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adegiulio

Service at a Restaurant

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There's lots of variables (i.e., degree of dissatsifaction, are you a regular, etc.) and I don't think there is one answer. With that in mind, I'll pose a different question but in the same vein. When the waiter/manager or whomever asks how is everything and it sucks (food and/or service or bathroom or whatever), what do you say?

For me, it depends. OftenI just don't feel like getting into a long and possibly contentious discussion. So I'll say everything was okay. Other times I feel more motivated and will say something, but only if I think it might do any good. Telling it to a waiter or hostess or someone with no vested interest in the place is normally a waste of breath.

I can understand people not wanting to say anything. You go out to eat to have a good time. Who wants to make a bad experience worse by getting into what could be an argument or an uncomfortable situation? Some people are non confrontational and don't want to risk getting into a brouhaha.

As far as duty, I go along with the ratioale that once the bill is paid, the diner's duty has ended. You have no obligation to help the owner run his business. And he might not want to hear it anyway.

Generally the only time I'll say something is to help the restaurant. What other reason would there be to say something? If I think they're helpless/hopeless, I keep my mouth shut and never go back.

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Absolutely not the diner's duty to speak up, and s/he has every right to post about the experience. If this place were in my neck of the woods I would be crossing it off my list.

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Restaurants are NOT clairvoyant. If you don't bring your problem to the attention of your server or a manager and simply nod and say "Oh yes - everything is fine, thanks!" when the server comes back to check on you, you are denying the restaurant the opportunity to fix the problem at the time. Of course, if someone didn't eat half their entree, then they should be asked if there's a problem or the manager fetched by an inexperienced server to inquire. But if you don't let someone know, then the eloquent three page nasty letter you write and send a week later SERVES NO PURPOSE. It's too late, the relationship is poisoned, and the restaurant can't possibly make it up to you at that point. What - should we send you a gift certificate to a place you've sworn you wouldn't eat at ever again even if it were the only thing left standing after a nuclear Holcaust? :blink: Think about it. Address the problem calmly and civilly AT THE TIME and the results will be astounding.

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I think we had this discussion on the California board a while back-I'll see if I can find it.

Meanwhile, my philosophy is if I have a bad experience the first time I go to a restaurant, I never go back. Why would I-there are more wonderful restaurants in the Bay Area than I will ever have time to experience. How do I know that it won't be even worse the next time? Harsh-yeah. But true. It's a tough business out here, with no room for error.

And no way am I going to offer my advice as to how my food could have been better prepared or the service and experience improved. Not my problem if the chef can't tell hot food from cold or the staff has an bad attitude.

I cut my favorite restaurants some slack. They get to have a bad night now and again... :wink:

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Hmmmm...

Sometimes even with clueless rude front of house folk, the idea of tattling to the manager in front of them seems a socially maladroit thing to do and one I'd not do. We're all socialized to hate tattle tales and stool pigeons... what's running to the manager but that, exactly?

Honestly, having a waiter dressed down in front of me is not what I want. Once, a few years ago at a steakhouse, three friends and I went for lunch. (To spoil the punchline, I've got a copy of the complaint letter around here someplace, but I'll just present the lowlights that have stuck in my memory 3 years after the fact.) The food was fabulous, but the service abysmal. Waiter so clueless that he couldn't tell the difference between mayonaise and bernaise and brought the former to the table with the steaks. Trying to catch his attention to see about getting the sauce replaced with what we'd asked for was a chore, punctuated by his snippy quip "hold on a second, I can't get out of this room without going right past you." After the sauce was straightened out and the meal was consumed in all of its beefy, hash-browny, creamed spinach-y deliciousness, the worst excuse imaginable for an espresso was proffered upon request for same. Clueless waiter was challenged on this, and said that it was just how they made it there. Ughhh... Train somebody to use the damn machine right... grrrr... Then the billing debacle occurred with several runs back and forth to the credit card machine to properly trisect the bill and put an even third on each of the cards presented. After the first round of slips added up to 150% of the bill they had to go back... then the second round had 1/2 on one card and 1/4 on each other card... back it went... then it looked right.. This never, actually occurred, as it happens, me being the lucky party charged for 100% of meal when the credit charges were posted, necessitating a fax of my 1/3 of the bill signed slip in order to dispute the charges. Having gotten to that point and raising our party to the attention of the establishment well after the fact, I sat down and wrote out a narrative explaining the parade of errors we were subjected to. The restaurant's management responded quite nicely, sending a $100 gift certificate that could be used at the steakhouse or several other restaurants that are also owned by the same folks.

