Exactly, honest answers.
No Chef or server can read minds, if they could, they'd play one poker game per month and be extremely wealthy.
So, how should restaurants respond to criticism on a blog when it contradicts what the blogger said in person? Can this criticism be respected?
The best strategy for avoiding conflicting statements would be to get in-person responses that were truthful in the first place.
Whether or not any
criticism can be respected depends on how it's presented.
I just can't see taking many bloggers out there particularly seriously, regardless of what they say. I pay attention to a reviewer's tone, their level of awareness of their own subjectivity. This blogger was not anyone who was getting a significant amout of attention, until chef whatsisname decided this nearly invisible person's opinion mattered enough to blow up. He pulled the roof down on his own head. Ignoring people isn't always a good strategy, but how could he imagine that this response to the blogger was going to do anything other than make readers think, 'You know, this blogger may have a point'?
To elicit honest responses in the first place, all I can really suggest is what I think I'd do, if I were a chef (something I could never ever even begin to handle; the pressures involved are not the sorts I'd be able to deal with), which would be to ask customers whether they'd be up for a bit of a chat.
Surely it would be possible to pull one party a week aside, and talk with them a bit? Particularly in places that have restricted numbers of seatings?
I'm thinking back to a lunch my boyfriend and I had at Osteria Francescana, not that long ago. The chef kept popping into the dining room, and spoke with us a couple of times. I loved the meal, but couldn't help noticing that the chef looked a bit anxious and tense (or maybe had a toothache, what do I know).
When, at the end of the meal, he asked how everything was, we were able to truthfully say that we'd loved it.
The thing is, if there had been something I didn't like, I wouldn't have been able to bring myself mention it to the chef. He seemed to be so invested in it, and there were other people around to hear, and... I would have incredibly uncomfortable criticizing the food or wine (and in that case, I would have addressed any problem as delicately as possible in my review and indicated that because I'm a gutless wimp, I hadn't mentioned this while I was at the restaurant). On the other hand, if, he'd asked whether we'd be up for talking about the meal for a few moments in the back, over a glass of wine or something, I would have been forthcoming with any criticism. As I said, the meal was great, so that wasn't an issue, but still.
I did once have a meal where one of the courses was a tartare that frankly reminded me of catfood, and was a bit clammy. It was a sort of textural/visual thing, and the flavour and scent were fine, but I didn't really enjoy it. And no, I didn't mention it while we were there. In fact, I didn't mention it in my review, either, because I've never been sure whether or not it wasn't just me, and that's the way this tartare was supposed to be. However, sitting head to head with the chef, I would definitely have asked questions about this, mentioned my reaction (probably not using the cat food simile).