Chefs Blast Bloggers on Restaurant Reviews

Nov 272012
 

In the old days in newspapers and magazines, if a restaurant chef or owner didn’t like my review, they called my boss. The editors never passed the phone call on to me.

But now that reviews are online, chefs can vent at reviewers directly, and that is not a good thing. Two bloggers who wrote less than glowing reviews of good restaurants were subject to vulgar and harassing comments that generated a lot of press.

The incidents brought up some good questions, however, about our expectations of reviewers, and I’ll get to that. First, let’s look at what happened:

1. Chef’s response: “…Wear a condom on your tongue to contain the orgasm of your ignorance.”

Dubai food writer and blogger Samantha Wood of FooDiva wrote a review of Giannino, an offshoot of a three-Michelin starred restaurant. She and a friend paid more than ‘a3200 (around $350) for a two-course meal, a shared dessert and a glass of prosecco. Her review praised the food but complained of a small wine list, prosecco not served in champagne glasses, service that needed fine tuning, and “extortionate” pricing.

The next day, the chef de cuisine at the original Giannino trattoria in Milan left a comment. He explained that restaurants traditionally serve prosecco in white wine glasses. Fair enough. He continued with a few other reasonable points but then lost it.”Go please to other restaurants in other locations,” he wrote. “check them out but don’t forget to wear first a condom on your tongue in order [to] contain the orgasm of your ignorance.”

He concluded: “All the above is direct[ed] also to all ’91professors’ [who] without having a clue of what they are talking about [keep] writing, twitting, Facebooking [sic]. Guys get a life!”

Did he mean customers, I wonder? Or other bloggers whom he thinks are not qualified to post, or who comment too much?

The post went viral, with stories in the London Telegraph and Daily Mail, and an Italian newspaper. As a result, the management of the Dubai restaurant offered everyone who posted a comment on Wood’s post to dine for free at the restaurant.

After a frenzy of comments and interviews, Wood, who has a PR background, is philosophical. “I do think his response is an isolated incident,” she said in an email. “Most of the chefs I know would never treat food writers, bloggers let alone customers like that …With the proliferation of blogs and social media, chefs have to deal with opinions and reviews like these on a daily if not hourly basis – it’s part and parcel of their job.’”

2. Chef’s response: “Nice way to gain respect with chefs. I think your [sic] a C**t”

Chef Claude Bosi tweeted this message after reading a review by hobby blogger James of Dining With James about his meal at two-Michelin starred Hibiscus in London. James didn’t like his starter or the service. After more viscious tweets from Bosi and other chefs piling on, James shut down his modest (100 follower) Twitter account. I find that sad and disturbing, to have been bullied in this way.

Some commenters in the posts and in subsequent articles brought up points worthy of discussion: If bloggers can dish it out, should they be able to take it? Wood let the chef’s comments stand on her blog instead of deleting them, so to me this means she could take it. And by leaving them on her blog, she showed an out-of-control chef acting unprofessionally, which made for a good news story and lots of hits. Should she have deleted the comment?

Another commenter asked if FoodDiva is ignorant about Italian food. This second issue, about knowledge, is a tough one. Most food critics are self-educated, and it’s impossible to know everything about every cuisine. I struggled with this issue when I reviewed. On one hand, I berated myself whenever I found out something I “should have known.” On the other, reviewers represent consumers, who certainly do not know everything about food or care to. They want to be informed, entertained, and to fantasize about going there themselves.

Reviewers ask themselves lots of hard questions when they sit down to write, such as:

  • Am I showing off my knowledge of a subject most readers don’t care about?
  • Which criticisms are most worthy of mention? How gentle or how harsh should I be?
  • Am I picking on minor flaws to be entertaining?
  • Am I writing for my readers or to the chef?

However rough it was to be attacked by chefs, both bloggers offered mostly positive reviews while pointing out flaws. That is standard form for criticism, perfectly defensible. While there’s no excuse for how these chefs and some commenters responded, I hope these developments won’t deter restaurant writers from writing anything critical at all. As I have despaired many times, many food bloggers feel they shouldn’t be critical.

Another thing that struck me about these events is that not all restaurant critics are equal. James loves to eat in fine restaurant and then write a few words about his experience. Wood is editor-at-large for Dubai’s Gourmet magazine and a freelance food writer. Wood pays for meals out of her own pocket and James probably does too. Should we hold hobbyists to different standards of criticism than freelancers, and freelancers to different standards than professional, salaried reviewers for newspapers and magazines, who are paid to visit restaurants more than once, with the restaurant footing the bill? Should readers be able to tell the difference? I’m interested in your thoughts.

***

Related restaurant news:

  • Speaking of professional restaurant reviewers, I hope by now you’ve read the clever skewering of the New York restaurant owned by Guy Fieri, a Food Network star. New York Times Critic Pete Wells, who visited the restaurant four times, wrote his cheeky critique entirely in questions. It was his first negative review, brutally honest, and aimed at an irresistible target: a high-profile 500-seat restaurant with a celebrity chef owner who seeks out quality American food, at least on television. If you’re going to trash (rarely, I hope), this is the kind of target that makes sense.

(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

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  103 Responses to “Chefs Blast Bloggers on Restaurant Reviews”

  1. As long as they make it clear that they only ate there ONCE, and that it was a truncated experience (ie. only two courses), they should be free to write whatever they want. However, a TRUE restaurant critic, whose opinion should actually MATTER, is someone who has been there at least three times and eaten an array of foods, and been catered to by multiple people on the waitstaff. But not everyone can be a pro critic; there are only a certain number of jobs to go around. I think if a blogger wants to do it on their own, their audience has to weigh that content. (I, as a reader, would not take a blogger’s critique to heart, as much as I would a pro critic who I’d been reading for years.)

    As for the angry chefs, that is indeed disturbing. Especially where there is name-calling. They can certainly express their opinion, or offer to have her back and give her a tasting menu, or any number of other things. But to call her a C**T is truly unnecessary and completely insulting.

    Great post!

    • Hello Jackie! Nice to hear from you. So it’s clear to you that you will take the opinions of someone who has eaten there only once with a grain of salt. That makes sense. Not that you could blame either blogger for it, since they are paying for expensive meals out of their own pockets. Professional reviewers don’t have to.

      I very much agree with you about the chefs’ behavior.

  2. I certainly agree that this type of language is unacceptable. But I wonder if this isn’t just a reeaction to the increase in blogs that review restuarants without the journalistic standards of print media, but also the increase in the use of sites like Yelp! and other user generated sites. I don’t rely on these when choosing where to eat, just an aggregate sense (if there are 20 reviews, and 15 say the service was slow but the hamburger great, I know what I’m in for). I have read some scathing comments on these type of sites, based on petty issues or written in the moment before a cooler head prevails. In one, a patron complained, repeatedly with links to other sites he’d commented on, that his anniversary dinner was ruined by the excitement over a proposal at another table and they engaged couple got their meal for free and he didn’t. A local place was skewered nationally for a misunderstanding over a service dog – a mistake, but the resturant was given no chance to respond as the person reviewed in anger before contacting the resturant for redress. I have seen many people complain on review sites, while asking for a free meal or their money back. I can’t help but some of these chefs and restuaranteurs are at a breaking point when they respond like this.

    • Well, I’m sure these two bloggers consider themselves above Yelp and other crowd-sourced websites and probably would not post there, but I know what you mean. There’s a lot of craziness on Yelp. I bet if chefs posted comments like that the website would delete them.

  3. The flood of food bloggers and commenters on sites such as Yelp have changed the relationship between the restaurant guests and restaurant owners, chefs and employees. New technology has allowed anyone to broadcast their opinions, no matter how ill-informed. In the past, the food writer had a professional reputation to uphold, which would persuade them to keep standards high. Now every owner, chef or employee must worry about every complaint that someone might punch into their smartphone. One might say that it is “part and parcel” of the industry, and that may be true. However, they should also acknowledge that it has changed the experience of dining, and has changed the work environment for those in the Industry. In my opinion, these changes are not for the better. It has taken an already stressful, oftentimes thankless profession and made it more so. A diner more and more often considers themselves a consumer, when a restaurant worker or owner worth their salt considers them a guest. Furthermore, I think it takes some of the enjoyment of dining from the guest, whether they realize it or not.