Anyway, after feeling maltreated at the hands of the server, we were all grumpy, yet none of us thought to run to the manager on the spot. Some time to cool down and reflect on the experience seemed proper... we were feeling mistreated, and tipped accordingly... but the tip was intended to convey the message to the dang idjit we wanted to communicate with. A dressing down by the manager would do less to make this fellow reconsider his career choice than making it it actually cost him a few bucks in taxes on assumed tip income he didn't make would.

Just my amusing tale of restaurant misadventures and how they got handled... I'm sure there are horrified folks out there... so sorry to horrify you, either by my tale of mistreatment, or my party's bad tipping reaction to same.

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Restaurants are NOT clairvoyant.  If you don't bring your problem to the attention of your server or a manager and simply nod and say "Oh yes - everything is fine, thanks!" when the server comes back to check on you, you are denying the restaurant the opportunity to fix the problem at the time.  Of course, if someone didn't eat half their entree, then they should be asked if there's a problem or the manager fetched by an inexperienced server to inquire.  But if you don't let someone know, then the eloquent three page nasty letter you write and send a week later SERVES NO PURPOSE.  It's too late, the relationship is poisoned, and the restaurant can't possibly make it up to you at that point.  What - should we send you a gift certificate to a place you've sworn you wouldn't eat at ever again even if it were the only thing left standing after a nuclear Holcaust? :blink:   Think about it.  Address the problem calmly and civilly AT THE TIME and the results will be astounding.

I second what she said. Please.

But with the understanding that the place you have been dining is the sort of place that you feel will address the problem.

If you are getting a feeling of total....nothingness...from the place, then I would not bother.


Edited by Carrot Top (log)

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I think we had this discussion on the California board a while back-I'll see if I can find it.

Meanwhile, my philosophy is if I have a bad experience the first time I go to a restaurant, I never go back. Why would I-there are more wonderful restaurants in the Bay Area than I will ever have time to experience. How do I know that it won't be even worse the next time? Harsh-yeah. But true. It's a tough business out here, with no room for error.

And no way am I going to offer my advice as to how my food could have been better prepared or the service and experience improved. Not my problem if the chef can't tell hot food from cold or the staff has an bad attitude.

I cut my favorite restaurants some slack. They get to have a bad night now and again...  :wink:

I completely agree! :biggrin:

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Chris:

I agree that you handled that particular situation well, but really a professional manager shouldn't be dressing down a waiter within your earshot anyway, no matter how clueless or deserving. I'd actually hold that more against the restaurant than having an inexperienced/unprofessional lower level employee like a server. And that's not just because I'm "in the bizness". I wouldn't want to see a sales clerk reamed out by their manager at a department store either. It's just unprofessional to humiliate someone that way.

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Restaurants are NOT clairvoyant.  If you don't bring your problem to the attention of your server or a manager and simply nod and say "Oh yes - everything is fine, thanks!" when the server comes back to check on you, you are denying the restaurant the opportunity to fix the problem at the time.  Of course, if someone didn't eat half their entree, then they should be asked if there's a problem or the manager fetched by an inexperienced server to inquire.  But if you don't let someone know, then the eloquent three page nasty letter you write and send a week later SERVES NO PURPOSE.  It's too late, the relationship is poisoned, and the restaurant can't possibly make it up to you at that point.  What - should we send you a gift certificate to a place you've sworn you wouldn't eat at ever again even if it were the only thing left standing after a nuclear Holcaust? :blink:  Think about it.  Address the problem calmly and civilly AT THE TIME and the results will be astounding.

