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The inescapable human element in this business of eating

December 10, 2021

A couple of weeks ago I received an indignant email about the writer’s visit to a new restaurant upstate. She droned on and on about how crowded it was, how much of the restaurant wasn’t seated, how long it took them to get their food, blah, blah blah. You’d think they’d strung her up from the rafters. Based on the date of the email, she had apparently wandered into the restaurant on its very first night open. Ever. I know for a fact that only the bar was in operation, and even then they were not officially open to the public. They were probably trying to be nice and accommodated her as a favor. That’ll teach ‘em.

Rather than asking for a manager or anyone in charge, she wrote to me ... like I could make everything right. My email boxes at Cape Gazette, the radio stations and on RehobothFoodie.com have always been a good indicator of the general attitudes about the business of eating here in the Cape Region. Though I’m at a loss as to what people want me to do with these complaints, I respond by asking them if they informed the restaurant owner or manager of their issue. The answer is always “No.” If the complaint actually seems justified, then I’ll ask the writer why he or she didn’t say something. The response is either, “I didn’t want to hurt their feelings,” or I don’t get any response.

Both tell me the same thing: Their actions are more about a fear of confrontation or not being liked than they are about hurting someone’s feelings. These same people have no problem going into painful detail with me, and possibly on the internet, regarding the real or imagined transgressions. So rather than give the restaurant a chance to make things right, these laptop warriors skitter to the safety of their living rooms to pummel the restaurant on unmonitored sites such as Yelp and the like. So much for hurt feelings. I’ve lost count of the “reviews” on Yelp that are obviously posted by those who had never even visited that restaurant.

It is an inescapable fact that restaurants are run by people. It is also a fact that people are not perfect. So we can therefore conclude that restaurants are not perfect. That’s not an excuse – but it is a reason. The great majority of restaurateurs want you to enjoy your visit. And if you don’t, most are willing – even anxious – to step up and make it right. And therein lies the tipping point between giving the restaurant a chance to correct a mistake, and typing out complaints on the internet: If your complaint is justified (that’s a big “IF,” by the way), and you do indeed confront the owner/manager, and they are rude or dismissive, then all bets are off. Fire up that computer and type away.

A complaint is not valid if it’s about having to wait in line at a restaurant. You wouldn’t believe the amount of cyber-whining I’ve read about people having to wait for a table at a popular eatery that just opened locally. Newly opened restaurants always draw curious crowds, so visitors in the first week or so have to be prepared to wait.

Other complaints that get vaporized concern menu prices. If a restaurant is too pricy for you, don’t go. There are lots of good, mid-priced restaurants. Unless you have access to the company’s rent, food and labor costs, complaints about price are meaningless. If a restaurant does actually price itself out of the market, it will not survive anyway. The proper price is nothing more than what the local market – and the fixed costs – will allow. Period.

When I write an actual review (not here in Cape Gazette – these are not reviews; reviews are at RehobothFoodie.com), I start with the assumption that restaurants actually want to provide good food and service. So I rate them using one simple premise: Do they provide what they promise to provide, given their price point? I’ll wax just as rhapsodic about a perfectly prepared burrito at a food truck as I will for an expertly constructed Chateaubriand at a fine-dining joint.

You might remember my column three or four years ago about a local restaurateur’s snarky yet amusing responses to comments posted on the internet – particularly Yelp. Yelp makes no effort to determine if a “reviewer” even went to the restaurant (there are sites that do verify this, Open Table being one of them). So as far as I’m concerned, this restaurateur has every right to post whatever she pleases. Some of the complaints might indeed be valid (remember the “human” thing above), but in the case of overt rudeness, it’s open season for fighting fire with fire.

Businessman Danny Meyer is quoted as saying, “A great restaurant doesn't distinguish itself by how few mistakes it makes, but by how well it handles those mistakes.” Remember that as you continue to support our local restaurants this holiday season.

  • So many restaurants, so little time! Food writer Bob Yesbek gives readers a sneak peek behind the scenes, exposing the inner workings of the local culinary industry, from the farm to the table and everything in between. He can be reached at byesbek@capegazette.com.

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