As the head chef of a Michelin-starred restaurant, British restaurateur Glynn Purnell’s a busy man. He orchestrates one of the most demanding kitchens in the U.K., and there’s simply no time for bullsh*t.
Recently, he also applied that attitude to the arena of online restaurant reviews, calling out a diner who chastised his restaurant’s “sinful” portion sizes and and “immoral” prices on TripAdvisor. The reviewer also suggested he take lessons from MasterChef, which is akin to telling Amal Clooney that Suits would offer better education in law than Oxford.
His response was judiciously measured with hints of satisfying condescension, putting two aspects of neo-foodie entitlement to the fire: the high-horse, flawed nature of online reviews and the old 19th century adage that the customer is always right.
Purnell’s rebuttal starts with a direct message to the Sulking Susan: “Thank you very much for ensuing your threat of going to social media following our telephone and email conversations.” Let’s stop right there, because it’s a great point in itself.
We need to end this Yelp Elite sh*t immediately.
In no way should the public airing of an individual’s tantrum if they aren’t catered to with utmost delicacy be used as a bargaining tool for special treatment, compensation, or negotiation. There’s a reason professional food critics prefer to dine anonymously – they want the same experience as the average patron; ego shouldn’t influence how well one’s food is prepared, served, or adjusted for personal preference. Hanging social media ridicule over a business owner’s head throws off that balance.
If you treat your ability to type words into a box with a ‘submit’ button like a key to the city, maybe you’re looking for something more private chef than public dining. Don’t be Cartman:
Another problem is that many Yelpers already have the negative review they’re going to post online on the back of their mind as the evening unfolds. The thought process is probably something like this:
“Lemon would probably be a more suitable acidic fruit for this Caesar salad than lime.”
Adds lemon, eats the salad, doesn’t really enjoy it; already crafting a negative review.
Logs onto the hottest restaurant review site: “This restaurant sucked. What kind of neanderthal serves Caesar salad with lime?”
Call us old school, but a much more reasonable course of action would have been to ask the waiter for lemon instead of lime, a request anyone would surely be happy to fulfill, and enjoy the salad. There is such a thing as dealing with issues on the spot, in person, instead of griping about it online. You’ll probably get what you want and a business won’t be burned at the stake for failing to accommodate something it was completely unaware of.
As Purnell writes in his response, “If all 4 diners were embarrassed and it was in fact the worst food, I am embarrassed for them not having enough courage to express themselves on the evening. These are 4 adults all upset by their dining experience who ate all 6 courses without once alerting us to the fact that they were not enjoying it.”
The big problem with online reviews is that, for all the individual experiences they aggregate, the final picture is too broad. It’s impossible to know what factors influence a person’s experience of a restaurant.
Say a basketball player averages 20 points per game over a season. Are they a good offensive player? Well, who knows, really. Are there any other players capable of putting the ball in the basket on his team or is the burden to score solely his? How accurately does he shoot? Maybe he also averages 10 assists a game, which makes him offensively valuable in other aspects.
Similarly, what does it mean for a restaurant to have a three-star review? Maybe those who loved it had never dined at an establishment more esteemed than Taco Bell; maybe those who hated it have caviar for breakfast. Additionally, factors like income, occasion, and expectation, which are very rarely disclosed in online reviews, can greatly influence how a person experiences a restaurant. You can’t apply advanced metrics to a dining experience the way you can in sports, so maybe it would be wise to knock the esteem of online reviews down a few notches given their arbitrary nature.
Now, about that whole thing about customers always being right – it’s a dangerous notion to ubiquitously apply across all realms of customer service. Let’s put it this way: customers can be wrong, as is evident in the exchange between Sulking Susan and Chef Purnell.
Consider what the reviewer was upset about: the restaurant’s inability to account for a fish allergy, an extra charge for a substitute, small portion sizes, a cut of meat she didn’t like, and the high price (see the full complaint here).
And now, let’s see how Purnell shows that a customer can indeed be wrong…
– We DID NOT charge extra for the monkfish as she has claimed. We have a copy of the receipt and there is no record of this.
– We were not informed prior to their visit that a member of the party was pregnant, so as a restaurant on a busy Saturday night we had to adjust and create a new menu for a guest that could have affected our service for the whole evening.
– Had this guest stated she was not happy with the daube of beef we would have done something else or offered an alternative. It clearly seems this reviewer does not like the fact we want to rectify an issue she has brought up but is not willing to accept anything from us.
– If all 4 diners were embarrassed and it was in fact the worst food, I am embarrassed for them not having enough courage to express themselves on the evening. These are 4 adults all upset by their dining experience who ate all 6 courses without once alerting us to the fact that they were not enjoying it.
– Having dined in several Michelin star restaurants I am amazed this was her first review! I worry for all the other establishments she is going to! She is clearly self-conscious and defensive and happy to slander an establishment.
– The 12.5% service charge that was and is added to the bills is discretionary and can always be removed. And why should you feel embarrassed to ask for it to be removed? If I am asked to pay for something that I feel I have not received I would refuse! The service charge was £41.30 (and has now been refunded).
– The gentleman that paid the bill quietly organised it at the bar away from the table. This was a perfect opportunity for the service charge to be questioned, for him to let us know how very terrible the evening had been. There were no guests within earshot so there would have been no reason for any embarrassment. However, when asked how the meal was he responded positively. The gift voucher was not presented at the time of the payment, yet we kindly obliged to take it off the bill and collect the voucher at a later stage. This was arranged with the gentleman and was handled very discreetly as requested. There was no fuss what so ever.
“We wrote an email to acknowledge the feedback following the telephone call. We offered the party a complimentary meal and a full refund of the service charge,” writes Purnell. “This was declined and the lady stated that she would use this site as a tool for being detrimental to our business and 30 members of staff.”
His best line, however, was in response to the MasterChef remark: “Perhaps this reviewer would have more satisfaction from watching Man vs. Food.