I disagree on a number of points, well, all of 'em :-) It's already been said and I won't belabor the point, but it is not the diner's job to "educate" those that run the place. Enough said.

Nothing was ever mentioned about complaining after the fact by letter, fax, etc (especially for the purpose of trying to get a freebie,) though Chris' post brought up valid reasons for doing so.

Last, I think it's inappropriate to ask the diner who left half his plate full what the problem was. "Uh, I've got a case of the runs and I didn't wanna damage your carpet." :-)

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Chris:

I agree that you handled that particular situation well, but really a professional manager shouldn't be dressing down a waiter within your earshot anyway, no matter how clueless or deserving.  I'd actually hold that more against the restaurant than having an inexperienced/unprofessional lower level employee like a server.  And that's not just because I'm "in the bizness".  I wouldn't want to see a sales clerk reamed out by their manager at a department store either.  It's just unprofessional to humiliate someone that way.

Well, I'm just wondering what would have happened if a gripe with the manager on the way out was lodged. We felt our tip left our message pretty clearly. What more was to be gained by reporting it to the authorities as we're being urged to do here? What would a good manager do after hearing that litany of missteps has just happened? The bill was settled (apparently finally, though not in actuality). No comps could have been granted... an apology would have done nothing to make the situation better...

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I disagree on a number of points, well, all of 'em :-)  It's already been said and I won't belabor the point, but it is not the diner's job to "educate" those that run the place.  Enough said. 

Nothing was ever mentioned about complaining after the fact by letter, fax, etc (especially for the purpose of trying to get a freebie,) though Chris' post brought up valid reasons for doing so.

Last, I think it's inappropriate to ask the diner who left half his plate full what the problem was.  "Uh, I've got a case of the runs and I didn't wanna damage your carpet."  :-)

And if you're at a hotel and get a bad/dirty room, do you sleep in it and then never return? If you're at a spa and kept waiting for a scheduled treatment and shorted on your full hour massage, do you say nothing? It's a SERVICE INDUSTRY. We exist to serve the clientele. No one expect the customers to become "unpaid consultants" or tell the chef how to improve the food. I'm simply suggesting a little TWO WAY COMMUNICATION if there's a problem. If a diner has left half their food and not told the waiter "it was cold/overcooked/undercooked" or whatever, it's perfectly appropriate for the server to ask "was everything OK?" "Can I wrap that up for you?" or something similar. A customer that is displeased and says nothing is doing neither themselves, the restaurant or any future customers a favor by remaining silent. But of course they'll be happy to tell anyone that will sit still long enough to listen just how badly Restaurant X sucks. That's just not fair. Most restaurants will bend over backward to make sure you walk out of there happy. But they have to know you're unhappy first.

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Well, I'm just wondering what would have happened if a gripe with the manager on the way out was lodged.  We felt our tip left our message pretty clearly.  What more was to be gained by reporting it to the authorities as we're being urged to do here?  What would a good manager do after hearing that litany of missteps has just happened?  The bill was settled (apparently finally, though not in actuality). No comps could have been granted... an apology would have done nothing to make the situation better...

It's possible you would have gotten the apology and the offer of the gift certificate right on the spot. You'd have left the establishment happy and it would have saved you the trouble of writing the letter and stewing about the bad experience for however much time lapsed in between the incident and the letter writing. And you would have left with the impression that the restaurant cared enough to try and keep your business. Would that not have been better, somehow?

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It really depends on how many times I have eaten at the restaurant and what kind it is. If it's a family owned place and the waiter is bad then I normally will tell the Manager.

If it's one of the restaurants that I frequent, then the odds are I will get up go to the kitchen and rattle the chef’s cage.

If it's my first time there I will normally just write it off. I won't say anything or go back.

If it's a corporate place, then pretty much write off that location.

While I am not there to act as a consultant, I don't want to see a family run business fail from hiring stupid kids. Not if the food is good anyhow.

