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Criticizing the Critics

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And this has occurred on this site more than once. As much as restaurant folks want to hear how folks truly feel, many truly don't. 

     

Exactly. The one that comes to mind most for me was when a chef was doing a Q&A on the site and someone posted a (moderately) critical review of a meal at said chef's restaurant. That review was not taken graciously.

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That said, I cannot ever recall writing an email to a chef afterwards that wasn't met with some sort of thanks.

Because your Don Rockwell.

If you were Ron Welldock, your results may vary. Hell, I have constructively criticized chef's who work for me and gotten derisive pushback.

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Exactly. The one that comes to mind most for me was when a chef was doing a Q&A on the site and someone posted a (moderately) critical review of a meal at said chef's restaurant. That review was not taken graciously.

Really?!

I cannot imagine why such a thing would occur.

Also, we now have Don's porn name!

Nope!

I did *not* go by Derisive Pushback.

But you can keep searching to no avail - I've pulled a Ron Swanson on this one.

swanson-pyramid-of-greatness-nexus10-256

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I once sent a comprehensive and polite email to New Heights, when it was hot and happening and on all the top 10 lists. We planned a special celebratory dinner there, and endured a terrible service experience, which got worse our server went MIA. When we finally received our food, over an hour after ordering, our wine was gone, we were exhausted and the evening was ruined. I remember the disappointment clearly though it was 11-12 years ago. The initial reply to our email was not thanks, or sorry...but "you must be mistaken." I was so pissed. Customers are NOT always given credence.

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I once sent a comprehensive and polite email to New Heights, when it was hot and happening and on all the top 10 lists. We planned a special celebratory dinner there, and endured a terrible service experience, which got worse our server went MIA. When we finally received our food, over an hour after ordering, our wine was gone, we were exhausted and the evening was ruined. I remember the disappointment clearly though it was 11-12 years ago. The initial reply to our email was not thanks, or sorry...but "you must be mistaken." I was so pissed. Customers are NOT always given credence.

I'm sorry this happened to you, and I agree with your last sentence. Hopefully, a sufficient number of people in the industry will read this so that your post makes some impact.

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 The initial reply to our email was not thanks, or sorry...but "you must be mistaken." I was so pissed. Customers are NOT always given credence.

That's classic!

No sir, you did not have a bad time.  You had a splendid evening, enjoyed the food, and were made to feel like a king by our waitstaff.

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Without disagreeing with anyone's contentions up above, I want to point out that this post is a classic example of a well-run restaurant wanting to get it right with their customers before they walk out the door. Congratulations, Iron Gate Inn, for doing it right.

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Without disagreeing with anyone's contentions up above, I want to point out that this post is a classic example of a well-run restaurant wanting to get it right with their customers before they walk out the door. Congratulations, Iron Gate Inn, for doing it right.

Thanks Don.  Apparently we weren't the only diners with the same comment, according to our server.  I love that they corrected the dish moments later and sent it out vastly improved!

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I just read something that literally made me laugh out loud:

Critic: "Dinner was so bad tonight, I asked a staffer at the door if the chef was off, because it tasted like it. His response was to ... laugh."

Chef: "Curious - did you voice your displeasure with the service team - maybe with hopes they would remedy the situation? Mistakes will happen....it's how you recover from it-"

Can you imagine a scenario where *every single diner* in a restaurant voices their displeasure with the service team with hopes they would remedy the situation? Because that's *exactly* what a lot of chefs these days are asking for.

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I've generally scoffed at repeated complaints that Sietsema is too quick to recommend Rasika over and over in his chats, because his opinion is what the Post pays him for, and if he likes the place, why shouldn't he say so? But then today when someone asked for a dinner recommendation and specifically said they'd already been to Rasika, his response was to recommend Rasika West End, and I'm done scoffing.

