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Boston chefs bitter about those jerks on Chowhound

From the latest issue of Stuff at Night, a Boston lifestyle biweekly, a piece entitled "What's Cooking?" that interviews eight Boston-area chefs:

"Rebecca Newell (chef at The Beehive): What sucks a little bit about the foodies is that sometimes they have no idea what it takes to put together some of the items and put the menu in a streamlined [manner]. Beehive is known for an eclectic menu, but how to string it all together and how to open up an 80-seat patio and have it collaborate with the menu inside and have two different things going? It’d be great if you published this because I would appreciate it, but someone said on Chowhound, “What kind of idiot is running Beehive kitchen?” And I was like, “You wanna try it on? You can come in and wear this chef coat. You’ll cry in an hour.”
Will Gilson (Garden at the Cellar): That’s the other thing. Chowhound and Citysearch and things ike that make it so hard for you to feel as though you’re in control. For the longest time, it was just the reviewers in the city that were writing those articles. And now anybody can write whatever they want about you and it’s on there.
Mary Dumont (Harvest): You open your restaurant and, boom, up comes a blog.
Gilson: Yeah, up comes a blog [on] Chowhound that says, like, “I went there and everything sucked.” And it’s like, okay, that guy got fired that day, came, and had a really bad time. And now I’ve got to listen to this rant.
Newell: The guy that called me an idiot said, “I have never been to Beehive, but whoever’s running that kitchen must be an idiot.”"

I agree with Newell's comment that it's unfair to get criticized by someone who hasn't tried your restaurant; it's worth noting that the mods swiftly removed the "idiot" comment she's complaining about. But I have to shake my head at the "If you think it's so easy, you try it" comment. The issue most Hounds have with places they don't like isn't that *they* think they could do a better job, but that the chef's competitors are doing a better job.

I continue to be amazed at how restaurateurs overestimate the power of boards like this. If your place isn't full, it's not because some Chowhound bad-mouthed it: it's because of your failure to offer an experience of value equal to your competition. I'm not suggesting it's easy to "make a menu collaborate with the patio", but I don't believe a critic of any stripe can make a restaurant succeed or fail: at least not if you're not Frank Bruni.

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  1. A view from the other side of the fence. Chefs are lurking it seems. Although how could they do otherwise? They must be curious as to what people, other than critics, are saying about their restaurants and reading the negative remarks must be demoralizing for them when they think they are doing everything right. But you're correct, MC....when they look out into the dining room and see empty tables don't they consider why?

    3 Replies
    1. re: Gio

      There are places with fantastic food that have closed in half a year and some really awful tourist traps that've been open since the age of dinosaurs. Having good food isn't the only criterion for a good business.

      1. re: Gio

        If you have ever seen an episode of Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares on BBCA, you'd know the answer. Some of these chef/owners are so completely egotistical and myopic, that they just really can't understand why everyone else doesn't LOVE the overcooked salmon with demiglace, and the side order of minute rice.

        But I do agree that it's ridiculous to read this board, and take away from it that the "commoners" just don't understand the business. I may not understand how to RUN a restaurant. But I certainly know what makes me not want to eat at one. Indifferent service, cold food, food that doesn't match what was described on the menu, high prices, etc.

        If anything, I think for some of these chefs, it's been too long since they went out to eat at a restaurant around here. They should try it sometime.

      2. When people make comments such as "idiot", it itends to erase the value of the rest of the content of chowhound posts (e.g. comments on course timing, meal prep, atmosphere, etc.). It's just a little defensive psychological tic most people have.

        What chefs need to realize with these blogs is that they are not a special persecuted class. Many people are now subject to 'public' review b/c of the internet, and it can be demoralizing (I say this from experience - I am in a profession that has websites where clients can review us).. They have to learn to use the comments when they are good, and discard the ones that are not helpful.

        If your restaurant is not full, you should be on Chowhound and other boards trying to figure out why, rather than shooting the messenger. Heck they are LUCKY to have this kind of feedback so that they can work to improve.