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It's possible you would have gotten the apology and the offer of the gift certificate right on the spot.  You'd have left the establishment happy and it would have saved you the trouble of writing the letter and stewing about the bad experience for however much time lapsed in between the incident and the letter writing.  And you would have left with the impression that the restaurant cared enough to try and keep your business.  Would that not have been better, somehow?

Hmmm... I dunno. I think that we were grumpy enough at the point of leaving that nothing done on the spot could have salvaged the mood. We were reveling in the righteous indignation that inspired the miniscule tip evil we had just perpetrated, and anything immediate to raise our mood might have inspired feelings of guilt in us for that. (I've still not felt a twing of guilt over that particular microtip yet.)

I must admit that had the final trisection of the check been successful and I'd not had to dispute the charge I was stuck with, I'd not have addressed the management at all.


Edited by cdh (log)

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Restaurants are NOT clairvoyant.  If you don't bring your problem to the attention of your server or a manager and simply nod and say "Oh yes - everything is fine, thanks!" when the server comes back to check on you, you are denying the restaurant the opportunity to fix the problem at the time.  Of course, if someone didn't eat half their entree, then they should be asked if there's a problem or the manager fetched by an inexperienced server to inquire.  But if you don't let someone know, then the eloquent three page nasty letter you write and send a week later SERVES NO PURPOSE.  It's too late, the relationship is poisoned, and the restaurant can't possibly make it up to you at that point.  What - should we send you a gift certificate to a place you've sworn you wouldn't eat at ever again even if it were the only thing left standing after a nuclear Holcaust? :blink:  Think about it.  Address the problem calmly and civilly AT THE TIME and the results will be astounding.

I agree completely with Katie.

And so what if it's not "your job" to tell the manager how badly his or her place is being run?!

Life is just far too short to put up with crap. Period. Where's your self-esteem?

So you sit there and eat sub-standard food or are subjected to inferior wait service during the meal...why, you'll show them, won't you. You just won't come back. Whoppee. You're out how much money and they've already moved on to the next customer.

Be an adult and speak up. Demand good service and even better food. You deserve nothing less.

This brings to mind a quote from "Thelma & Louise" -

"You get what you settle for."

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All successful businesses run on feedback...whether restaurants or any other business.

If service has been poor, they need to know.

If service has been great, or if there is something that is particularly wonderful that has been done or made or offered...they need to know.

Customers/clients/guests are the defining makers of success or lack of it for any business.

It is both kind and smart (for you will henceforth get better service if the place is at run at all in a caring manner) to pass on what your thoughts are...whether good or bad.

We all run on carrots and sticks.

P.S. Even a corporate chain or a McDonald's deserves an occasional 'thank you that was good'...for good service. The people that work there are human too, and they have the ability to do well or do poorly. Motivation goes a looooong way in making things work well...and the customer can provide that.

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Hmmm... I dunno.  I think that we were grumpy enough at the point of leaving that nothing done on the spot could have salvaged the mood.  We were reveling in the righteous indignation that inspired the miniscule tip evil we had just perpetrated, and anything immediate to raise our mood might have inspired feelings of guilt in us for that. (I've still not felt a twing of guilt over that particular microtip yet.)

I must admit that had the final trisection of the check been successful and I'd not had to dispute the charge I was stuck with, I'd not have addressed the management at all.

As long as being allowed your righteous indignation and not having to have any self reflection or guilt doesn't prevent you from admitting that they DID fix it when you made them aware of it. You seem OK with it now and it doesn't seem as if you're still dissing the establishment where it occurred.

But I have to ask...

Have you been back to the restaurant in question? Have you recommended it to anyone else, other than in this forum? Have you said horrible things about the place since? Just curious...

