Part III On Food Movies and Food
In Part II Everyone’s a (food) critic we suggested
that the surge of the online food reviewer had superseded the professional and
was the new wave of food democracy.
But leaving the specific medium aside for a moment,
how do you best give and receive feedback on food?
My dear friend’s standard response to this question is, ‘Do I look
stupid?’ It’s the same when someone says ‘Tell me the truth?’ Here’s the tip,
they generally don’t mean it.
And so it often goes with restaurants.
The best etiquette is to provide feedback directly. But what about when
you’re not even asked? Plates whisked away, meals hardly touched, without the
obligatory query. I once had my half eaten meal removed rapidly with a ‘Wasn’t
it great!’ before I could say, ‘Actually, no.’
What if you’re not a confrontational sort of person? Or if it’s someone
else’s event and you don’t want them embarrassed? I’ve let my fair share of
feedback slide because it was someone’s birthday/anniversary/insert other
What if the steak isn’t cooked as you’ve asked or if the meal just isn’t
In my younger years I once sat through chicken satay, biting into its
raw centre, too shy to say so. I paid for it for the next three days and it
took three years before I could return to that restaurant. It’s one of my
favourites but I’ve never ordered the satay again.
Crowd sourcing for this post, it was telling we only received one
response who said:
Sneezers are not something thought up by writers on
Friends - it DOES happen, and undercooked steaks can be dropped on the floor
before being put back on the grill. We have sent meals back, particularly when
the issue is one that could harm us (as in undercooked chicken), but we will
generally gauge whether or not it is likely that we will get back a 'drop' or
'sneezer' before doing so.
In places where the service is as bad as the food,
we are much more likely to leave the food uneaten and complain as we are
leaving, because if they don't care about service, god only knows what goes on
behind closed kitchen doors. I think as long as you are polite about it and
don't eat most of the dish you want to complain about before doing so, most
places will do what they can to remedy the situation. I couldn't tell you the
number of times that I have been in a hotel kitchen when a clean or almost
clean plate has been returned because the customer has complained about the
meal. Its a bit hard to take those seriously......D1
It’s a bomb(e) and not in a good way
Kitchen pay back may not be an urban myth. But this story also
highlights that there are customers who seem to revel in causing a fuss, where
nothing the wait or kitchen staff can do that’s okay. Who knows, it may be the
prevalence of this customer that’s causes the calcification of weary staff
unable to sift through feedback for something useful.
But This Girl there is more feedback left unsaid than said or heard.
There are plenty of wait staff whose eyes glaze over when you reply to their
question, you know they’re just going through the motions. Worse still
is when staff stumble over the sought after advice defending it, or not
responding at all. Now that’s awkward.
Rest assured, I have been asked for feedback where I felt okay about
providing it and felt it was listened to.
Inspired by thinking about this post I sent the Lovely Deputy away from
the counter so I could forensically unpick the dessert he’d ordered for me and
paid $14 for. Touted as Bombe Alaska, this deconstructed minimalism consisted of tasteless ice cream frozen in a
jar so hard you needed an icepick to pries it out. The crown of meringue was so
vapid in sugar content, it slipped off the top of the jar and disintegrated on
the plate. The accompanying shortbread biscuit was errr…okay. Hmmm….
Of course, I didn’t use the words ‘vapid’ or ‘icepick’ in my feedback
and I kept smiling and reassuringly told our hostess that it was a great venue
with a great menu, this however, was a distraction they didn’t need. Three
weeks later they still had it on the menu. Of course, I don’t know if the
kitchen every received the feedback.
|It's not deconstructed, but it is Bombe Alaska. |
Chef and Steward frets that criticism will demoralise staff. After all,
chefs are people too! Capser lost his job and his reputation albeit briefly,
and the recent experience noted in the previous post suggests it can have greater implications
for a business.
But whether that criticism is online or old fashion talk, it seems there
are some principles that should guide chef, restaurateur, food blogger and
customer alike. Here it goes:
Be polite and respectful
Your table attendant or maître de might be front of house but they
didn’t cook you meal. They probably get paid less than you do. A little
kindness will help get your point across most effectively. No one likes a
customer who throws their weight around. Reflect on how you feel when you get
criticism. Whether you’re face to face or tweeting, be considered in your
You don’t have to eat something not up to standard
If it’s not cooked, or how you asked for it, let
the restaurant know and ask them to make it right. If you’ve agreed to put up
some serious dosh for something questionable, the restaurant needs to know. You
actually don’t have to pay for something awful. Fortunately, these sorts of
meals are in the minority.
Feedback is an opportunity
Restaurants don’t have to change their menus because one customer
doesn’t like something. (Except the Bombe Alaska, it was awful). But if you
don’t want to read criticism online, ask your customer what they thought and be
prepared for their response.
The view that only the trained chef knows what they’re doing is
passé. In many circles I am known as Priscilla Queen of Desserts. And I know a
thing or two about meringue, and ice cream. My Bombe Alaska feedback was the
equivalent of letting someone know their fly is undone.
Make amends where you can. Send the Chef over to hear the feedback
directly, don’t charge for the entree, find a way to make it right. Check with
others what they thought of the same meal. If there’s a trend, change what
you’re doing. Try not to get defensive. Even when a customer’s taste resides in
their bottom, a complimentary glass of champas can minimise their grievance.
Nothing is every totally bad
Chef and Steward’s word of advice is blog responsibly and so it goes
for all criticism. He is 100% right, because no restaurant is 100% bad.
As foodie bloggers, the Two Girls have come to grips with this over
time. Generally, we only blog about places we enjoy, places we want to recommend
because we want to go back, but certainly places which have intrinsic value.
From time to time, there may be discrepancies, but what we hope prevails, is a
Blogging responsibly is as much about telling people about a venue’s
weaknesses as its strengths. How else will you know if that restaurant is right
for you and for your specific occasion?
We’ve had some feedback too. A comment on free-range chicken free-zone
received a response saying we’d had an impact on one of Hobart’s popular lunch
places who are now selling fowl that isn’t foul.
Another favourite ditched their try-hard menu and found a new road with
a lane for old favourites and some first editions, and they have returned to
their rightful place in our hearts.
When you’re reflecting on your meal or the restaurant, be balanced. What worked alongside of what didn’t work?
What’s your feedback on giving