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I found Mark Furstenberg's comments on The Democratization of Criticism to be a worthwhile read on the history of food and restaurant reviews, a nice perspective of its growth and evolution within this region, and a worthwhile set of evenhanded comments.  Ultimately he speaks to Yelp and reserves that part of any negativism toward Yelp.  So be it.

Within the context of the "bar school" we do have a fair amount of contact with people in the food and beverage industry, some of whom are owners and/or significant managers.    We still hear a fair bit about yelp, though I'd suggest that the volume with concern about Yelp and its impact is less severe than a number of years ago.

In any case I think its a fair review of reviews, including a little bit of explanatory history.

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1 minute ago, DonRocks said:

I didn't read the whole article (I really couldn't care less about Above The Law as a website or Lat's opinion - I thought it was Wapo that got rid of the comments).  He suggests that negative comments lessens the credibility of the article.  So it's a business decision to bolster the credibility of his writers.

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11 minutes ago, Ericandblueboy said:

I didn't read the whole article (I really couldn't care less about Above The Law as a website or Lat's opinion - I thought it was Wapo that got rid of the comments).  He suggests that negative comments lessens the credibility of the article.  So it's a business decision to bolster the credibility of his writers.

Perhaps so; I just think it's ironic that I have this entire business model (which, by the way, does not generate one red cent in revenues) built around comments, and nothing *but* comments. I've bet heavily that this is where the future lies - the internet is built to be two-way communication, and the era of pontificating and proselytizing is Gone with the Wind. You can *force* things to be one-way communication, but that goes against the natural structure of the entire architecture. 

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Kind readers,

Do you wish to be entertained, or do you wish to be educated?

The harsh reality is that restaurants don't move up-and-down in quality just to conveniently place themselves in "Best Of" lists or "Spring and Autumn Dining Guides." As a *group*, they are constantly in flux, seven days a week, every week of the year; but the typical *individual* restaurant doesn't change all that much from month-to-month unless there's a key personnel shift. That is why the donrockwell.com Dining Guide is available for our members with ten posts, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. It is a large, monolithic document that is tweaked most every day, but also changes in such small, subtle ways that you rarely even see it change, because it reflects the truth: Restaurants don't change to fit the needs of the media; the media *must* change in order to fit the state of restaurants and to reflect the truth. It almost never does; in fact, our dining guide is the only one I know of that is updated in real-time to reflect the current situation of things; any shortcomings are due to one thing: My inability as a human being to keep up with the massive changes that take place in this rapidly growing town - but it's still the only reliable thing there is, and I constantly invite our members to write me with corrections, *all* of which I take seriously and act upon.

"The latest and greatest" Dining Guides might make for "buzz" and "entertainment," and they might make magazines and newspapers a lot of money, but they're only deceiving you. Our dining guide is the only one that is *always* current, or should be. Don't let yourself be fooled by hype and lies: Restaurants aim for consistency, and generally achieve it. While that may be an inconvenient truth while you're trying to pawn off a "Best Of" list to the public, it's also the way things are.

There is one, and only one, dining guide, that accurately reflects things, and with the exception of shuffles in personnel, ownership, etc., it will largely be the same six months from now as it is today. 

And that's the way it is. You can choose to believe it, or not.

I could (and probably should), cite dozens of examples of restaurants that have shifted up-and-down, in-and-out of so-called "expert" dining guides when they haven't changed a bit; yet, people buy into the "latest-and-greatest" mentality because that's what they're told to do. A fool and his money are soon parted, indeed they are. Ask yourself this: Have the 100 Greatest Films of All-Time changed much in the past year? Has the Smithsonian? Has the architecture of Washington, DC? Have the "must-see" tourist attractions of the world? They've all changed *some*, but not a whole lot. Imagine if your favorite, most-trusted publications in your field of expertise kept publishing ever-changing lists of "the best" that are radically different every single time they're published. What would you learn from this? Would you be "current," or would you be "confused?" 

Food for thought ...

