Overheard from a resto owner: “Who are these food bloggers, what gives them right to say our food is bad?”
Overheard from a blog reader: “Most of his / her reviews are praises, he / she must be paid to do it.”
Should I be offended? Well no, because I did write bad reviews before, so that sort of freed me from being in the group they are talking about. However, I feel I have to share my two cents on why we shouldn’t write bad restaurant reviews or at least have the courtesy of toning it down. Why, you ask? Well, if they are so bad and not worth reviewing, why bother writing and waste your time? To add though, no good can ever come from doing a bad review.
Bloggers, put yourself in the shoe of restaurant owners.
You’ve invested a good amount of your savings, months of work, insurmountable headaches and energy into making it work. Hopes are high, this might be your last resort of ever succeeding in something. At this point, the restaurant is almost like a baby to you. Now, how would you react if someone badmouthed your baby? Yep. I would most probably go berserk too.
With that in mind, I respect the select few of restaurants that openly accept constructive feedback and even actively respond to it. But most importantly, having a friend who happens to be a restaurant owner that went through the whole drama of negative reviews and being a business owner myself, I can really empathize.
Do you know how many things could go wrong in one plate of meal?
Finding a good supplier that can deliver consistently good products is a pain in the ass. I kept hearing this again and again from friends in the industry. The problem is ingredients are bound to many variables: weather, season, plague, etc. In a year, it is very likely that you’ll have one of those days that come with lower quality produce. Not bad, but not excellent. Still, you gotta live with that, the show must go on.
That’s only a start. Then comes the most critical part of the equation, the chef. Count your days in a year. Do you always wake up fresh and happy and lively? Nope. There’ll be tough times. Everyone has their own struggle. Could it be that the day your Eggs Benedict is slightly overcooked or a bit on the salty end is the day that the chef is going through a difficult time personally? Could it be that you, requiring 10 minutes to snap that perfect Instagram picture, end up ruining the food? I have to stress this point. There have been a few real-life stories from restaurant owners about notorious people who take forever to snap a pic and even have the guts to complain afterwards. Dude, you’re crossing the line there. I can only say, karma’s a bitch. Good luck.
By the way, overseas, the acceptable rule of thumb is to come back a few times before writing a review. I couldn’t agree more, it is only fair that you try as many dishes as possible before making your judgement. If you can do so in one visit, then it is okay. However, by that standard alone, I think more than half of what I wrote don’t pass the bar. But then again, what defines a food critic abroad is definitely different from what a food blogger does here in Indonesia. (We’ll touch more on this topic later)
There’s more than one way to convey your unsatisfactory experience. The best one is to be constructive and know your topic. Instead of labeling something as not delicious, try this:
– I prefer to have it … instead of …
– I would have come back for it if only …
– It does not fit my palate who tends to enjoy …
Do research on the food that you had. There’s nothing that Google can’t answer these days. Could it be that you only dislike a particular ingredient, not the whole dish? Could it be that it’s the way it should taste originally?
Now restaurants, put yourself in the shoe of bloggers
Yes, most of the bloggers have no culinary background. I don’t think any of them claims to be an expert anyway. Here’s a thought, are most of your customers experts too? I have a feeling that the answer is no. A restaurant will aim to serve as many ‘common’ tongue as possible. But you know as well as I do, you can’t please everyone.
Here’s a definition of a blog by Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
Blog (n.) : a Web site on which someone writes about personal opinions, activities, and experiences
A blog is never meant to be more than a reflection of a person’s taste. A common person with a ‘common’ tongue. That means bloggers are your customers too. You should hear them. Let me repeat so that you don’t miss it. Listen to them. A good friend of mine who comes from a hospitality background said “Restaurant business is about making people happy with food as the medium.” Your response matters and just by listening first without being defensive is more than enough in most cases. Remember the last time you went to a friend’s place, they cook for you and because of their hospitality, you just couldn’t get it out that their food is just okay? That.
Food Critic vs Food Bloggers
If you say that bloggers don’t come from culinary background, it is true. They mostly are not. The problem is two fold.
First, correct me if I’m wrong, but out of so many invitations that your marketing team send out, what’s in their head? Educating the customer about your food or simply wanting free exposure? How many times out of so many invitation that you sit down and go through each dish together? How knowledgeable are your waiters that they are qualified to give your customers a recommendation on what to eat? Chefs and restaurateurs, do you ever care to teach these bloggers the culinary basics that you complain that they don’t have? I’d be more than happy to arrange that shall any of you is interested.
Second, what is called food critic abroad is entirely different from food blogger here. There, the industry is so well developed that the role of food critic exists and paid by a third party to be objective. They are funded to visit a restaurant a couple times before putting the comment on writing. Here, the bloggers are spending their own money. Are you expecting them to go back three times to your expensive restaurant just to write one single 400 word article that has no particular benefit for them? Would you yourself have the money, time and effort to do so out of your own expense? Nope, they are like most of your customers. They come once to try and if it doesn’t live up to their expectation, most likely they’re not coming back. But if you’re good, they’ll most definitely return.
Third, yes an additional fact to stress on my point. Go to review sites like Open Rice, Trip Advisor, Zomato, Qraved, or plenty other. There are people reviewing restaurants too. Normal customer. I bet there are more bad reviews there than the bloggers write. What do you do with them? One person might be wrong, how about ten people all having bad experience?
As I reflect on all that, I come to the decision that it is not ethically right, at least in Indonesia, to bash a restaurant even though it wasn’t a special experience. Now, I can tolerate the occasional case when a meal is more on the salty side. I can tolerate that the food takes a bit longer than usual because the restaurant is packed. I can accept that out of 40+ menu, maybe I happen to choose the wrong one.
I still can’t accept though, if a restaurant fails to deliver the most basic meal, especially a meal that I’ve tasted over and over again, or a meal from my mother tongue because I know how it is supposed to taste. But again, I’m now able to sort my thoughts better and realize that my readers are smart enough to read through my writings.
On the other side of the coin, I keep myself surrounded by friends in the field who can teach me to be better on the topic of food and culinary. I’m progressing slowly, but I’m getting better (hopefully).
Here’s a clue for you readers. Read, don’t just skim through the photos. I believe you can read a blogger’s excitement through the words when the food is that good. When you see a blogger busy talking about the ambience instead of the food, then you can read between the lines. So let’s be wiser bloggers, smarter readers, and better restaurateurs. The industry is rising, if we want to grow, then let’s level up together.
It’s better to light the candle than curse the darkness.
Oh by the way, the closest culinary background I have is a three month free online Gastronomy course on Coursera, and hopefully I don’t need a four-year culinary degree to justify me writing this article.
To infini-food and beyond,
My Instagram: @captainruby