The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Monday, July 30, 2012

Australian Chef Sticks It To Urbanspoon "Reviewer"

I have written before of my mistrust of and general disdain for online restaurant “review” sites. This July 31, 2012 gleaning from John Lethlean of The Australian points up yet another example of why I feel this way:

“Dissatisfaction with customer reviews posted on Urbanspoon is rife among Australian hospitality people, but one Brisbane operator has found, as he puts it, 'two can play that game'.

Luke Stringer, of Hamptons Home Living, was incensed by the review posted by a customer on Urbanspoon after a discussion between the pair had failed to satisfy either party, and Stringer had decided not to charge for the meal. Stringer is a past winner of service awards in elite Melbourne restaurants and well known to First Bite as a measured, professional operator; but he felt under the circumstances the review expressed 'unwarranted remarks'. So he sleuthed the customer's name and place of work and, at the company's Google Place Page, having signed in (to Google), left a review of his own.

'I have not used (company XXXX) but a member of their staff, XXX XXX, dined at our establishment yesterday. After complaining about a meal he had consumed in its entirety, he continued to show his general lack of manners even after not being charged for his meal. He then went on to post a nasty review on Urbanspoon. If that is how this person behaves in public, I can't imagine what he is like as a professional.' Stringer rang the customer to inform him of his own review. Result: down came the Urbanspoon posting, fast. The Empire strikes back.”

Running a restaurant in not an easy way to make a living. It's so much more than just setting out a few tables, printing up a menu, and firing up the stove. Besides being a cook you've got to be an accountant, a business manager, a personnel manager, a marketing wizard, a financial planner, a maintenance engineer, a design expert, and sometimes a bit of a magician. You've got to keep up with ever-changing tastes and trends. And you're responsible for the livelihoods of your entire staff.

And then along comes some idiot with access to a computer. Maybe he's having a bad day at work. Maybe she's just had a fight with her boyfriend. Maybe the kids are driving them nuts, or the in-laws are visiting. Maybe she's a drama queen who loves to stir things up. Maybe he considers himself to be the ultimate connoisseur or gourmand even though IHOP is the closest he's ever come to fine dining.

Or it could be more nefarious. There are increasing incidents of unscrupulous people trying to blackmail restaurant owners by threatening bad “reviews” on social media if the owner doesn't pony up a free meal or some other form of pay off.

Whatever reason the “reviewer” might have, a negative, nasty, scathing comment hits the Internet for the whole world to see. And because these sites proclaim themselves to be the voices of “the people,” undiscerning readers, often incapable of critical thought, take them at face value. As a result, a business that may already be on the edge fails. The owner's money is lost and the employees are out of work. All because some jerk didn't think the waitress filled his water glass quickly enough.

So kudos to Luke Stringer. The restaurant world needs more like him. And don't wait for an owner to stand up and defend himself. If you see some Yelper or Urbanspooner trashing your favorite place, fight back. I've done it.

A woman with an ugly motive posted some trash on one of the “review” sites about a little family-run Italian place I happen to like. She joined the site the same day she posted the so-called “review,” having written nothing before and nothing since. This leads me to believe she had a malicious ax to grind. She made no specific allegations, she just said unequivocally that the food was “overpriced box mixes” and enjoined potential patrons to not waste their money. Having been in this restaurant's kitchen and having personal knowledge that the only boxes in there were the ones containing fresh food, I called this pazza idiota out on the very same site. And I wish more people would do the same. It might help keep these sites a little more honest.

So if you see something on one of these supposedly egalitarian sites that you know to be untrue or suspect to be less than altruistically motivated, speak up about it. Write a review of the “review.” And bring it to the attention of the owner or manager. If there's anything to it, they can address it. If not, many of the “review” sites offer options for rebuttal by ownership or management.

With the Internet and social media in increasing control of our daily lives – and with apologies to Zack de la Rocha and his bandmates – sometimes you've just got to rage against the machine.

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