    I adressed this issue in a blog post of my own, 10 Things to do Before you Yelp
    , where I elaborate on these sentiments. While the post addresses Yelpers specifically it can certainly be applied to food bloggers.

    In regards to the specific, ill-tempered responses mentioned in your post, I’d have to agree that if a blogger wants do dish it out they should be able to take it. Imagine if, as a food blogger, you constantly came across Internet comments that attempted to correct the grammar of your blog posts, or criticized your diction in a way that was incorrect and revealed the critic’s own ignorance. After having this happened repeatedly, after a long weekend, sleep-deprived and a few glasses of wine deep, you may be tempted to reply in an unkind manner. Chefs, after all, are human. Criticize their life’s work, their passion, and they may respond with distemper.

    I have to say, that one of my pet peeves is snide hyberbole, such as the “FooDiva” referring to the pricing as “extortionate.” Unless she was deceived as to the price of the meal, I feel she has no right to complain.

    • Let’s not romanticize the past too much, Daniel. I was once a restaurant reviewer who was green around the edges, having not cooked deeply nor eaten out much. I was trained to write but I think I faked the criticism part somewhat, as did many other writers who worked for small print publications and guides with no training, no supervision and little pay. And in every town there were always writers who took advantage of a restaurant’s generosity and ate for free. So Yelp and blogging did not invent this medium of amateur critism, but enlarged it.

      Yes, chefs are human, and I can see that it can get old to be criticized all the time. But they need to deal with it without being bullies.

      Re telling writers that they should cook before they criticize, I don’t think it’s necessary. Many reviewers do not cook because they eat so many meals away from home. Their job is to tell readers whether a restaurant is worth their hard-earned money, and to describe what they’ll find when they get there.

      I too dislike snideness and hyperbole. Did you read Pete Well’s review? I’d be curious to know what you think of the hiding he gave Guy Fieri.

      • I’d like to defend Foodiva’s use of ‘extortionate’ here. She did put it in context in her review. You can pay a similar amount of money for food in Dubai, albeit at the upper end of the dining scale, but she didn’t think that the food, service and location was comparable to those restaurants.
        I do agree with Dianne that looking back on food reviewing as a noble profession and in halcyon days is romanticised. Most of the famous restaurant critics who remain working write to entertain their readers first and foremost, a useful guide to a restaurant is secondary. Most people who read a review in a national newspaper are not in the location or income bracket to visit the restaurant. I would argue it’s a form of entertainment – which is a good thing for writing in my opinion. The writer is also not paying for the meal out of their own pocket. If looking for recommendations on where to eat you tend to ask your friends. They will share similar tastes, interests and income as you. Following a recommendation from a blogger or online voice that you trust, who has the same tastes as you makes perfect sense.

        • Exactly, Sally. To entertain and to inform — those are the main goals of restaurant writing. You don’t think that every reader is serious about visiting the restaurant, but you want them to read your story anyway. Regarding where to eat, I often hear from friends about new places, and I look online and read reviewers. Much of it is just for my own amusement and desire to keep up.

  4. We can all agree that the chef’s reactions to these reviews you cited above were unprofessional. However, I think that the type of reviewer matters, in this case. Professional, salaried employees who visits the establishment on multiple occasions, try different dishes each time and are reimbursed for their meals by the publication should be treated differently than an amateur blogger or a freelancer that pays for the meal out of their own pocket.

    For me, Yelp write-ups and amateur blogger reviews should be taken with a grain of salt because each reviewer’s personal taste and knowledge of the cuisine reviewed will be different. I’ve also noted that someone is more likely to speak up when displeased with the food and/or the service. Also, social media isn’t going away any time soon and many restaurants are catching on…encouraging their customers to tweet any concerns during their experience so that the restaurant can address them more promptly and the customer ultimately leaves happy.

    Finally, I would also submit that the Peter Wells review of Guy Fieri’s Times Square business, while great for a cheap laugh, was equally unprofessional. Being a public figure, Mr. Fieri is probably no stranger to harsh criticism but Mr. Wells could have been more tactful.

    • I assume you’re saying the professional reviewer should be treated differently by the chef? Or by readers?

      I’ve found the opposite is true with bloggers, that are very timid about less than glowing reviews. If they didn’t like a place they are likely to not write about it at all, which is true for print reviewers as well. Most reviewers are mostly positive, and the two mentioned here fell into that category, even if Wood was very blunt about the prices.

      But it is true that someone who’s had a bad experience will be more likely to tell people than someone who has nothing bad to say. I wonder why bloggers are so timid then?

      It is interesting to see how restaurants and businesses are using social media to their advantage by trying to resolve issues as they come up in real time. I give them lots of credit.

      I’m sorry that you thought Well’s review was unprofessional. I thought it was brilliantly written and refreshing in a time when celebrity chefs are fawned over. I’m sure Wells and the paper (and their lawyers) thought through very carefully whether they should publish the review, and I have a great deal of confidence in his palate and knowledge of the dishes and how they should have been prepared.

  5. This is a great equalizing medium. But one should also consider that the cost of a meal for a customer to write a bad review can cost a chef and everyone who works there a lot of money. I’m not saying you shouldn’t tell the truth, but you should be as informed as you can if you are making a critique and publishing it. And chefs should hit back directly, if politely. It stinks that their energy should be wasted this way, but it’s important for business, like or not. I think much like online recipes, soon the source will be very important. Any random review will be worth about as much as the million lasagne recipes online. Nothing.

    • That’s true if the reviewer is taken seriously and carries a great deal of weight. But often as not, reviews don’t make much difference at all. And I wouldn’t call these two reviews negative reviews — they were a mix, where the writers liked a majority of the food they ate very much.

      Do you think Guy Fieri’s restaurant will close because of Well’s review? I don’t. Hundreds of tourists who never read it will still stream into the restaurant every day because of its location and iconic American food. Maybe the chef’s head will roll — that would be a good thing.

  6. Everybody has an opinion, and anybody with a smartphone and a social media account can share that opinion. Doesn’t mean that they’re accurate or right. So yes you should hold these “reactions” to a lesser standard than a true professional “review”.

    As for the chef’s reaction, I can see how a not-so-nice writeup could cause them to go off, especially if they have a lot of pride in their work and staff, have just gotten off a long shift, and had few glasses of wine before getting on Twitter. They should make it a rule to stay off of social networks until they’ve gotten some sleep.

    • Hah! That’s what Daniel said too, in an earlier comment. But don’t we all know by now that when you say something stupid on social media, you regret it and learn not to do it the next time? I have learned a lesson or two that way as well.

  7. Hello Dianne, very interesting post. This raises the question as to how many times a professional writer and/or reviewer has to eat in a restaurant before having “the right” to critique it. One previous commenter said that she takes the opinion of someone that has dined only once in a particular restaurant with a grain of salt, and I agree that ideally reviews should still be written the old school way: with thorough experience of a restaurant’s cuisine, and an expense account, of course. But let’s be honest, aside from the last few traditional publications who can still afford expense accounts, which writers can afford to dine several times in one single restaurant before reviewing it?

    I have just taken on a reviewing job for a major US website, and I must write critiques and make recommendations. Of course, my expenses are not covered. This situation has gotten me in a very perplexed state of mind lately, because obviously I cannot recommend a place that I haven’t visited, but I also can’t afford to spend all my revenues on restaurant meals. I chatted about this with an experienced writer who told me that nowadays, most reviewers in Quebec (those who are writing for major newpapers or popular restaurant guides) eat only twice in a restaurant before reviewing it: once for lunch, and once for dinner. And those are the ones with the expense accounts.

