In this week's installment of Tabletop Wrestling, Hanna Raskin and Dan Person take on the ReviewerCard, a $100 business card announcing the holder's plans to Yelp his or her restaurant experience.
Hanna Raskin thinks the angry response to the ReviewerCard is overblown.
Since Yelp debuted in 2004, the review site has been the source of heartache, lost sleep and lawsuits. But the side effect of the social networking service which has perhaps been most painful for restaurant owners is customer misbehavior. Hospitality's a two-way street, and the supposed power of Yelp has transformed once-polite guests into monsters who feel justified in publicly excoriating a restaurant if servers don't offer to polish their shoes.
But the practice of threatening restaurant owners with terrible write-ups was mostly an informal enterprise until Brad Newman invented the ReviewerCard, a sleek black card that reads "I write reviews": Newman claims he's flashed the card to skip waits at busy restaurants and score 50 percent discounts on hotel rooms. "I see it as letting the restaurant know that they should treat me good," Newman told the Los Angeles Times.
For the privilege of carrying the extortion tool, applicants pay $100. Newman says he's already sold 100 cards.
The ReviewerCard story is rife with losers, including the poor schmucks shelling out serious money to become shoo-in candidates for spat-on food, and Yelp, which continues to lose credibility with every reported instance of its contributors' shady tactics. But I think much of the rancor directed at Newman is misplaced. While his cards might very well enhance restaurant goers' sense of entitlement, he's not responsible for an environment in which so many diners think they need preferential treatment. That's the fault of restauranteurs nationwide who've let service standards crumble.
As the old saying goes, you shouldn't do anything you wouldn't want to see printed on the front page of the New York Times. Restaurant staffers today should assume anything they do will end up on Yelp, whether or not their customers are armed with ReviewerCards.
Newman says the idea for the card was sparked at a French restaurant where a server snapped at him when he asked for green instead of black tea; He apologized after Newman announced his intentions to post the incident on TripAdvisor. While bringing up TripAdvisor is far from classy, unless the restaurant was Chez Black Tea, the server was clearly in the wrong. If he'd provided good service in the first place, the online review threat wouldn't have scared the server or his manager.
Buying a meal is a capitalist activity, which means it's always been subject to threats and bribes. Long before Yelp, angry restaurant goers pledged to call the Better Business Bureau and health department, while those seeking prime tables were apt to drop names and cash at the host stand. (When I was a hostess, I was stunned by how many guests would try the "I know Charlie" line, especially since there weren't any Charlies associated with our restaurant.) The ReviewerCard is just the latest attempt at leveling scales which seem tilted in the restaurant's favor.
As someone who dines anonymously, I'm never privy to the service accorded to big spenders, regular customers and known community members: I'm always seated next to drafty doors, and it's not uncommon for my table to go ungreeted for 10 minutes or more. So I very much appreciate why certain diners think they need to demonstrate their clout. Rather than poking fun at them, perhaps restaurant owners and chefs should reconsider the service they provide to all of their customers.
Unique Hotels Group
But Dan Person's standing with the card's critics.
If the saying is true that every generation of 20-somethings thinks it invented sex, then so too must every generation of diners thinks it's witnessing the collapse of the hospitality business.
A rude Frenchman? Didn't Mark Twain warn us about that in Innocents Abroad?
The reason people are rightly outraged by the ReviewerCard is that it works to legitimize despicable behavior.
It's like Ashley Madison, the website that allows married people to arrange affairs. Adultery will exist regardless of whether that website does. But it still gives us a gut check on our society when we see other people willing to build profitable business off that behavior.
That people use their online clout, er, Klout, to blackmail companies for perks is inevitable. But they should be shunned, ostracized, and otherwise sent the message at every click of the mouse and whisper of "Yelp" that what they are doing is wrong. Even if the ReviewerCard is baldly shameless, it still stings that there are people out there who might feel the least bit legitimized holding the thing.
But alas, I have no doubt online bullying is here to stay, as will be efforts to capitalize on it.
So I'll leave you with this: "Concerning the difference between man and the jackass: some observers hold that there isn't any. But this wrongs the jackass."
Mark Twain said that.