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Don -

I see that most (all?) of your Review-by-Poll restaurants are reviewed from a seat at the bar and not an actual table in the restaurant.  Do you think that's fair?  I'm not sure fair is the right word, but dining at the bar is certainty a different experience than what the vast majority of restaurant diners have. 

I'm assuming you're sitting at the bar because it's just easier as a solo diner to eat at the bar than it is at a table, but I'm wondering if it somehow affects your perception of a place.  Obviously, they're serving the same food you'd be served at a table, but the dinning experience is different. 

And as I'm writing this (and considering deleting it), I'm thinking that maybe the hang up is only in my head and not in yours, but when I read your reviews that start out with "I took a seat at the bar", a switch immediately flips in my head that says "this doesn't apply to me" or "this will only be 75% meaningful" or something along those lines.  I'm not articulating it well, and like I said, maybe it's just my personal hang-up, but I think it biases my perception of your perception. 

Just something to think about.

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32 minutes ago, Bart said:

Don -

I see that most (all?) of your Review-by-Poll restaurants are reviewed from a seat at the bar and not an actual table in the restaurant.  Do you think that's fair?  I'm not sure fair is the right word, but dining at the bar is certainty a different experience than what the vast majority of restaurant diners have. 

I'm assuming you're sitting at the bar because it's just easier as a solo diner to eat at the bar than it is at a table, but I'm wondering if it somehow affects your perception of a place.  Obviously, they're serving the same food you'd be served at a table, but the dinning experience is different. 

And as I'm writing this (and considering deleting it), I'm thinking that maybe the hang up is only in my head and not in yours, but when I read your reviews that start out with "I took a seat at the bar", a switch immediately flips in my head that says "this doesn't apply to me" or "this will only be 75% meaningful" or something along those lines.  I'm not articulating it well, and like I said, maybe it's just my personal hang-up, but I think it biases my perception of your perception. 

Just something to think about.

I believe there are differences.  These days I sit at the bar more often than at tables but I do both, and over the years I've dined at tables more and at bars more.  But are differences in the quality of staff and/or the ability to speak more directly and have more access to staff...or less access.   One element of dining has to do with making reservations, what occurs when you arrive (are you seated or not...do you have to wait for all parties before being seated)  vs, just walk into the bar.   I believe they are there, but also subtle...but I think its a good point and I'd like to hear the opinions of many, as it will bring forth different experiences.

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The question wasn't really answered. Seemed like the question asked was whether the experience at the bar vs at a table is different, and thus, applicable to most diners. The way I read Don's answer, he was describing whether it was better or not (in his opinion), as a reviewer of a meal, not about applicability to the average diner sitting at a table. Two different comments entirely. I'd say it's definitely different. I love eating at the bar. In my opinion, it's better (I agree with DR). But, it's no longer the same meal compared to when you have service at a table. Not a direct comparison any more.

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Haha. I'm in China. Sorry about the early / late post.

But, I read exactly what you said. That's why I responded. Not an exact example, but there is a difference watching a movie at the cinema vs on your home theater. Same directing, same actors/acting, same popcorn. I think the OP was asking about the applicability rather than saying one approach was better or worse. But based on your response, it sounds like you disagree. I'm okay with that :)

And, if the original poster says "this may not apply to me" I would think it's worthwhile to consider. Not that eating at bar is good or bad. But it appears, at least me and OP feel similarly.

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13 hours ago, DonRocks said:

I think the bigger story (and I'm not singling anyone out here) is that we have no meaningful restaurant criticism in this town. People write about openings, closings, chef changes, a really tasty cheeseburger they had last weekend, but ... where's the critical analysis?

Could you elaborate what you mean by "meaningful criticism" and "critical analysis"?  I'm not getting your point.

 

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1 hour ago, Bart said:

Could you elaborate what you mean by "meaningful criticism" and "critical analysis"?  I'm not getting your point.

Yeah, me either

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