal with the opposite nonsense. What’s the point? Where’s the incentive to work hard for the rest of the 18-hour day to only throw our hands up and succumb to the bribe? Recently, a first-time diner offered that they were disappointed that they were not offered an amuse bouche, as was an author of a recent review (note, please, that an amuse bouche is something that we will regularly offer to our return guests as a thank you for the same return – and the author of the review had been in no less than 5 times). I explained how we generally handle that particular free item, to which he responded that he “may not come back, since he didn’t get [an amuse bouche].” Furthermore, maybe he would write his own review, and add that the restaurant “plays favorites, and you have to know somebody if you want something for free.” Aside from thinking I might show up at his house the following day to ask for some free stuff, with whatever other intelligence I could muster, there were no words coming out of my face. It was one of the more ungrateful, shameless things I had ever heard, but it’s epidemic – if you have a restaurant, you should give things away.

I don’t agree.

It’s true, there are guests that will get a little bit more than others from time to time. This is an inevitability that comes with many visits more than status – our return and local guests are paramount to us, just like you would more than likely make a different dinner for your new fiancee’s parents than you would for your roommate. It means no lack of love for the roommate, but you put different investments into different things. That’s just what we do. Anyone has to do the practical math, though – giving things away to excess (which often means without a solid ROI justification) is one of the three reasons that restaurants go out of business. I’d call that not a good idea.

To insinuate that, because you might write a non-professional hobbyist review, I should give you better service or something extra is dumb. Silly, foolish, ignorant and dumb, and the Card is empowering the same imbecilic and entitled view. Every one of my guests should experience and demand hospitality – and most of them do, without the threat of a review, but with the threat of not returning. Just like the president would rather have my vote than my affection, I would rather a return guest than a good review. Danny Meyer, who has forgotten more than I will ever understand about how to do this job, once said that he would “rather be the favorite restaurant than the best.” Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take a good review any day, but from a guest that feels we deserve it, not one that was compensated to write it. To do that would be a disservice and slap in the face to the hundreds of hours that my kitchen staff spends cutting crazy little french-techniqued vegetables in the kitchen. It would cheapen the training that the service staff pains over, the hours spent poring over the reservation list, and more importantly, would be offering off our soul – the soul of the kitchen, for what will surely be a fake, poorly written review. Keep it.

We miss the mark from time to time. Our reviewers make sure we know it. Angry, anonymous posts aside (for which I have very little love, too…), less-than perfect reviews – when honest – give us important fine-tuning data that helps us to improve daily. This is something that is invaluable to us – and, while I would always prefer to hear, in person the same day, feedback from guests, I have to believe that the general public is too smart to think that we’d only have all perfect reviews from every diner that ate here.

And frankly, I wouldn’t want that either. The moment that I could ever become so good that there was no reason to improve, there’s be no reason to go to work. There are many easier ways to make a living than this damn business, and improving, challenging, and growing are three of the five reasons to stay in it. I’d have to leave the business entirely.

Only then, since I’d know everything, would I go get myself a Reviewer Card.