    I’m veering off your main topic, but I wonder: If even professional reviewers (those who still have their meals paid for) have shaved off visits to restaurants before writing their critiques, why aren’t they the target of the anger of chefs? Is it because they have better relationships with the chefs? Because they’re established and recognized as more credible? Or because chefs think that if they direct their anger towards a major publication, it’ll backfire much more? (If so, they’re clearly unaware of the power of virality). I wonder if the bullying Wood and James were victims of isn’t due to the fact that they are “low profile writers” (I’m not judging here, I consider myself part of that group – high profile restaurant reviewers are very few). The frustration of chefs about the multiplicity of quick (and often bad) reviews on social sites like Yelp isn’t new, and maybe identifiable bloggers are an easy target.

    • Hello Marie! Well you are in a pickle now, eh? You don’t want to spend the check for the review all at the restaurant, but you want to eat there more than once. That’s a tough one. I would say that if you get to choose where to review, pick less expensive restaurants! I’m only partially kidding.

      Re the reviewers who only go twice, I suppose it’s better than once. Sometimes you know enough that you don’t need to go a third time. A reviewer I respect told me that.

      Just for the record, professional reviewers are definitely the target of chef’s anger. They could tell you stories. But yes, I think you have a point that it’s easier to go after lower profile writers. And I think the fact that Wood was female might have had something to do with it as well.

  8. What a great and thoughtful post, Diane!

    The chefs’ totally innappropriate comments make themselves look ignorant. They are in the hospitality business, and that behavior has no place. Especially when publicly representing the restaurant! I mean, really. I hope their judgment was clouded by booze, exhaustion, or the like. I suppose by posting our opinions on the web, we are susceptible to the nastiness and trolls. I haven’t encountered much of that yet on my site, thankfully, but I don’t know if I could bear to have the “C” word splattered there.

    Re: the discussion on reputable restaurant reviews, I think it’s important to be thoughtful about the source of restaurant reviews when determining how they’ll factor into your actual dining out behaviors (and spending of hard earned money). Even professional restaurant reviewers may not have the same taste, mood, or expectations as you when deciding where to eat. You’ll have different tolerance for various elements of the experience when you’re dining on a fat expense account versus the special anniversary dinner you’ve budgeted for, eating out for convenience on a weekday versus a weekend night on the town. The best reviewer (and review) would be the one whose opinions most closely match what yours would be. That could be Pete Wells, Samantha Wood, or maybe even someone on Yelp.

    As The Runaway Spoon commented earlier, Yelp “crowdsourcing” gives you some idea of what to expect. For me, it can be useful for casual, local, or spontaneous restaurants choices that are not well served by professional reviewers. Blog reviews have more narrative about the experience (and the author), usually, which helps me figure out if the writer might have similar taste and expectations as I do. Some have no value to me, but some really do. That said, I would be much more comfortable shelling out the big bills for a meal and experience that I have very good reason to believe will be money happily spent. This is where professional reviews across multiple visits are most valuable for me.

    Having eaten at Fieri’s restaurant Johnny Garlic’s (in an ultimately depressing attempt to give the guy the benefit of the doubt) months ago, I found Pete Wells’ review to be thoughtful and well-written. It was refreshing that Wells’ high expectations weren’t watered down by Fieri’s Diners Drive-Ins & Dives persona and his disappointments were cleverly (though harshly) articulated. Based on my (admittedly) one-time visit, what he wrote didn’t surprise me in the least.

    Wish I could hear your stories about professional reviewers being the target of chef’s anger. I’ll bet there are some good ones!

    • Thank you for this long and thoughtful post, Jennifer. I suppose that in the old days, we went out to eat less often and when we did, it was an occasion, so the big reviewers’ opinions were important. These days I use Yelp to go to a casual place and read local reviewers, often just to keep up with which restaurants are opening.

      Glad you were not surprised by Well’s conclusions. I hope that is the response of everyone who has eaten there.

      I must say that I haven’t been the target of much nastiness either. Maybe we are lucky?

      Re chefs and big reviewers, maybe there’s a story there. I’ll think about that! Thanks.

      • My how this comments list has grown! Per your request, Dianne :), reposting my tweet @revel_kitchen here containing a link to another case covered on Eater:

        “@diannej +1 Chef tirade on FB, then apology. Pigalle to Customer: ‘You Must Enjoy Vomit’ eater.cc/SpW88G More meaty topics within.”

        More chefs (sadly) behaving badly at Pigalle in Boston. What a turn off. And this on the restaurant’s own facebook page! After hideous rant, followed by somewhat penitent apology, apparently the two have made up and are now facebook friends…

        I do think there is a valid point from the chef that the more fair way to complain for a guest would be to let the restaurant know while you’re still at the restaurant. That way they have a fair opportunity to make it right at the time it happens (and before your dissatisfaction is broadcasted to the web). There will be mistakes and dissatisfied customers no matter what, but how the issue is addressed is really a measure of hospitality.

        Thanks, Dianne!

        • Thanks Jennifer, for alerting me (and now readers) to this story. I loved reading about all the nasty comments and then how the two of them made up.

          Yes, this is good advice if you are not a restaurant reviewer. Also to write a letter afterwards, rather than blasting your discontent on social media.

  9. Chefs who respond to criticism in such an uncivil fashion will be handled by the marketplace. Criticism is a fact of life, whether in the culinary or performing arts. Each diner leaves the experience with an opinion…the only difference today is the speed at which these opinions are shared and their persistence and accessibility via the web.

    Is anyone surprised that a couple of Michelin starred chefs used inappropriate language and threw temper tantrums in response to criticism? I just wish the guy who shut down his twitter would leave it up for all the world to see…people behaving badly is the best anti-marketing on earth.

  10. Hi Dianne
    I am glad you wrote of this, I saw the twitter story unfold for the second reviewer and it was not pleasant. The issues of how one can do a comprehensive review on a food blog is a difficult one to resolve since there is not the opportunity to visit the establishment repeatedly or sample a wide range of items. However I think a blog review has its worth if well written as giving an insight into the personal experience of that individual on that particular occasion.

    • I was in Australia when it was unfolding and couldn’t get to this story until I was back and relatively recovered from jet lag, so I’m a bit behind.

      Re blogs, many fail to actually critique restaurants. Instead they write about their experience of going there as an event. I think we’re saying the same thing here. At first I was disappointed, but then, if they don’t get to go several times, perhaps it’s better not to criticize? I don’t think Samantha Wood would agree with me here. And I dislike all-positive writing anyway.

  11. I have just finished reading the comments Dianne and feel like I need to go back to the original blog post to recall what it is I had started out to say.

    The comments on your blog posts are always ‘where it’s at’.

    I married one if those hot hot headed chefs and am thankful every day that he abstains from social media – because, like many in his field, he would suck big time at handling customer service issues. I expect him to be fabulous at what he does (not at all other facets of running the business) and even though there is no excusing that behaviour (name calling etc.) from the other chefs – it probably did happen right after a long shift. Many Chefs, in the US in particular are grossly underpaid and barely get past the ’2-weeks paid vacation’ perk because they tend to move around a bit.

    Re: The bloggers being so timid … it is human nature Dianne. In our writing classes, we have had to peer review each other for all four years of the undergrad. 85% of my class still give every student a glowing review, face -to-face AND on paper, because they want to avoid the confrontation or just want to ‘stay positive’ and not crush the creative writers spirit.

    And on blogging (food blogging anyway), If it is a ‘personal blog’ and you pay for the meals yourself and you are writing for yourself or an audience of 1 or 1,000 … it is just that – Personal – no need to get so worked up over it.

    Worry about what is going on in the restaurant at the time of service. I loved in one of the earlier comments above one reader was describing how restaurants are encouraging diners to tweet about their experiences (good or bad) while dining ….

    Whatever happened to actually speaking to a manager, in real life?

    Ok – enough said. Exam blues here. Hope you are gearing up for the holidays and love your blog Dianne. Just love it.
    M’f3na

    • Thank you Mona. I love it too, when I manage to come up with something that gets long, considered responses.

      Very good that your hothead chef husband stays off social media, for his own protection as well as others. Yes, I am aware that chefs (and restaurant staff) are not well paid at all. Did you read the article by Mark Bittman that I linked to at the bottom? Quite shocking.

