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Jun 29, 2010 05:03 AM

Chowhound not the best way to deal with a bad restaurant meal

Excellent Louisa Kasdon piece in the new Stuff Magazine (a Boston biweekly) about the proper way to respond to a terrible restaurant meal:

I think her anecdotal evidence (based on discussions at a local social-networking conference for the restaurant industry) that suggests that few restaurateurs read online reviews is off base, but otherwise she is spot on.

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  1. Restaurants cannot afford NOT to read their reviews, online or otherwise. However, the best way to deal with a bad restaurant meal has always been to speak matter of factly with the owner or the GM at the time of that bad meal.

    1. I pay attention to, and have a lot of trust in the posts of regulars here, who, over time, have established their credentials as honest people, without any particular ax to grind, sharing their experiences and expressing their opinions. Getting to know regulars here, through their postings, I am able to establish in my mind, who among the regulars, share tastes and perceptions that are similar to mine, who might offer meaningful, constructive feedback, and who are able to convey on objective sense of the overall performance of a given restaurant.

      On the other hand, when I come across some one-post-hit-and-run poster with an obvious agenda to publicly spank some restaurant for some perceived crime, when either the restaurant being discussed is generally favored here, or especially when the restaurant being discussed has no previous history here, I ignore the post and dismiss the poster as just a social misfit who has not figured out how to get along in life.

      If I were a restaurant owner, I don't think I would have the time or masochistic personality to regularly read every conceivable online forum where my restaurant might be praised or smeared. I would, as Kason suggests, respond to direct feedback, either in person or via email, from my patrons, but would strongly resist any inclination to even seem to acknowledge the rantings of some coward hiding behind the relative anonymity of graffiti sprayed on a public wall.

      1 Reply
      1. re: ChinoWayne

        It is true that posting history does speak volumes. I posted a very bad review (not food related) on another forum. A CH member wrote to me saying that because she recognized my handle, it lent credibility to my post. I was pissed off enough with the incident that I registered on yelp to relay my experience as well. As I seemed like a crazy hit-and-run poster with an ax to grind, I actually prefaced my review with my Chowhound profile.

      2. is the author of the piece a chowhound regular? she seems to quote none other than Jfood in her penultimate sentence:

        'Dining out isn't about playing "gotcha" with a restaurant.'

        good article btw.

        1. Chowhound is not a way to "deal" with a meal.

          Chowhound is a way for people to explore and report about their culinary experiences. We pool our thoughts, experiences, ideas so that we can all, hopefully, eat better, which means finding the good stuff and avoiding the bad stuff. If Ms. Kasdon is a regular here on chowhound, and she posts only about her good experiences and holds back on the bad ones, well then she's only half helpful to her fellow 'hounds. More of a cheerleader, really.

          Sorry, no, but if I have a bad experience, I'm going to post about it as thoughtfully and passionately as I do about the good experiences. Of course if I'm having a problem during the course of the meal, I'm going to, of course, "see if the problem is fixable" and send back my steak or fries or whatever, BECAUSE MY GOAL IS TO HAVE A GOOD MEAL. If the problem doesn't get rectified, I'll talk to the manager if I want to talk to the manager, either on site or later. But, you know what? I'm not going to chase the manager or owner down to give them feedback. If they aren't accessible or available or don't care, well, it's not really my job as a consumer to go out of my way to give a restaurateur gentle corrective suggestions to improve his or her business performance.

          And, yes, I'm also going to come onto chowhound and talk about it with my chowfriends if I think it's relevant or helpful to the community. Absolutely. I'll try to mention any extenuating circumstances if there are any. I might even mention my conversation with the manager and his/her response.

          Now the truth is, I don't post about every meal I have. If I posted about every burger I ate at the Nook that would be a yawner. So, if I have one disappointing meal at the Nook that I think is probably random, an off-day, I might not mention it at all. But if I have a couple of disappointing meals there, I will probably mention it on Chowhound, whether I talked to the manager or not. This isn't called "playing gotcha," it's called sharing about my experiences as honestly and accurately and passionately as I can, for the benefit of my fellow 'hounds.

          I will also say that I take great joy in posting about wonderful meals I've had, restaurants I love, dishes that delight me. I take no joy in talking about the disappointing meals. I view reporting back on my disappointments more as an obligation than anything, and I do take it seriously.


          22 Replies
            1. re: The Dairy Queen

              I agree with absolutely everything you say here, TDQ. I recently reported on a lousy meal and was answered by several other posters who all agreed that the place in question was not good. I subsequently received an email from the owner who was infuriated and expressed his displeasure in no uncertain terms, bordering on the threatening. Listen, buddy, if the food had been good I would have been delighted to post the polar opposite of what I wrote.