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And if you're at a hotel and get a bad/dirty room, do you sleep in it and then never return?  If you're at a spa and kept waiting for a scheduled treatment and shorted on your full hour massage, do you say nothing?  It's a SERVICE INDUSTRY.  We exist to serve the clientele.  No one expect the customers to become "unpaid consultants" or tell the chef how to improve the food.  I'm simply suggesting a little TWO WAY COMMUNICATION if there's a problem.  If a diner has left half their food and not told the waiter "it was cold/overcooked/undercooked" or whatever, it's perfectly appropriate for the server to ask "was everything OK?" "Can I wrap that up for you?" or something similar.  A customer that is displeased and says nothing is doing neither themselves, the restaurant or any future customers a favor by remaining silent. But of course they'll be happy to tell anyone that will sit still long enough to listen just how badly Restaurant X sucks.  That's just not fair.  Most restaurants will bend over backward to make sure you walk out of there happy.  But they have to know you're unhappy first.

Katie, I know where you're coming from but I think you're being somewhat idealistic and perhaps unrealistic. Many, probably most, restaurants would wanna hear about any kinds of problems. I know I would. On the other side of the coin, there are plenty of customers who are insane and will complain about anything. It's no wonder one of the owners I worked for thought anyone who complained was just looking for a freebie. Well, the owner was borderline insane. :-)

I'll relate an experience I had as a diner, which I've experienced since in varying degrees. We dined at a place where the service and food was terrible. Certainly not worth the extravagant prices. What am I supposed to say when the waiter asks, "How is everything?" Frankly, all I wanted to do was get out of there and never come back. And incredibly, the owner was sitting by the bar, her nose in the newspaper. That was the same position she was in when we arrived and never said hello. She didn't even look up as we left, much less ask how everything was. And this was the 2nd week they were open. Like I said, this same type of experience has happened more than a few times. So I guess what I'm saying in my long convoluted way, many owners are totally clueless when it comes to customer service. If I have no intention of returning, why the heck should I open my mouth?

And what would be so wrong about writing a note about the experience? I'm not so sure it would be any less helpful to the restaurant if the complaint were made after the fact. At least everyone had some time to possibly cool off. And besides, addressing a complaint in the midst of dinner service is perhaps not the appropriate time.

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As long as being allowed your righteous indignation and not having to have any self reflection or guilt doesn't prevent you from admitting that they DID fix it when you made them aware of it.  You seem OK with it now and it doesn't seem as if you're still dissing the establishment where it occurred.

But I have to ask...

Have you been back to the restaurant in question?  Have you recommended it to anyone else, other than in this forum?  Have you said horrible things about the place since?  Just curious...

Have indeed been back... actually. Had a fine steak dinner there about a year and a half ago. Haven't dissed the place to others, though when those of us who were there are together, sometimes a snarky reference to THAT MEAL gets made. No ongoing vendetta.

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My response is going to vary tremendously depending on the individual circumstances.

If there's a communications problem - a dish is not as described, the waiter has clearly misunderstood me - I will generally attempt to address it on the spot. If I feel it will do any good. Had such a problem in a new NYC restaurant recently where both the waiter's & the manager's English were so rudimentary, it just didn't seem worth the effort. They'll stand or fall without my input.

If the food is just badly prepared, or uses mediocre ingredients, I simply won't go back. That's the way the place has chosen to do things, fine, I doubt that they'll listen to me anyway.

When I find someone doing something well - waiter or chef - I will make a point of mentioning it. I'm more interested in reinforcing a good performance with positive feedback than in training someone who's still a work in progress.

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I understand the point of complaining on the spot, but as a diner I find that it's a pain and not worth my time. I think I'm good at complaining clearly and assertively and I know what kinds of input will be useful. (I've not owned a restaurant but I have owned a retail business.) But the few times I have complained in a restaurant, it ended up being a great big hassle, even though it was invariably about a very clear issue like an item not being the way it was described on the menu at all. I actually had one manager bring the menu back and start going over the description word by word to try to persuade me I was wrong. For heaven's sake, the thing said it came with a sauce but it was served with no sauce. You should have heard the verbal gyrations she did to try to justify that. Anyone who's had experiences like mine is going to be very leery about getting into that again.