      I guess it is human nature to avoid being critical, but then those people should not be reviewers! It is not about crushing someone’s spirit, but about pointing out, constructively, what didn’t work and why. As noted, the reviews were mostly positive about the food.

      Good luck with your exams!

  12. PS Thanks for sharing the Peter Wells piece – I thought the writing was exhilarating.

  13. I did read about your first example as it was happening and was completely stunned at how far the response went. In my opinion, social media has created a generation of people that are unfiltered and forget about common courtesy. Makes me sad :-(

    • Me too. I’m glad I missed all the piling on and frenzy that sometimes occurs in social media. I was off on vacation a jillion miles away.

  14. Oh, so many good comments. Yes, the chef was totally unprofessional, and hooray for keeping the comment up there. I used to always tell my writing/journalism students that it’s better to let a quote stand and let someone “hang themselves” so to speak–let the truth hang in the breeze–and see how people rally around it, and respond. Things have a way of sorting themselves out, and the subsequent press frenzy demonstrates it.

    On a separate but related issue, I think the world of blogging is definitely muddied by people who don’t know what they are tasting or how to articulate it, and I think a passing familiarity with how to cook is necessary in order to truly be a good reviewer and food writer. The better I am in the kitchen as a cook and baker, the better my writing becomes–I’ve seen this. I think sometimes chefs I know get frustrated by this particular reality; bloggers who don’t know what they’re tasting and who don’t ask questions and instead resort to hyperboles (ie bad writing). In my food and restaurant writing/reviewing/profiling, I try to balance my sense of what the reader wants to know and what’s important to the experience, with what I think the chef is trying to convey with his or her dishes. I sometimes don’t have more than one visit for these types of writings, but that’s always clear in my copy. Additionally, not all bloggers are journalists, and not all journalists blog, so that means as some others have noted that the same kind of standards are not always ingrained in a blogger’s head when he or she starts out–this is of course something that can be learned. As long as a blogger is writing from a place of honesty and authenticity, we can’t fault him or her for the writing. We all have blind spots as writers, and food is one of those things that constantly changes and presents us with opportunities to learn something new (one of the reasons why I love it so much!) However, as a writer and food person, I find it a little frustrating at times when I encounter bad blog writing when most of the rest of us writers, bloggers, reviewers, etc, try hard to do due diligence with our subjects–define an unfamiliar term, explain when something’s foreign to even us (it makes us human!), or otherwise shoot straight–regardless of our medium. Ok, so I got off topic a little bit….

    As for Wells, his review incorporated a brilliant rhetorical device, and his criticisms came from a place of love for “American” (I use that term loosely) food, flagging Fieri for his lack of professed authenticity. You can go on and on about whether or not Fieri is at all authentic, a real chef, or a pop culture construct–it almost doesn’t matter. The point is, Fieri makes his $$ from his professed love of American food of all stripes and his own crazy mash-ups thereof. Wells is within the realm of reason to show his deep level of disappointment. Sometimes experiences we have as writers that flummox us and require a different approach; they generate more questions that the meal–or the person, can answer (Of course, Fieri was not likely in the kitchen even if Wells wanted to break with convention and interrogate him for his review). That’s partly what makes the rhetorical approach so ingenious, and it show his chops as a class A reviewer: by saying what many people have likely thought after eating there, Wells never loses what’s important to the reader. He’s using his platform as a critic to tell us that the restaurant doesn’t live up to Fieri’s outsized hype. In blogging and writing, it’s very easy to gush about everything and be nice, and it’s very easy to be mean (some people take it as a sport), but it’s much harder to lob something measured, smart and critical at an establishment, and Wells did just that.

    • Carrie, thanks for this long and considered comment. Let me see, so much to respond to…

      Re letting someone hang themselves with a nasty comment, exactly! I was hoping someone would point that out.

      Re being a cook, I am much better at analyzing restaurant dishes now that I cook most meals. If you are out all the time at restaurants you are unlikely to cook much, so it is kind of a chicken and egg thing.

      Re “What the chef is trying to do” is important at upscale restaurants, I suppose, but I often didn’t think about it. I would have had a hard time articulating it, and often, so do they. I once asked an artist what he was trying to convey in a painting and got a tongue-lashing later because he had no idea and I had put him on the spot.

      Re Fieri, yes I agree completely. Wells is brilliant and Fieri got what was coming.

      Re your last comment about how it’s easier to gush and trash than to write measured, smart and critical writing, I discuss this exact point often when I speak. One time someone in the back raised his hand and said, “But that’s so much harder!”

  15. First, I would like to mention that I am a chef and was even nominated by Food and Wine Magazine for People’s Choice Best New Chef. I say this to point out that I work in fine dining, and have been subject to reviews, both positive and negative. What most chefs forget, I think, is that the food should be about the customer, not about the chef. I know my food is a reflection of my skill, creativity, and in some cases my artistic ability, but when push comes to shove, the customer needs to like it. You can have the most beautiful, colorful plate full of textures and flavors that play on your tongue, but if the customer doesn’t like it, it doesn’t matter.
    I honestly think that in the world of celebrity chefs, and chef’s as “artists”, chefs forget who pays the bills. When ever I would get a critique on something, or a customer complaint on yelp or what have you, I would stop for a second and ask if other customers were thinking the same thing. Was it something I just messed up that day, was it a recurring problem, did 99% of customers enjoy the dish, and only 1 person didn’t like it because they were having a bad day? If we chef’s could put our ego’s aside a little bit every day, and ask ourselves if there is anything we could improve upon, a little bit at a time, that’s how a chef becomes great. Who ever reviews the food, to me is irrelevant, whether it is a professional food critic or a amateur blogger, or just a disgruntled customer on yelp, we as chefs need to take a second and ask, is that critique right?

    • Bravo Nick. Well said. Thank you.

    • Oh Nick, I love how you think. This is how I was taught in journalism school, that it’s all about the reader, and if you can’t reach them then you have failed.

      It must be hard, though, to be available for criticism 24/7 on social media. You are good to be so rational about it.

      There is another school of thought that truly creative people just put what they want out there and if no one likes it, they don’t care. (It certainly explains all those self-published books.) I sometimes admire those people for their belief in their own vision. But most of the time, the end result is mediocre.

    • Perfectly said, Nick! This is what I have been thinking the entire time, while reading both the original post and all the comments. Basic graciousness and hospitality were lacking in both scenarios, it seems. Those two elements are key to fully enjoying a dining experience, no matter who prepares it.

    • Very well said and extremely thoughtful, Nick, and I thank you for adding to this conversation. As a writing instructor and – maybe even more importantly – as a mom, I always tell my students – and my sons when they are writing a class assignment – as soon as we have even one reader, we are no longer writing for ourself and must always take that audience, whether large or small, into consideration. I think when dining anywhere, one can feel whether the chef (or even home cook) is cooking for the client of for him/herself.

  16. Aside from the well-established names, being able to post your mother’s meatloaf does not a food critic make. Being “a mother, foodie and blogger” doesn’t give you authority to critique The French Laundry.
    On the other hand, the incident proves that not all chefs (cooks?) are Anthony Bourdains when it comes to communication skills and quips. It sheds a sad light, however, on the education and manners of the chefs involved.

    • Are you suggesting that if a paying customer has a bad experience at the French Laundry it’s really because they’re too ignorant to understand the quality of the experience they just received?

    • Anna, anyone can start a blog and critique whatever they like, even the French Laundry. I’m sure it has been done. Time will tell whether they get any respect. I did write 9,000 words about restaurant reviewing in my book and there is more to say. Critiquing takes a great deal of thought and is hard to do well. I’m always in awe of those who excel at it.

      And those chefs, no they are not AB. It makes you wonder how he would respond. He once tweeted back to me that something I said about him was “bullshit,” so he’s very capable of a quick reply.

      • Thanks, I just found it offensive to suggest that a regular people aren’t qualified to judge for themselves what they like. I may not be writing reviews (well, except the occasional one on yelp), but I know good food and I know good service–and to me that’s what I want to read about in a review. If the reviewer criticizes the glass the wine was served in, I might find it amusing, but it’s an unimportant detail. And it sounds as if the chefs here really overreacted to minor details.

