A Critique of the Food Critic

I don’t just think that there are two sides to a story.  No way.  Too many points of view.  Too many interpretations of a situation.  This is especially true when you see someone reading a nasty review about a local restaurant on their Yelp app.  Behind the scenes, there are bartenders, cooks, and managers who work in high-anxiety environments and all it takes is one negative review that ruins business for everyone.  Worst of all, it can be difficult to gauge how sincere the post is, or whether the user is just ‘trolling’ to get attention.  Read this post from an anonymous British restaurant owner on Munchies (the food channel by VICE where they have a blog called “Restaurant Confessionals” that allows anonymous people from the industry to tell stories of their experiences) about the time a well known food critic visited (Restaurant Confessions Food Critic).

Working in these stressful environments can be exhausting for restaurant employees.  It can even be damaging to their mental health (Boston Globe – Restaurant Mental Health ).   However, the British restaurant owner ended his story in a strangely provocative manner that I think is an interesting perspective:

“I don’t care about it when people come in and review the decor. Who cares about the fucking pine furniture? I inherited it when I bought the place and it is vile. I had hardly any money and the money I did have went on a second-hand oven, so we’ve just made do with it. I recently spent six-grand on a new dough maker just so we could make brioche. I could have spent that on new tables and chairs. In my opinion, brioche takes precedent.  Surely the most important thing in a restaurant is the food. That’s where my priorities are”

It seems as though the restaurant owner is separating the typical Yelp user who quickly enters a bogus review from the well known and credible food critics.  I put this part of the story here because in my personal experience as someone who has worked in the restaurant industry for a over a year and a half now, the content in bad reviews are sometimes referring to the aesthetics of the place, and are not actually about the food that was served.  Other times it’s about the service.  Things that can be fixed.  The British restaurant owner strongly points out that it should always be about the food.  And for those times when the food is not quite right, do your best to fix the situation and hope that the customer can be reasonable.  We all make mistakes, but it seems that restaurant employees’ mistakes are magnified because they are so immediate.  “This isn’t the drink I ordered” and “this meet looks undercooked” are common declarations made throughout a shift from the people on the other side of the bar.

I’m not denying that apps like Yelp are helpful for those who are looking for a conveniently located restaurant with good food, because they certainly are and the app is used by millions of consumers.  However, I am saying that too often, potential customers are influenced away from a restaurant because of one particularly bad review.  But understand, there are so many factors that could have otherwise explained the bad experience.  Maybe the restaurant was understaffed, or the food preparation took longer than expected, or some things went out of stock because of a busy weekend.  Or maybe the customer was just having a bad day and needed to vent in some form or another.  I would also like to make clear that when a restaurant messes up something beyond the minor mishaps of day-to-day operations, they should take accountability for it.  Situations such as not passing a health inspection are unacceptable. The health of others is the highest priority.

Some things are black and white, even in the food and service industry.  But most of the time, there are a lot of grey areas that make it difficult for employees to get everything right all of the time.  There are too many external factors that can influence the experience.  Like the anonymous British restaurant owner mentions, “All we do is try our hardest and if someone doesn’t like that, then I’m gutted but we fucking tried. It’s wanky but it’s true.”  I think that encapsulates a lot of the feelings many employees have about working at restaurants.  No one enjoys making mistakes.  It makes you incredibly frustrated and at times, can be really embarrassing.

I should know, during my fourth ever shift at my restaurant, I spilled the tray of food carrying 9 orders – a large tables for us – and spent the rest of the day playing catch up because the kitchen had to remake everything.

Anyway, sometimes I wished Yelp reviews were like this.  This was an Instagram post of mine a couple of months ago.cubano_burger1

Caption (*taken from Marshall and the gang in How I Met Your Mother where they attempt to find the best burger spot in NYC):  “Just a Burger? Just a burger! Robin, it’s so much more than “just a burger.” I mean…that first bite—oh, what heaven that first bite is. The bun, like a sesame freckled breast of an angel, resting gently on the ketchup and mustard below, flavors mingling in a seductive pas de deux. And then…a pickle! The most playful little pickle! Then a slice of tomato, a leaf of lettuce and a…a patty of ground beef so exquisite, swirling in your mouth, breaking apart, and combining again in a fugue of sweets and savor so delightful. This is no mere sandwich of grilled meat and toasted bread, Robin. This is God, speaking to us in food.”



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