Ask the Bartender: When All the World's a Reviewer

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It's that time of week when we answer the questions you're too drunk or shy to ask...This question comes from me:

There's no secret about the hate/love/hate relationship within the restaurant community for reader review sites like Yelp and instant emotifests like Twitter (really, is there?). Chefs and owners put their reputation in the hands of the staff now more than ever when each action is under immediate ridicule by any twitchy customer with a crackberry. When everyone's a critic, how does a restaurant defend itself? What recourse does a restaurant owner, chef or employee have against this newfangled era of entitlement?

I end up discussing this subject off the record A TON with all manner of service industry types, and I still don't have an answer. I have a wish, a hope and the occcasional evil thought or two, but no answer. The truth is, sites like Yelp are just tools, and great ones at that, potentially. As with all tools, their efficacy depends upon the wielder, which is why you throw out the high and low in statistics. I'd like to assume readers of these review sites do the same thing because for the most part, the system works. These review sites address the social contract of a restaurant like never before, and they should be fostering conversation, not adversarial behavior.

From our perspective: All customers should be treated with respect, grace and good intentions. We're there to bring you stuff you're going to put in your mouth (remember that). Not everyone is going to get along, but that doesn't mean I can't bring you dinner efficiently and cordially. Can you remove your expectations of whatever it is you thought was going to happen between us from the equation? Can you not walk in with a chip on your shoulder?

From your perspective: As a customer you have the right to what I said up there. You may not deal with the public for a living and may carry around a lot of baggage from your day. Is it too much to ask that we take the time to read a table and adjust accordingly? Absolutely, we can do that. Can we understand that your disposable income is precious and that we really only have that one shot to make a first impression? Of course, you're absolutely right.

See, we're mostly on the same page. So can we agree to be fair? We who serve food all night will try and remember the importance of each individual's experience, especially with times so tough. We won't expect every tweetin' customer to follow the same rules of a professional restaurant critic, but can some of you amateur Brunis at least start from a place somewhere near the benefit of the doubt? Can you give someone the chance to correct any mistakes or help your experience in some way before you blaze onto the Interwebs?

Can everyone remember that actions have consequences? It's the grown up thing to do. A bad meal is not necessarily a personal affront to you. Sometimes, shit happens, but it should be acknowledged. (Often times, that's all customers really want.) How a business handles a bad situation should be its true measure.

The reason everyone's so bitter on the service side of this equation is that for the most part a restaurant can't speak up against a bad review. Where do they? How do they? Believe me, we would love, love, love to review you as a customer sometimes. You're not always right, you know. It's a good rule that if you don't have the guts to say something to someone at that moment, simply don't say it at all. Especially when that someone has both oven mitts tied behind his back while you hide behind the courage of anonymity.

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