A chef and restaurateur shares why reading online reviews is a maddening experience for many food industry professionals. Just remember, fine dining isn't a fucking community swimming pool.
Welcome back to Restaurant Confessionals, where we talk to the unheard voices of the restaurant industry from both the front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) about what really goes on behind the scenes at your favorite establishments.
I do read the Yelp reviews of my restaurants. I used to read them much more frequently when we first opened, and I thought it was really cool to see people talking about the establishments for better or worse. But I was entirely wrong.
When you're working for someone else and you read a bad review, you only feel kind of responsible. But when it's your own place, it very quickly turns sour—you feel like someone has insulted your family member or your child, and like you're like, What the fuck? How dare you talk about my kid like that.
I just recently read some of our reviews and I was thoroughly annoyed by them. There was one recently that stuck out because there was a guy who came in last weekend. He said he had heard already that this restaurant was like too overhyped and didn't live up to its hype by his "prominent New York chef friends." I was thinking, Fuck you. I know a lot of people, too, and I don't think whoever you know is all that prominent. So he came into this place with the preconceived notion that he was going to hate it, and then actually hated it? It should have been a positive review, because it was exactly what he thought it would be! It sucks because you're getting reviewed on expectations, not the reality of an experience.
Our restaurant has received plenty of good press but, at this point, it's been a little while since we've been reviewed. So some Yelpers are responding to a dated review from a few years ago and expect that exact same meal.
Instead, people come in and they literally say they're surprised at how casual it is. I'd love to just say, "Fuck you." Just because we're well-reviewed in impressive places doesn't mean that it has to be an environment that's going to provide you with white tablecloths and oyster forks. We don't put up a front, like a kind of hipster-y, "fuck you" service attitude. We really try to do everything we can to please people, and to make sure that people are well-accommodated. If people don't like things in the restaurant, we'll gladly replace them or take them off their check. But if we don't hear about it in the restaurant, we can't do anything about it. It's impossible.
My favorite Yelp review comment of all time was someone referring to Maldon sea salt and calling it "big ass salt chunks."
If you don't like us, you should review your friend who told you it was good. Like, "My friend Jim told me this place was good, but Jim is a lying piece of shit because I went, and it wasn't." It shouldn't be like, "This restaurant sucks because I thought there were gonna be tablecloths, and there weren't." Jim sucks, not us.
I would never respond to a review on Yelp, nor have I ever posted one. It's like when you're pissed at your boss, or your girlfriend, or your boyfriend, or your parents, and you write a long email that's all scathing and annoying, and then you realize: I'm not going to fucking send that. What, am I fucking crazy? Am I 13 years old?
The problem is that Yelp reviews are very subjective and not always the most accurate representations of our service or our staff. Sure, we've had shitty shitty jerk off servers since we opened, and we fired them. I don't think we've continued to employ any shitty servers that are openly assholey.
It's tough, and I don't want to get in people's faces, but I've only actively gotten mad in person at customers if they've given the staff a ton of shit. There's one guy that I've thrown out of our restaurant three times. He's an asshole. The second time I kicked him out—after the first time, when he called one of our waitstaff a "bitch," but before the third time, when he sat at a table we had a reservation for and then refused to get up—I told him that he wasn't welcome, and he said that we needed to have a sign with the rules on the wall. No, we don't. This isn't a fucking community swimming pool. So I kicked him out again.
My favorite Yelp review comment of all time was someone referring to Maldon sea salt and calling it "big ass salt chunks." It was like, "They clearly don't know what they're doing or something, because they're using these big ass salt chunks that don't even melt." That's now totally a thing that we say in the kitchen, like, "Can you pass me the big ass salt chunks?" I'm very confident about our ability to do food, and we taste everything that comes back into the kitchen. But I swear to God, some people are afraid of anything that's not plain.
Another time, someone said that the oysters were too salty—and we don't even put salt on them. This lady ate a raw oyster, and was like, "This is too salty, it's disgusting." I think we told her that she should be mad at God, and not at us.
I think Yelp sometimes drives business that we don't want. I know that sounds shitty. Of course we want anyone and everyone to come in here, but not because they want to prove the hype wrong or see what all the bullshit talk is about. I want people to come in because the food looks tasty and they want to go taste it.
I think there are people who go out just to eat and then Yelp, and they're in this kind of club together. I know that New York has plenty of weirdos and tourists but I feel like we get a lot of all of them with the exception of our extreme locals. The idea that wasabi mashed potatoes could blow someone's mind still makes it seem like many of them are a little bit behind the times.
I kind of wish Yelp didn't exist, but I'm not really concerned. I just don't think it's very helpful. I think it's perpetuating this bullshit expectation situation that's never-ending, and it's never going to be able to effectively promote a restaurant, good or bad. It's all completely subjective, and unfortunately, people take that as truth.
This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES on October 22, 2014.