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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Grazie mille!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Social Media Reviews: A Comment on a Comment

I was alerted this morning to a comment posted on one of the content sites for which I occasionally write. It was a comment on my post about Urbanspoon and other social media review sites; a post that originated on this blog and can still be found here.

The comment – from “Sinduja,” a female, judging by the icon – went like this:
“Dear Ron,

Are you in any way, associated with the Italian restaurant? Even otherwise, I am sorry but this write-up has been very disappointing, not that I believe you would care since you do not seem to hold much respect for others anyway. And yes, this comment might be strewn with grammatical errors but I do not think it is much of a factor to criticize someone about, like you have done.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion Ron. Even the 'dumbest', 'worst palate gifted' folks. And if I did not like the food in a restaurant, I did not like it. Period. Of course, I 'ought' to check if my disliking the food was more because of personal taste preferences or the quality of the chef but consumer behavior is not all about 'ought to'. Everyone has a right to voice their views and like you said, the best judgment always somehow comes out fine - a few wrong ones are outnumbered by the apt reviews.

In fact, your article seems more like a paid promotion to me.”

Because of my noted lack of respect for others, I seldom comment on comments like this, but this one was too good to pass up. I wrote back:

Il mio tesoro, Sinduja.

At the time I wrote the article, I had no connection whatsoever with the restaurant. I have since established a relationship with the owner, but only because he was grateful for my having taken on somebody who was obviously out to damage his small, family-owned and operated business with an ignorant, baseless "review."

You are right, of course, that everybody is entitled to an opinion, but I stand by my statement that if one is to promote that opinion on a worldwide forum, it had best be an informed opinion. Anyone who states as fact that "the food was nothing but overpriced box mixes" without knowing that for a certainty is doing an egregious disservice not only to the restaurant, but to the integrity of the website upon which they are venting their uninformed spleen. "The food TASTED like overpriced box mixes" is a statement of opinion. "The food WAS nothing but overpriced box mixes" is a statement of fact -- one proven not to be true in this instance.

Take, for further example, your statement, "In fact, your article seems like a paid promtion to me." That is an excellent statement of opinion. It's wrong as hell, of course, but it's an appropriate statement of an opinion. Your use of the words "seems" and "to me" render this a reflection of your opinion. Again, you're completely incorrect. Nobody paid me a dime; I just wanted to stand up for a little guy who had been wronged. Why? Probably something to do with my lack of respect for others. But if you had chosen to state that my article WAS a paid promotion, our conversation -- which would include legal representation -- would have a very different tone.

Just my opinion, to which I -- and you -- are entitled.”

Actually, now that I look at it, I am the one with grammatical errors.

But anyway, the point stands; a professional – or at least an experienced – reviewer knows how to express the difference between opinion and fact, between a blanket statement and a specific point. “The food here sucks” is a blanket statement – unless you have, indeed, tried a sampling of all the food. “I tried the Parmesan Chicken and thought it sucked” is an appropriate statement. Not one I'd ever use, of course, but still an appropriate statement of one's opinion of a specific dish. It is simply irresponsible to state that everything on the menu “sucks” – I really despise that term – because you didn't like one dish.

Notice in my reviews that I never dine alone. My wife is always with me and we are frequently accompanied by at least one or two friends. We all order something different, thereby enabling us to come to a consensus opinion of the overall food quality. That means I can write – say it with me now, boys and girls – an informed opinion. And even though “Sanduja” says “consumer behavior is not all about 'ought to',” a reviewer's behavior “ought to” be based on fact rather than on supposition. When I dine out with the intention of writing a review, I question the waiter about the dishes I am eating. I sometimes ask to see the chef for specific details. I ask about quality, freshness, ingredients, techniques. Why? So I can write – what was that term again? – an informed opinion.

It is Sanduja's indubitable right to like what she likes and to dislike what she dislikes. And it is her right to share those likes and dislikes with like-minded (pardon the pun) people. But does she have the right to make irresponsible blanket statements that could be damaging to a family's business just because she didn't like a particular dish? I don't think so.

The old country saying, “If you can't say somethin' nice, don't say nothin' at all” is one to which I ascribe. I always try to make my reviews positive. I don't go out of my way to say nasty things about somebody's livelihood. Not that I can't write an unfavorable review. On rare occasion I have done so. I just don't like to. I would rather tell people about good places and pleasant experiences. Bad places and negative experiences are plentiful enough without my having to point them out.

I guess this proclivity toward positivity really makes me a poor critic, but that's just the way I am. That, of course, is because, as Sanduja says, I don't care or seem to have respect for others. “Seem.” At least she qualified it as an opinion rather than a statement of fact.

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