        1. Interesting article (it's at http://stuffatnight.com/boston/stuffa... for anyone who wants to read the full article). And I guess some of them don't realize that they've helped make CHers into better eaters - they've put the new, interesting foods out there, and CHers have helped spread the word about the good things going on at X restaurant(s).

          So yes - while there are always those that will say "I haven't been there, but won't go because I don't like the vibe of the place just from walking past it", they should also look to those that offer appropriate critical comments and potentially take the time to improve on what issues there might be - service, food, whatever. It sounds like some want to live in a little bubble - everything's rosy and wonderful - and aren't looking to why a restaurant isn't successful. If something isn't working, perhaps that should change vs. forcing people to accept what they (the chefs) think the public wants.

          Oh - and if chefs/owners *are* reading here? Perhaps they could tell their website designers to get RID of most of the the Javascript or slow-to-load websites. All the fancy bells and whistles, pop-ups, movey-scrolly things are just plain irritating - people want the main site, they want easy links to menus, location and hours. K.I.S.S. when it comes to websites, I say.

          13 Replies
          1. re: LindaWhit

            Linda, you have described one of my pet peeves to a Tee. Some of them even come with mood music. And for the nuisance and wasted time, I'll have to pay up for the owner to recoup the outrageous cost of website overkill. Tell me what you got and what it costs.

            1. re: LindaWhit

              Even worse are the purely Flash based websites. There are restaurants that I have not gone to because their website is done purely in (or grossly overuses) Flash. To me that is a sign that a business does not care about their customers and in a business like a restaurant where customer care is *everything*, then clearly something is lacking.

              1. re: jgg13

                That's probably what I meant instead of Javascript (can you tell I'm not a technogeek? LOL). My term "movey-scrolly things" meant Flash. :-D

                Yes - overuse of Flash is obviously the web designer charging too much for a useless website. As Veggo said - tell me what you got and how much it costs (and where you are and your hours). 'Nuf said.

                1. re: LindaWhit

                  Ah yeah - rereading your post, you're probably correct. This is likely to get whacked as I can't really think of any way to bring it back to food specifically but the primary problem with those sites are that the only reason to "overuse" it (things like Flash have their uses, but 99% of the time they're overused) is to break standard controls & operation on a site which from a usability standpoint is pretty poor.

                  The other issue is that not everyone actually can even *see* them. At work, I don't (and "can't" ... in that I *could* but it would be a mega hassle) have Flash so those sites are completely inaccessible to me ... if they did things in a more standard way I could actually see what they're trying to tell me.

                  1. re: LindaWhit

                    Linda - the "movey-scrolly" stuff, is, indeed, called "dancing b***s**t" by the web creators. Its creative, yes, and entertaining, but doesnt really help the person who is going after information. They need to understand that people looking at their website want to see a) pictures of the restaurant, b) a map or at least an address/phone # and especially c) THE MENU. Make it easy, or they will go elsewhere.

                    1. re: Cheflambo

                      Yeah, but that's not INTERESTING to the web designers to just make a static website. So they oversell the "dancing b***sh**t" and the restauranteurs/owners fall for it.

                      1. re: LindaWhit

                        Depends on the web developer. Most of the ones I know are pretty no-nonsense and agree with all of the sentiments in this subthread, as well as make fun of the ones that we're talking about.

                        The real problem is the customer, they think the flashy (pun partially intended) sites are what they want and the uhh, less good developers are always happy to oblige.

                        1. re: jgg13

                          http://www.katzdeli.com/
                          This has it all: pomposity, needless complexity, time-wasting flash, navigation that is anything but intuitive and that forced me to turn my head on its side, some of the tabs being barely legible. Speaks volumes about customer service.

                          It's just a deli, for Pete's sake! Gimme location, hours, contact, and menu! After I've found those things quickly and easily, maybe then I'll want to read all about your "story"!

                          1. re: Leonardo

                            Perfect example. Interesting how there's a "Cut the drama; let me in already" that's slotted 3rd or 4th in the flash after you FINALLY click on the "ENTER" button on the initial page.

