I was recently scrolling through my restaurants reviews on one of the major online review sites when I ran across one that looked very familiar. This reviewer spoke of a sandwich that was burnt beyond being edible. She said that she ordered prime rib, but was instead served flank steak. She continued to claim that the server was rude and verbally combative. She finished by stating that the manager was unconcerned and did nothing to address the issue.
This looked so familiar because I was the server who waited on this table.
She failed to mention that she refused to even cut into this sandwich. Or that my “verbal combativeness” was to explain that the sandwich was blackened and that the seasoning is darkened on the outside, but if she cut into it she would find it still juicy on the inside. I assured her that the restaurant has never served flank steak. She also left out that when she sent it back and pressured two of her co-workers to do the same that all of them were immediately taken off the bill. She excluded the fact that when I returned to offer several items I could have made for her quickly that she refused to acknowledge me and instead simply held her hand up to my face. She did not mention the email she sent the owner and that he replied to stating that all of the items were taken off the bill and asking what additional remedies she would like. Most importantly she did not mention the sheer look of horror on her co-workers face and the sympathetic looks they gave me. She did not know to mention the extra money they left on the table for being diplomatic throughout her tantrum.
Instead, people who get their information from review sites will just know that we serve burnt flank steaks and have rude servers.
These sorts of complaints are not uncommon among those in the restaurant business. Here are a couple of examples:
A James Beard Award nominated chef who is widely considered one of the most talented chefs in my city told me a story of one negative review. The reviewer went on and on about how horrible his french onion soup was. It was far too salty and the cheese on top tasted like glue. The only problem is that this chef has never served french onion soup at his restaurant.
A General Manager of a very upscale restaurant checked on her online presence. She noticed that she had three new reviews. All three were incredibly negative. This would be shocking to most readers because the restaurant has an outstanding reputation. It was more shocking to this manager because the restaurant did not open for another week. Somehow she had managed to get three negative reviews about her food prior to serving her first guest.
Restaurant owners, chefs, and managers really do take these comments to heart. They strive to make every guest happy and feel like they have failed when they see these reviews. It is unfortunate that all too often they cannot recognize the comments because they were not voiced in the restaurant when they could be remedied. This is because these site allow reviewers to “get even” by costing the restaurants future guests. This is seen as a more viable response for some guests to a meal that did not meet their expectations than simply explaining their dissatisfaction and allowing the manager to find a remedy.
This “pound of flesh” approach is truly a disproportionate response that enables a passive-aggressive guest to tell the manager that everything was “fine” when asked directly. They will instead save their complaint for a time when it cannot be remedied. The guest has an unsatisfactory experience and the restaurant loses future business. This is because far too many reviewers are more concerned with extracting “justice” than having their issue corrected and receiving a sincere apology. All of which is enabled by the relative anonymity of these sites.
These are not my only issues with these sites. Tomorrow, I will continue this series by discussing a few more issues and offering an alternative lens through which to look at these websites. In the meantime, do you have a review horror story? Leave it for the world in the comment box. On this site, the reviewers can be reviewed.