              1. re: buttertart

                I'd be tempted to share a letter like that, too. I wouldn't but it would be tempting. You'd think, as a business owner, he/she would be concerned about customers' opinions. How much better if you could have followed up with a "I received a nice e-mail from the owners, who were concerned... I'll be trying it again...and updating." I've read that on quite a few review sites where criticisms were handled professionally and it makes me take notice and try out places.

                1. re: chowser

                  This email was most unpleasant, I have never received anything like it in my life before. I even contacted CH mods to ask what I should do about it. My feeling and their advice was to let it drop and not reply.

                  1. re: buttertart

                    That does sound like the sensible (and tough) thing to do. I'd have to sit on my fingers.

                    1. re: chowser

                      One of the friends we were with wrote a hilarious and quite profane reply (which was never sent) which made me feel rather better about the whole thing.

                      1. re: buttertart

                        Oh, I love those kinds of emails/letters you never send. Be as outrageous as you want! I think it was smart of you to not engage with the owner further. I'm sure they take these comments personally--who wouldn't, really--but sending a mean email to a customer isn't likely to win her back.

                        If I were a restaurateur, I think I'd have a trusted member of my staff keep tabs on what people are saying on chowhound, etc. I don't think I'd have the stomach to read all of the comments myself, but, I think I'd want to know what constructive things people are saying so I could address those issues.


                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                          Quite idiotic of the owner to have sent that EMail to buttertart. What's to say she's not someone who wouldn't PDF it and put it up on a website for ALL to see? Short-sighted of that owner.

                          Yes, I can understand how they might upset at a negative post on a message board - but wouldn't you want to try and fix the probelm first? Obviously not - as this one lashed out, thinking nothing could be wrong! Dumb, dumb, dumb.

                          1. re: LindaWhit

                            First of all, great post, Dairy Queen. Chowhound (and yelp, etc) is for the benefit of fellow diners and not posting about negative experiences does a disservice to fellow posters.

                            Of course, use common sense. Every joint has an off night.

                            The writer did the correct thing in terms of dealing with the restaurant. and is correct that the way to deal with problems is not to, um , yelp about it. Using online forums for that goal is not only ineffective, it is cowardly.

                            As to buttertart''s nasty email. I have gotten a handful like that over the years. One was particularily memorable because I complained about rude and bad service on Chowhound and all the email did was to confirm what I said.

                            I did write back saying just that and telling him he really didn't think things through. What was to keep me from posting that all over the internet. I followed that with if he ever contacted me again, I WOULD post it on any site that would allow it ... Chowhound probably would delete it. I have that email still in my saved folder.

                            Ultimately, I did something worse, IMO. I never mentioned the place again ... good or bad. Chowhound and other sites can be loud microphones for promoting the good guys. Even bitching about a place gives them some publicity ... and the opportunity for others to rush to their defense.

                            In all these years, other than me, there's been maybe one or two one liners about that particular business. I keep thinking how had the owner offered an apology instead and corrected the situation, I probably would be posting about them to this day ... in a good way.

                            1. re: rworange

                              Very good points, rw. Sometimes not saying anything at all about a place is deafening in its very silence.

                              (And my apologies for my misspellings in the post to which you responded! LOL)

                2. re: buttertart

                  That's just it ... it is the exception rather than the rule that restaurant management are skilled at dealing with customer disappointment (and the aftermath of their own mistakes), even when you're not angry. I recently had an experience (that I posted about here--I'm sure the restaurant folks saw my post) where my food was literally inedible, which is quite rare for me, and I sent it back. I wasn't angry, but the waitress and manager freaked, which further ruined my meal.

                  I can see addressing it with the restaurant if you're in a place with limited options. But in my larger metro area, there are more restaurants than I can get to before they close (as in, forever). So if I have a bad experience, I often just move on. And I usually let my fellow Chowhounders know so they won't waste their time--or at least have fair warning. That's what it's about ...

                  And my sense is that high-end restaurants absolutely keep up with Chowhound. The very first time I posted on Chowhound, it was about an unfortunate experience where we'd been hustled out so fast that my SIL forgot her bag. When she went back to get it the next day, they were giving her explanations in response to my post that they clearly had read.

                3. re: The Dairy Queen

                  Agreed. I once posted a negative review of a place and another CH member insinuated that I was kicking the restaurant while it's down and how he/she only posts positive things.

                  1. re: Miss Needle

                    You know, I do in general want to keep my posts on the positive side. After all, it is way more fun to talk about the good stuff than the lousy stuff. And we all have bad days, even restaurants, so it isn't always necessary to dwell on the negative.

                    But, if we aren't allowed to be honest about our experiences, we're going to end up eating a lot of mediocre food and letting some restaurants rest on their laurels. I am always so amazed when someone will post something negative about a board favorite, and suddenly all of these people--chowhound regulars-- come out of the woodwork, chiming in about their negative experiences.

