A friend of mine, a chef I very much respect, put this on Facebook in early November after receiving a less-than-stellar online review.
It got me thinking about the symbiotic relationship between restaurants and their customers and how the veil of the digital world between them is fraught with danger.
Customers might feel cowed being on someone else’s turf. I feel as awkward in some restaurants as anyone, and this is my job. But the favor is always and forever in the customer’s advantage.
Think of it this way: a customer may not want a restaurant to go out of business, but he or she can certainly survive it. A restaurant, however, cannot survive without customers.
Let’s dissect a bit of what the chef wrote, because I think it is both wrong and right in a few places.
The term “completely satisfied” stuck out to me, because there have been meals I loved when I didn’t reach that blissful state of nirvana.
Complete Satisfaction sounds like something you get on a yoga retreat, not in a restaurant. Sometimes your water glass goes unfilled. Sometimes your steak is a tad overdone. Sometimes the chair is uncomfortable and the conversation at your table is dull and the speakers are playing a song you don’t like.
Which of these do you complain about? And to whom do you complain? It’s not your server’s fault the steak is overdone. And he or she likely didn’t choose the soundtrack or the chairs.
I think we all struggle with the urge to say, “Everything’s great!” and just get on with our night. But that’s selfish and self-destructive, all at once. Because you’re putting off an uncomfortable situation for momentary relief, forestalling development and improvement on the part of the restaurant.
Most chefs and restaurateurs do want to know if there’s a problem. It’s not pleasant to receive criticism, but that’s the only way many of us can get better. If you don’t know there’s a problem, how can you fix it?
But if they want to know about problems, why are they against reviews? I think it’s partly the same reason most of us don’t want to be reviewed at our jobs — fear.
A review can be constructive or it can be vindictive. It can offer compliments alongside complaints or it can be a diatribe that seeks only to tear down and destroy.
But the real problem with a review is that it is eternal. There are all your problems, put on display to the world before you even knew they existed and it stays there long after the problems are addressed. That is mortifying and frightening.
“Is this how everyone feels? Are we doing a bad job? Will the restaurant close? Am I a bad chef?”
Is it easier to hear it in-person? Not always. But the chance to make it better helps.
Simply knowing that you should air your grievances face-to-face doesn’t make it any less difficult, so how about some tips? And if they get mad at you, just blame me. I’m used to it.
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Pork belly bowl
Pork belly bun
Fried chicken bun
French fries and veggie fries