        BTW if bloggers are going to review restaurants, I do think they should make multiple visits before writing about the experience. It’s always possible that a good team has a bad night. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with having a little criticism in the review–it makes it seem more honest. It’s up to the reader to decide whether that critique has any merit.

        • It would be nice if bloggers could visit multiple times, Anne, but if it’s on their own dime, it’s not going to happen. That’s probably true for smaller newspapers and guidebooks as well.

  17. This was fascinating. If I had been the chef, I would have been careful to see that it was an opinion of a customer. Opinions are like gold. Many times a business doesn’t hear what customers are really thinking. The customers just vote with their feet. Hearing an opinion, good or bad, can help a business improve and affect positive changes to their business. Just my thoughts. :)

  18. I felt compelled to read the comments before responding, because this is such a hot topic, or rather, topics.

    For me the most serious issue here is bullying. I think we can all agree that just because you wear a toque, work the late shift, and then have too much wine, that is no license for abusive behavior. Cyberbullying is prevalent in schools and work around the globe. There are laws against it.

    Who are we to think because we, as writers, bloggers and chefs, have an opinion, in one of the most hot-headed professions in the world, we’re exempt?

    I speak from a lifetime of experience, as a restaurateur, food sale rep, broker and someone who has spent more time in the company of chefs than many. Yes, a good deal of chefs can, and will, spew vulgarities when provoked. I’m not concurring with the behavior of the foul mouthed chefs in question, but rather acknowledging it for what it is. A very raw human emotion. An unacceptable one at that. I have been on the receiving end of many ugly chef tantrums. Sadly, many of them want, and like, the confrontation.

    Which leads me to your question about Wood not deleting the comments from her blog. Your question, should she have deleted it? Hmm, did she do it to get more traffic or to draw attention to the bully? After all, if she needed the code for the authorities, it’s still out there.

    IMHO, if a blogger, or writer, is going on the record to write comments and review a restaurant, they should be able to take the heat whether it’s for an audience of one, or ten thousand. We all have an opinion.

    Which brings me to Yelp. (You did good on this post Dianne) Just because one person says it’s good, or not, doesn’t mean it is. Mona made a good point about critiquing and writing and the power of peer pressure to support the creative muse.

    Another thought. The people that work in the food industry (chefs, cooks, servers, etc.) are a passionate lot. That’s one of the things that seems to be universal about working in the food industry, cooking in a hot kitchen, and preparing really good food. It is not a glamorous life, in fact, far from it. Yes, there are exceptions, of course. Again, I’m not making an excuse for the insults and the cyberbulling. I was offended by James blog post comments. But he did put it out there. That said, I hope he reported the chef to the restaurant and then the authorities.

    Dianne, what a thought-provoking post. One thing that continues to perplex me, (and you, too) is why bloggers are afraid to critique, but after reading your post, I can see why some wouldn’t.

    Wow, I just went on and on. Ha! Back to the trenches.

    Thanks Dianne.

    • Thanks for this long comment, Maureen. Yes, it was good of Wood to let the comment stand, both so the chef could hang himself and for the resulting publicity it created!

      I learned, as a manager at magazines and newspapers, that personal attacks are unprofessional. Apparently chefs have not had to curb themselves. Perhaps because the person they learned from was this way as well, and it’s accepted in kitchens? I’m sure I am oversimplifying.

      Bloggers are afraid to critique for many reasons: they think they’re not qualified, it’s too much work, they don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, they think their readers want only positive stories.

  19. Wow, judging from the repsonses to your article, it’s a hot button issue! I loved this one, it’s so interesting to hear people’s reactions! Plus, it hits close to home for me.

    Nick’s comment above saying it’s about the customer, not the chef, is partially true since it is about the chef too. Let’s face it, chefs have huge egos! But they work extremely hard and their creativity should be applauded.

    As a dish-reviewer blogger, my knowledge of food is great, but not vast. However, I cater to a specific audience. Food review blogs can be a form of entertainment, as well as informative, or at least, they should be IMHO. In any case, I think diners should take what they like and leave the rest! As for the angry responses from the chefs, I had to laugh at those! They are simultaneously creating PR for the restaurant, while digging their own graves!! Are we taking ourselves too seriously perhaps?

  20. As always Diane, you have put your pen on the pulse of an important and timely topic in the food and writing world. I’m a chef, writer and diner, so I wear many hats when I go into a restaurant to eat. In addition, my spouse is a restaurant manager and sommelier. I’d like to think that when we go out to eat we wear these hats equally and are able to see many sides of the story when things sometimes go awry.

    Recently we had a terrible experience in a restaurant from a service perspective. What bothered us the most is that we consider hospitality our life’s work and to see it be so casually tossed aside by stressed-out servers, disgruntled bartenders, harried hosts, etc… was especially upsetting. However, we also know implicitly how incredibly stressful and thankless this business can be, how some nights just go completely off the rail, how some staff members are bad apples and until they are removed, can upset the whole apple cart. I say these things because we didn’t leave that restaurant and Yelp the shit out of that experience, as tempting as it may have been. We let our hot heads cool down and wrote an email to the management. I’m not expecting the trend will be to go back to calming down and dealing with the restaurant privately and discretely when things go wrong, but I would like to appeal to people’s humanity that they think through the experience before they leave a permanent, thrashing review online without even giving the place a chance to apologize or make it right. If the restaurant doesn’t respond in a satisfying way or they don’t respond at all, well — they’ve made their bed and you have my blessing to talk about how sloppy it is.

    • Hello Becky. Well, that was sensible of you, to write them. These days you can write a bad review right at the restaurant! And it shows. So much of what I see on Yelp is petty and ego driven and beside the point. Maybe that’s what makes it appealing.

      I have also written letters to management when I have been upset or disappointed. It seems like a quaint idea now. Thanks for pointing out that it may be the best approach sometimes, even in the days where people seem to be publishing every thought for the world to see.

    • Fascinating read, Dianne, and fascinating discussion. This all reminds me of one experience (pre-blog) my husband and I had. My husband and I love to travel and love to eat out (I think dining out is our biggest budget) and we always always do our research when looking for a hotel or restaurant and before reserving at a place we haven’t eaten before, especially if it is pricey. We go through 3 or 4 professional restaurant or hotel guides, newpaper articles or reviews, Trip Advisor client reviews… we never ever rely on one single opinion or review. As your post and the comments have made it clear, any place can have a bad day, any client can have a lousy experience and many people simply have no taste (I personally think it is often a matter of taste more than knowledge) for us to rely on one single review. We have also had bad experiences at places that had been given great reviews by a professional so we try and get a balanced view.

      Anyway, on a trip south to pick up our son from camp, we reserved and stayed at a hotel that had wonderful reviews in each of our guides and had been especially listed as a “Relais de Silence” guaranteeing, above all else, a silent night. It turned out to be the worst experience we’ve ever had, both the inedible food to the noisy night (a wedding party in the hotel!!!). So when we got home, we wrote a letter to each guidebook explaining the experience (and what their review had led us to expect) and we left a well-worded review on Trip Advisor. We had replies from each guide and they each ended up removing the hotel from their guides. As my husband is a former journalist, we thought this the best, most thoughtful action we could take.

      I also think bloggers should sit and think through their own role and talents as reviewers before deciding how to review a restaurant or hotel. Two of my favorite blogs do restaurant reviews and each and every review is not only extremely well-balanced and carefully thought out but the restaurant, the food and the chef are researched before going (with the review in mind). These are the kinds of reviews I trust. I myself almost never review a place I have eaten but when I do I try and do my research first and then I write it as an experience more than a review. I think there is always a shared responsibility between a reviewer and the person trusting a review. That said, chefs should take many of these reviews with a grain of salt and all reviews with respect. They have every right to defend themselves, but a nasty, insulting comeback would be the biggest reason for my never eating at their place, no matter how good.

      • Jamie, that sounds reasonable. I’m wondering why you didn’t complain to the hotel as well? Many people here have suggested doing that first, if you’re not writing a review.

        I take your point about reviewers thinking through their own role and talents. I don’t think most people can do it — it is a challenge to think about yourself without bias.