                            And those book spine clickable tabs? Really bad.

                            I remember reading here on CH awhile back of a restaurant's website that has tons of flash - and if you happened upon it without knowing, you'd *never* know it was a restaurant. No clickable links after several minutes of flash (which you couldn't get out of without closing out of the site), and other than their flashy-flash tell-me-nothing pages, you got *no* information about the restaurant.

                            Anyone remember who/where that resto is/was?

                            1. re: LindaWhit

                              A perfect example about how a Flashy (again, pun partially intended) site can go horribly wrong: A restaurant was opening up in Boston that had a lot of pre-opening and very early CH buzz. I tried to get my friends to go there with me - they went to the website. Unfortunately, they hired one of "those" web developers, lets just say that I've yet to get them to go because the website portrays a *completely* different image than that which they're trying to hit up.

                              This was totally based off a Flash spread of pictures which WEREN'T EVEN TAKEN AT THE BAR! Uh, good job guys, you lost yourself a bunch of very well paying customers when a CH was trying to rally the troops!

                            2. re: Leonardo

                              This is one of the things that I love about Yelp and menupages.com. Between the two of them, I can get every last bit of info I actually care about w/o actually going to the overproduced (by martin hammet take four, if anyone gets that reference) website.

                              1. re: Leonardo

                                Agreed, but it IS missing sound. I had pop-ups blocked, so I know I missed something good....

                                1. re: Scargod

                                  I completely agree with the comments about websites!

                                  1) I want to see the MENU! Prices are a very nice touch. And Pictures of the menu items are a big bonus
                                  2) Location and Directions and Hours
                                  3) Contact for reservations

                                  THATS IT!! Leave out the rest of the flashy stuff.

                  2. With blogs and boards, everyone has opinion. I understand how it can annoy chefs to read unflattering things from arm chair quaterbacks. Everyone's a critic ya know. But on the positive side a restaurant can gain a lot of business from a positive buzz about their establishment. I would dismiss a few negative critics but if there was a pattern of negative comments then this could be a way for the restaurant to see what may to be improved. Companies spend a lot of money on focus groups and suggestion box analyzations and with blogs and boards they can get it for free. And we all know what value something free has.

                    1. I'm thinking the chefs are confused. They meant to say "Yelp". LMAO!

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: HarryK

                        Without addressing the swipe at Yelp, there are some subtle differences between interaction of the businesses & the people on the site, which come down to the differences between the sites themselves (and to some extent the people using it).

                        On the negative side for Yelp, I've seen a general sense of "we have a profound affect on businesses, they're listening to us and must cater to us!" that I think is a serious delusion of grandeur (but perhaps I'm wrong) and to a level that I've never really seen here on CH.

                        OTOH, restaurant/biz owners definitely do interact with the Yelpers more (for better or worse) because they actually can. Here on CH I've seen a ton of posts get wacked by the Mods because an employee/chef/etc comes in to either defend and/or simply try to curry more feedback. CH also has no means (that I know of) to private message or otherwise contact someone unless they post an email address in their profile.

                        With Yelp it is different, you hear stories of the owners/chefs contacting people based on their reviews ... sometimes in a polite/constructive way and others in a manner that is more like that of a 5 year old child (which even further shows you that the place probably isn't worth frequenting). I've seen stories where people have been recognized by the staff due to their picture on their profile (since Yelp encourages "real pictures", something that I don't particularly care for but to each their own) ... again sometimes dealt with in a polite/constructive way and others very childish.

                        1. re: jgg13

                          yelp and chow are my 2 most visited/used/participated in sites. they have very different sensibilities, and are a great compliment to one another.

                          i'm far more social w/ the people on yelp , i find it more of a social review site, while chow is a discussion about food and food place by foodies

                          1. re: thew

                            100% agree. The two sites are in my top 2 sites which involve actual participation (I read some news sites/etc more frequently). They're both different in their own ways, have their good & bad points, have slightly diff goals. Its all good.