                    While I think you don't ever want to be mean and spiteful when talking about a bad restaurant experience (and I'm not suggesting that you ever are, by the way), because it is someone's livelihood, it makes me sad when people feel afraid to be honest about a negative experience. It just doesn't serve anyone well.


                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                      Very true. I think a lot of CHers are afraid to post something negative about a board fave for the fear of getting piled on (which I have to say happens from time to time). I see what happens on my local board if somebody says something bad about Eleven Madison Park.

                      And when I post something negative, it's not in the vein of "GOD-AWFUL STINKIN' PIECE OF CRAP ONLY FIT FOR A DOG!" I generally don't pay much attention to those posts. I try to be constructive in my criticism and give specific examples why I thought my experience was bad. Restaurants do read these boards. I think a local bomboloni place drastically changed its goods after reading the negative CH comments.

                      1. re: Miss Needle

                        It is the two month law.

                        A place will get a rave or a negative report. Most posts following are similar. People go and, as you said, many don't want to be the opposing point of view. Finaally enough people go (around the two month point) and SOMEONE finally can't stand it anymore and posts an opposing point of view. Others jump on board.

                        One other thing that isn't good, happens. Long time posters, especially heavy contributors, often don't get their opinions challenged.

                        Even I do that. There are a few long-time posers that I will rarely post an opposing view. Mainly because I usually trust their opinion and figure in this case our tastes differ. I will if though if something is really egregious.

                        This happens to me too since I post a lot. I hate it. Recently someone FINALLY posted they didn't think much of a place and even though they usually agree with me, meh. I wish they had posted sooner. I don't want to intimidate anyone. I'm not any professional or anything ... and even professionals are wrong. I would rather have a more balanced view.

                        Over the years I have scaled back due to that. Now I rarely respond if someone hates a restaurant I love ... or visa versa. I had my say. They should have theirs unchallenged.

                        1. re: rworange

                          "One other thing that isn't good, happens. Long time posters, especially heavy contributors, often don't get their opinions challenged".
                          Amen to that. I've actually made a few friends through CH and we post by email, because we all could no longer bother to debate with someone who feels they are the final answer to all things food and gets downright nasty.

                          1. re: BubblyOne

                            Yep - it's rather unfortunate. Back in the day, there was an unwritten rule among more veteran posters that one would make a much greater effort to disagree gently with newer posters, to foster an environment that minimises groupthink and maximises independent thinking.

                            1. re: BubblyOne

                              No. That's not what I meant at all. That's a separate issue.

                              Sorry to do this to you Limster, but I would be loathe to post an opposing opinion to something he posted mainly because I respect what he posts and I figure we just have different tastes. I know he would be respectul if I did post an opposing view as I have on occasion. Long, long ago I didn't like some chocolate he liked ... I mean I REALLY didn't like it. He was cool with it and didn't jump on me.

                              There are a few other posters like that. It is just that with the depth of their knowledge ... or frequent posting that is usually spot on ... people may feel a little intimidated to say something . I know when I posted that opposing opinion ... back in the day ... I was really uncomfortable doing so. However, I really, really hated that chocolate so that overcame my hesitancy.

                          2. re: Miss Needle

                            I've had the pile on before and it's not really that pleasant. I think it triggered some sort of showdown on my local board where people went out to decide definitively whether that restaurant or another nearby was better. I just don't see a reason there needs to be any sort of champion. I am not sure that talking to management would have helped my situation because the food just didn't suit my tastes as much as the other restaurant in the competition.

                            1. re: queencru

                              I've been on both sides of the pile on, embarassingly. But, the longer I hang around this place, the more important I've come to believe those "dissenting" viewpoints are. Not the people who are being contrary for the sake of being contrary, but those small voices in the crowd who notice something I might have missed. So, now I try really hard not to pile on, even when I disagree, but to ask more questions so I can understand the person's perspective. Sometimes the people you disagree with can have more to teach you than you realize.


                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                Confucius: "When three men walk together, surely one among them can be my teacher." Many teachers on this site!

                      2. Thanks for sharing Slim. It's hard to do, but I agree that it's most useful to deal with a bad meal head-on, with the manager if they are present and available, or the next day via the contact info. I'm also a BIG proponent of the effusive Thank you the next day if the meal or service was extraordinary -- that's a much more enjoyable phone call to make.

                        And I agree with other posters on this thread ... I love to post about good food and good experiences, and I generally hate to post about the bad ones. But I do it, for the sake of the tribal knowledge we are collecting here.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: yumyum

                          I've started to read the reviews on Urbanspoon. Since they lean towards the positive, I read the negative reviews of places I am considering pretty closely. That's because you are far from alone in not enjoying posting a bad review, so when someone does, I take that as an indication that the reviewer was really, really unhappy with his or her meal.

                          1. re: Bob W

                            I do that with Yelp. I sort by stars. If most are four and five stars, I read the one star reviews first. If most are negative, I read the positie reviews first.