        Regarding writing about eating at a restaurant just as an experience, many bloggers write that way, with little critical thinking about the meal. It has been an adjustment for me to read restaurant writing like this, as a former reviewer. But I have come to terms with it. Many don’t feel qualified or wonder about retribution. I do try to explain that they are qualified because they are representing the customer rather than the chef, but I am not sure they believe me.

        You are right about trust. I trust the big reviewers to be confident in their opinions and not have some kind of agenda.

        • This problem at this particular hotel/restaurant wasn’t a problem FOR the management, this was a problem OF management (we saw the owner/manager during our stay and he seemed tickled pink with the quality he was offering for an outrageous price). This was a problem for the guide books; we imagined that the hotel ownership had changed and that the guidebooks were unaware. What was listed as a “Relais de Silence” with wonderful food had turned into a wedding location. Disco music from a wedding shook the entire hotel until 4 in the morning; the food served in the restaurant seemed to have been leftovers from a catered wedding, frozen then reheated and served in the restaurant. Completely inedible. Really, this was beyond management. Maybe something like Guy Fieri’s restaurant? Sometimes simply complaining to the management (we have done that when the fish we were served was off, etc, with very positive results) but sometimes one just knows that the whole place should be shut down. So, gosh, maybe I am for those harsh reviews after all!

          And as I have been thinking about this overnight (which I often do with your topics), I have been thinking a lot lately about why bloggers don’t do more bad reviews – of books, conferences, restaurants… I have recieved books for review that were terrible in so many ways, I’ve had friends test recipes (in the plural) from cookbooks they’ve recieved and every recipe was lousy or off, I’ve heard people say that certain events they have attended (conferences, workshops, etc) were terrible… yet how many have actually posted negative reviews on their blogs? None. Why is this easier to do for a restaurant? Or is it?

          • Good question. I’ll take a stab at the answer: they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings; their mothers told them, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”; they are afraid of retribution; they are afraid of being branded as bitches (the women, anyway); they are afraid of having their freebies cut off. How’s that?

            I’m doing a session at Food Blog South on ethics that will dig into these types of issues.

  21. So many thoughts’85I’ve Yelped, mostly with enthusiasm, as I’d much rather rave about something extraordinary’97professionalism, for example’97than rave about something horrid. And I did write a review about a horrid experience at a beloved, tried-and-true place nearby, with gusto, because the manager was so condescending and determined to make a myriad of her staff’s mistakes OUR fault.

    http://www.yelp.ca/biz/peppers-mexicali-cafe-pacific-grove#hrid:H3wZHx4gfgyZmytBjCJ_-w

    I have a second thought’85some chefs are just plain old, mean old assholes. They run their lines with terror, and it’s painful to witness it. (I did in a Michelin-starred restaurant’s “kitchen tour,” and I’d never want to go into a kitchen where the staff endured such threatening glances or such terse, toxic directions. Ugly.) However, there are people who respond to being treated like fools and idiots. That’s sad, that you need to be yelled at to be trusted to do your job properly.

    I don’t like to patronize assholes, personally. I like going out to eat where there is a relaxed or calm vibe’97as we witnessed when the San Francisco Giants took it all this year, you CAN have a good time while playing at the top of your game.

    About my Yelp review, I would’ve been happy if I didn’t have to report it, but I felt that, since all overtures for fairness in the situation were rejected, a warning that this once beloved eatery had changed for the worse.

    (I hope you laughed, anyway. I am certain La Manageress did not.)

    • I guess putting your reviews on Yelp is much less work than doing so on a food blog, Tana. You don’t have to worry about photos, for one thing.

      Re not patronizing mean chefs, it is a good idea. I don’t know how I would know who was mean or not. I suppose I am not in the know. Also, if you read Bittman’s piece (the last link in my post) you can now patronize restaurants based on how they treat their staffs. I really like that idea.

  22. Personally, I take most restaurant reviews with a grain of salt. Yelp can be entertaining, especially the negative reviews–a lot of it is just noise. I know it was just a side note to this article, but that review of Fieri’s restaurant was just a bunch of rambling nonsense to me. I’m sure that his restaurant is no better and no worse than Hard Rock Cafe, Planet Hollywood (is that still around?), Cheesecake Factory, or any of the other restaurants in that category, including Johnny Garlic’s. So why in the world is a fine dining critic going there and expecting something different for that type of place? Should anyone care that he hates Applebee’s too? If it’s true that regular folks have no business criticizing Michelin star rated restaurants, then it’s equally true that fine dining experts have no business criticizing fast food/touristy trap places.

    • Hmm. You make an interesting point, Anne. He wouldn’t normally review all those chain restaurants, that’s true. I guess Fieri’s place is different in that it is not a chain and he is a high-profile chef who purports to know the best American food.

      • Yah, I realize his isn’t a chain, yet — but I would expect a restaurant that seats 500 is going to offer the same type of experience though. ;) I’m in NorCal–my family has been to Johnny Garlic’s — it’s not fine dining by any stretch but the food isn’t THAT bad, and places like this have their place in the restaurant scene, just not at the high end. Knowing what his original restaurants are like and knowing he’s mostly into standard grub, I really wouldn’t expect anything different from the new place. I just question whether the critic has any appreciation for places offering that sort of fare.

  23. A few weeks ago we had a long four days road trip on Mother Road 66 and then all the way up north to Seattle. When we felt hungry, my teenager son would do a search on his smartphone for a nearby places. And what did he look for? The reviews from bloggers and diners. In the panhandle Texas there was a place that we had to make a detour to eat in, but 5 stars given by others were quite impressive. I have to admit, that was the most amazing dining experience I’ve had in many years.
    So, what all this has to do with your question? Well, as a diner I do rely most of the time on the other bloggers and diners review more than any other professional reviews, although I do read those too.
    Chefs have to understand that bloggers are no different from another customers, they are just another customers indeed. They come, they pay and they want to have a great experience for their money. .And after they share as any other diners by either “word of mouth” or social media. A doze of healthy criticism, when appropriate, has to exist to keep chefs on their toes, and not only chefs… :)

    • That makes perfect sense to me, Marina. “Nearby places” are rarely covered by the big reviewers, who are still mostly reviewing upscale restaurants where you wouldn’t just drop in. I consult Yelp and blogs for those as well.

      Bloggers are customers with a platform, and that is what strikes fear into the heart of chefs — that a customer is going to tell hundreds of people something negative about their restaurant. I am not sure how much change occurs at restaurants as a result of them reading blog posts. I somehow doubt that it’s much.

  24. What is the difference in people who rate and write reviews on Yelp, a worldwide travel site and writing on a blog. When traveling one doesn’t get the opportunity to eat more than once and the restaurant should be on the best anytime, every time. Chef’s should want to hear what a customer thinks. If reasonable, adjust and make improvements.

    • Good question. Bloggers take photos, but otherwise maybe there isn’t much difference perhaps. Travel writing doesn’t have many reviews for the exact reason you say, that someone will probably only eat there once. It’s more of a “I dropped in here and had this and it was good,” and then they move on. Usually it’s just a sentence or two in an overall piece about a place.

  25. I recently read Ruth Reichl’s memoir Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise, and though I love Reichl’s other books, I found myself frustrated and disgusted by Reichl, right up to the end, when she herself recognized that her job as a critic drew on a dark side of herself she didn’t care to know. Ultimately, the nature of critiquing is nitpicking; it stabs like a knife, no matter how truthful or well-written. Yet it’s hard to stop ourselves from critiquing’97it’s human nature, and it’s fun!

    I think everyone has the right to review, and all reviews certainly are not equal, but the location of the review (Yelp vs. average blog vs. well-known blogger vs. NYT) determines how seriously they will be taken. That said, anyone who takes the time to write a food-review hopes to be taken seriously, so that they can evolve from a hobbyist to a salaried writer. They deserve as much attention as their knowledge and expression of the dining experience warrant.

    Two last thoughts, both inspired by Adam Gopnik: The restaurant, to an extent, is a game. We’re shown in by a stranger in a silly outfit and we sit down at a table where we pretend to eat privately, even though we can see and hear everyone else at every other table. We can’t see the food we choose and we usually wait a while, and at the end we pay, for the food and for being called “Ma’am” and “Sir” and for having our napkin refolded when we go to the bathroom. It’s a bit absurd, when it comes to games. But if we play, we should play it nicely. Reviewers should be fair and should never act superior to the respect they were given.

    Last food for thought: Gopnik writes, “Chefs are close to magicians in their certainty that their critics cannot tell the difference between something that takes time, thought, and talent and something that dazzles only by surprise, perversity, and snob appeal. But, even more than magicians, chefs depend on the good opinion of those whose opinions they cannot think are worth having.”

    • I read that book as well and it didn’t thrill me as much as her earlier memoirs. Her costumes seemed like a big, elaborate game, as Gopnik points out, but I thought she was a superb reviewer. I particularly like when Gopnik says reviewers should not act superior. Haughtiness is never appealing in any kind of writing.

  26. As a blogger I write restaurant reviews but by no means claim to be a professional restaurant critic. I’m more giving my opinion as an average Jo (who has a little bit more foodie knowledge). I describe it as I would to a friend and expect that readers would read it the same way rather than take it as a professional opinion.
    For a chef to come back like that is completely unacceptable. I don’t think the manager of a hotel would verbally abuse a customer if they had a bad experience. It’s terrible!

    • I think most bloggers don’t claim to be professional restaurant critics, and they shouldn’t. They don’t go more than once, they take tons of photos, they talk about who they were with – all things that most professional reviewers do differently. But that doesn’t mean you’re not entitled to write up a dinner, describe the food and say what you enjoyed and didn’t.

      Yes, I doubt that a hotel manager would verbally abuse a customer the way those chefs did. The Internet makes it so much easier.

  27. Wonderful, thoughtful column and responses. I have nothing complex to add, but I would not go, or return, to a restaurant if I knew that the chef publicly responded to a review by calling the reviewer a “cunt.” It’s not just unprofessional. It’s offensively sexist. I’d feel the same way if the chef responded with a racist comment. There are plenty of other restaurants I’d rather support.

  28. The situation for negative reviews is very different in Australia. In the last few years a paid reviewer for the Sydney Morning Herald lost a defamation case after he wrote negatively about a restaurant. The restaurant claimed they lost business and subsequently shut down, suing the newspaper for their loss of business.

    This excellent overview of the case explains more:
    http://www.crikey.com.au/2012/06/29/legal-battle-over-restaurant-review-leaves-bitter-taste/

    The implications for bloggers are mixed here, Ed Charles believes that they won’t go after small fish but I’m just waiting for the day. I think much of the blogger reticence to publish a negative piece stems from this fear. http://www.hospitalitymagazine.com.au/management/watch-out-for-bad-comments-not-reviews-says-social

    • Fascinating, Alison. It would make me nervous to be a newspaper reviewer today, with lawsuits like that. Apparently they were able to claim a link between the review and why their restaurant failed. It’s odd because most new businesses fail anyway.

      I also liked Ed’s comments about how websites like UrbanSpoon drive a lot more traffic to restaurants than restaurant reviews in newspapers because they link more. I met Ed at EatDrink.Blog and enjoyed his comments.

  29. Why are bloggers not more critical in their reviews? In Australia it comes from a fear of being sued which has happened to well known restaurant critics. There are very fine, easily crossed lines which bloggers, who are usually just one-person bands, have to consider.

    Great column Dianne – thank you.

    • Yes, I just read the links from Alison. The majority of restaurants are not going to sue, and they’re not going to bother with a writer who doesn’t have deep pockets. I think you’d have to do something pretty egregious, but I could be wrong. There are always a few frivolous lawsuits. But I have to say, I’m pretty shocked about the newspaper losing the case.

  30. After what happened with Chef Ron Eyester of Rosebud in Atlanta (he wrote a blog that ripped customers and he got skewered), you’d think that chefs would be more careful about what they say, especially when the entire world can see it. Considering that James only had 100 followers, the chef probably saw him as an easy target. I wonder if he would have said the same thing if James had had a bigger audience.

  31. FooDiva does have a long list of people who follow her reviews and yes, may be rightfully or wrongfully swayed by what she writes but the Chef de Cuisine did more harm to the restaurant by his offensive comment to FooDiva’s criticism than to defend his restaurant. At the end of it he is working in a hospitality industry and no matter what one might feel, one has to be polite. There should be maturity in handling criticism.

    • You are absolutely right. However, he is not even the chef de cuisine there, so I wonder if his outbursts will have any effect on the restaurant’s business.

  32. retaliation against restaurants that didn’t live up to a customers expectations (no matter how ill-founded) seems to have become acceptable recently. though i have some experience as a writer, i would not occur to me, having visited your site, to criticize your syntax or punctuation. likewise, having visited my restaurant, why would you think it your prerogative to publish your opinion of the experience? if the tables were turned and i was publishing, to an international audience, my singular opinions about your writing, wouldn’t you feel a little prickly about it? oh, and what if you had to deal with that from someone different every day?

    a restaurant is not nordstrom. chefs balance customer satisfaction with profitability while working upwards of 80 hours a week. our restaurants are our true homes and we are very protective of them. there are many miserable people out there and they all get hungry eventually. perhaps the subjects of your post chose the wrong target for their anger, but there are, ahem, about a google ignorant bastards out there blogging menacing things about some chef’s (and his staff’s) livelihood every day.

  33. Just as an observation, in this discussion, we have become reviewers of reviewers, reviewing…lol!!!

    Did anyone else catch that? I love it!

  34. I had to sit and ponder this article for a bit after reading it and all the subsequent comments. Very fascinating discussion, indeed! I must say, the quote you mentioned from one of the chef’s is quite creative.

    “’85Wear a condom on your tongue to contain the orgasm of your ignorance.”

    Beautifully snarky! That being said, their behavior was deplorable. They should have never responded that cruelly towards the reviewers. Unfortunately, the internet and the instaneousness of commenting, Yelp, Twitter, Facebook, etc. it’s easy to blast someone without thinking of the consequences. I’ve been caught with my pants down a couple times where I hit ‘send’ and think, oh crap, I really shouldn’t have done that. There needs to be a ‘withdraw’ button, or something of the sort!

    Whenever I’ve experienced poor service, food, or what have you at a restaurant, I usually send a thoughtful and respectful email or letter to the management explaining the situation. It has a much more effective result than just blasting them on a review site or blog! I’ve actually had managers call me to thank me for the letter, ask what they can do to improve their restaurant, offer coupons or meals, and more.

    One night at Red Lobster, it took a ridiculous amount of time to get our food (over an hour). The manager repeatedly stopped by our table to check on us, apologize, and more. Because we were kind and didn’t fly off the handle or start yelling, complaining, or berating, the manager gave us our dinner on the house. The waiter thanked us for being so kind and patient with him and the service. He said he was amazed by how calm we were and that we didn’t cause a scene. He couldn’t believe it. Both the manager and waiter thanked us repeatedly all night! Our service, despite the late food, was impeccable! We made sure to let the manager and the waiter know that.

    It’s amazing how a little kindness and understanding, even when writing a ‘critique’ or ‘bad review’ or having a poor experience, can have such an impact.

    • How rational you sound, Kat. I too have said the wrong thing on online public view and regretted it. Probably just about everyone has learned this the hard way. Another commenter also said she has written letters, as have I, but those seem to be old-fashioned now compared to Yelping.

  35. Well – chefs are known for their temper.But I have to say, that it all comes to the way, the writer is phrase it. If there are not obvious flaws [like temperature, off-tastes, texture problems] – I appreciate, that the writer puts the comments into a personal perspective [especially if it comes to taste].
    To the point of professional writers vs. amateurs, I have to underpin the point, that most of the time pro writers are skilled in writing – not dining. If it is not a reviewer of Michelin or Gault Millau or maybe the NY Times journalists aren’t necessary so much more knowledgeable as bloggers. I have read quite some dreadful reviews from TimeOut reviewers and alike.
    And well – I like to read some vicious reviews [they are more entertaining than only praises] as long it is not my place, which is reviewed like that ;)

    • Thank you for saying that reviewers are primarily skilled writers. When I did it I certainly knew a lot more about writing than food! I feel much better now.

      I don’t like vicious writing. That’s going too far. Cheeky and pointed reviews are great, though.

  36. [...] Chefs Blast Bloggers on Restaurant Reviews – another interesting twist from Dubai here [...]

  37. As a restaurant reviewer, I have heard (read) many chefs say, “Don’t criticize my work unless you’ve worked the line in a hot kitchen!” and “Don’t you know people’s livelihoods are riding on your ignorant words?!”

    And I understand the emotions, I really do. But the reviewer is a proxy for the diner. And the chef can’t possibly expect all diners to have worked the line (or even be able to cook) or to eat at a restaurant they don’t enjoy purely to support the salaries of the hardworking cooks.

    As for the difference between “pro” reviewers who visit three times and probably eat out five times a week and casual bloggers, well, caveat lector. I might read the views of both Pete Wells and anyoldcasualfoodblogger.com on a particular restaurant, but they carry very different weight. A smart chef is going to think about that before making himself internet-infamous.

    Also, Pete Wells’ review rocked my soul. He said the truth, he said it from a place of authority, and he said it with elan. Nobody who stirs garlic into Hellman’s and calls it “donkey sauce” deserves “tact.”

  38. Wow some incredibly valid comments here. Here are my own musings on this incident http://foodiva.net/2012/12/restaurant-reviews-food-blogging-and-going-viral/

    • Nice to hear from the subject of this blog post, Samantha. Thanks for the link that clarifies your position as a reviewer. Well done.

  39. Well, I hate to beat a dead horse, but here’s a link to a continuing discussion on restaurant owners and chefs who are “hating” on Yelpers:

    http://eater.com/archives/2012/12/04/its-time-for-yet-another.php

    • How awful. I really dislike this aspect of the Internet, when people pile on with negative comments. Thanks for the link.

  40. Chefs who comment negatively and rudely on blog posts that have some points of criticism, only do a disservice to themselves and their establishment. The perception created is that they are pompous, obnoxious and elitist. I’d rather see a chef politely explain why they do things a certain way, and if there is an issue, to comment that it will be looked into and rectified as needed. When I’m dining at an establishment, they are hosting me… if I see the host being rude, I’d rather not dine there.

    Even an inexperienced blogger has a valid voice. After all, it’s the experience they’ve received that they are reviewing. The average customer that comes into the restaurant once, most likely will notice the same problems/deficiencies and may not decide to come back again.

    The goal of any restaurant is to provide a great experience, no matter at what price point. After all, this is how you get repeat business. Chefs posting rude comments just make it worse.

    • Yes indeed. The first chef actually started out nicely enough in the comments, but then he lost it. I agree that even novice bloggers deserve to be treated respectfully. But then I suppose some are so clueless that they get the chef’s blood boiling. There is a way to dispense a critique, however, without this level of abuse.

  41. I’m glad it came up that food bloggers have to pay for their meals out of their own pockets. It’s not reasonable to expect the average person to eat at the same place three times in a row. Of course, some people have their favorite spots that they do frequent, but IF the place is review material, it’s only good for one piece anyway.

    I don’t write that many restaurant reviews on my blog simply because I can’t afford to eat out very often. So, when I do have the opportunity to go out and eat, it’s not usually going to be in the same place I’ve been to before. (I have my favorite places too, but, again, they’re only good for one go-round.) I want to try new places as often as I can (after all, I live in New York City’97so many restaurants, so little money!). Plus, I don’t go out and eat alone, so I have other people’s preferences to taken into consideration as well. And sometimes I want to review a place that’s out of New York. I recently took a trip to Ithaca, where I had the opportunity to visit the Moosewood restaurant. Of course I would write about it! But am I going to have every meal in the same restaurant while away on vacation? Of course not. I had to do my write-up based on my one meal. (I will say that I tried to stop in for lunch the next day, but they were closed.)

    I always feel a bit guilty when writing reviews precisely because I know that I haven’t tried a full range of dishes. If I am eating in a restaurant that I do want to review, I try order a few different things, including an appetizer and dessert, and I sample my dining companions’ dishes. It’s the best I can do. Until I win the Mega Powerball, that is. :-)

    • Roberta, most restaurant writers are probably in the same boat as you, paying for their meals. It is only the exalted few these days that have an expense account. I don’t know that you should feel guilty. If you state clearly that you only went once, then at least you’re being transparent about it and not trying to provide a full review of the restaurant. I think most bloggers who do this write more of a snapshot piece without trying to be comprehensive.

  42. Diane,
    Loved the review by New York Times Critic Pete Wells, of the New York restaurant owned by Guy Fieri. Oh to be that clever!

    And that’s why the average blogger (and I am far less than that!) should not write reviews. Most are simply not worth reading as they are full over-the-top and unwarranted praise, of often fairly ordinary establishments. We are all foodies. Of course we love restaurants and dining in our favourites! But unless we can review according to an appropriate set of guidelines (so we mark consistently), and be prepared to be blasted for our criticism, silence is often preferable.

    And as one commentator rightly noted: the market will pay back chefs for their inappropriate comments.

    As part of a food writing course at Adelaide University, I was required to submit (and posted) reviews, but I don’t really enjoy it. I know too many chefs (including two in the family), how hard they work, and how hurt they are by (unjust) criticism. Therefore I’m happy to stay mainly silent on the matter of restaurants I visit, and will in future, declare any restaurant reviews I do, inferior and biased at the outset. But sometimes I just cant help myself when I have had a great restaurant experience.

    Perhaps I can come up with my own simple index without the comments…. To begin with, the possible score needs to be an even number. It should not be possible to sit in the middle. Whilst I need another category, how about the following? 1. not worth a visit, 2. worth a visit if you are in the neighbourhood, 3. Worth a repeat visit, 4. Wish it was in my neighbourhood/worth making a trip for (stealing a leaf out of the Michelin book!)

    • Yes, I was jealous too.

      I find that many bloggers do not write reviews because they don’t feel confident about their critical thought process, and perhaps because if they got a free meal, they feel bad about saying anything not positive. So they just write an “I was here” kind of post with lots of photos. There is no law that says blogger have to write reviews. Nor do you need to come up with a scoring system. So if you don’t enjoy the process and you have lots of friends in the restaurant world, it makes sense to me to avoid the whole thing.

  43. I’m not sure that I ever would have appreciated the full implications of this post until working for a restaurant that is constantly subject to reviews on Trip Adviser and UrbanSpoon.

    I think what most people fail to understand is that a restaurant “review” isn’t based on a one time dining experience from someone who lacks a background of some sort in food. Like Jackie responded, it is based on multiple dishes and visits where the service is varied to provide and overall dining experience.

    The reality is that you will never please 100 percent of the people 100 percent of the time, in a restaurant or in the rest of life either. So a one time experience where you maybe just sampled a dish you didn’t care for or had a waiter having a bad night isn’t really a good “review” of that establishment. It’s an opinion to be sure, but not a review.

    That being said, the bottom line is that we live in a digital era where the every day “reviewer” can build or damage your credibility. And as such, that is criticism that must be taken seriously. I want to know absolutely if your dining experience was less than satisfactory, and I want to know what I can do to make it right. That being said, I’d much prefer you tell me as you are walking out the door than reading about it on Trip Adviser!

    The bottom line is that any criticism is something that as food service professionals we must learn and grow from. Even is you disagree with the opinion. Maybe even more so when you disagree with the opinion.

    • Very few people write this kind of review anymore, Jen. Most can’t afford to eat somewhere pricey more than once on their own dime, let alone at least 3 times. And blogging is more about the moment, not going back to the new place. The whole concept of reviewing seems kind of quaint these days, which is too bad, but I can see how we got to this point. Just a handful of people get full-time jobs and expense accounts.

  44. I find this blog very informative especially for the food lovers. I think I will be frequenting here to read more about your great posts. Thanks admin.

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