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Quote from Tess: "But the few times I have complained in a restaurant, it ended up being a great big hassle, even though it was invariably about a very clear issue like an item not being the way it was described on the menu at all. I actually had one manager bring the menu back and start going over the description word by word to try to persuade me I was wrong. For heaven's sake, the thing said it came with a sauce but it was served with no sauce. You should have heard the verbal gyrations she did to try to justify that. Anyone who's had experiences like mine is going to be very leery about getting into that again."

This is clearly a piece of behavior some management folks pull when they are confronted, for lack of a better word, by a patron who is not going to stand for substandard food/service. Since I have no qualms about speaking with management when things are working out at all, I see this a lot.

Managers who nod and smile and don't listen at all until they realize I've caught on and am now describing the small fire on their shirt. Managers who who look concerned but offer only excuses, or worst of all seem completely oblivious to the actual issue. (I get this one with people who put nuts in the food without warning. After I explain the food allergy and why I cannot eat this dish, they nod cluelessly. When I explain that some warning is warranted, and in some instances required, the continue to nod cluelessly and wander off. It's just lovely.) But worst of all are these people who will argue you to death.

No wonder some people feel that it's too much trouble to bring it up at all.

As far as being our "duty" or not... a service relationship is like any other. One partner cannot wander around clueless because they don't have all the information. If they choose cluelessness AFTER getting all the info, then we can bring in the superheroes and smack them about a bit. Sorta.

*rant over. thank you*

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I understand the point of complaining on the spot, but as a diner I find that it's a pain and not worth my time. I think I'm good at complaining clearly and assertively and I know what kinds of input will be useful. (I've not owned a restaurant but I have owned a retail business.) But the few times I have complained in a restaurant, it ended up being a great big hassle, even though it was invariably about a very clear issue like an item not being the way it was described on the menu at all.  I actually had one manager bring the menu back and start going over the description word by word to try to persuade me I was wrong. For heaven's sake, the thing said it came with a sauce but it was served with no sauce. You should have heard the verbal gyrations she did to try to justify that.  Anyone who's had experiences like mine is going to be very leery about getting into that again.

But you see, at that point I'm not going back there because THE SERVICE SUCKS!! They are employing morons. No manager should be arguing with you, particularly if what you're saying is so obviously correct (no sauce). No guts, no glory. In a properly run establishment, your concerns will be heard and evaluated and some effort to rectify your problem will be made immediately. Period. Whether it's a restaurant, a retail store or whatever.

Some may think it idealistic. I call it professionalism. Perhaps I'm spoiled because I've been working in "fine dining" establishments for a long time, but I certainly would expect no less if I were sending back my eggs at Denny's, my burger at McDonalds or my steak at the Outback. I don't think that's unrealistic at all. It's unrealistic to think you'll win the Powerball if you haven't bought a ticket. It's also unreasonable to think that the restaurant won't listen unless you give them something to listen to. In a mutually respectful manner of course.

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happened to me last night, for a before-movie dinner ...

bad food, bad service ...

The food, HUGE, Humongous portion of chicken and what was advertised as risotto ( looked like normal rice with a cheese sauce in it ); at least 1/2 kilo of meat, 1/2 of rice and 1/2 kilo of "grilled" vegetables, all hidden under a think cover of brown sauce ...

The plate was like 12x6 inches ...

the soup was ok, but the main dish came at about the same time ...

What did I do ? nothing, really, I ate as little as possible, talked as little as possible, stayed there a little as possible, tipped as little as is polite ...

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Dimsum, thanks for starting this thread. I suspect that there are more than a few NJ folks who considered doing so, but have hesitated for a variety of reasons. My most recently deleted post on the topic was put up so I could share a portion of today's Ask Tom chat from the Washington Post. Ask Tom is hosted by Tom Sietsema, the WP's Food Critic, and his chat is where I first heard about eGullet. Since it was SO relevant to the discussion we had been having in NJ, I quoted his first response of the day, which was from a reader who questioned the value of negative posts about restaurants in D.C. in this public forum.

Tom Sietsema: Good morning, and thanks for your comments. If you look over the chats in the archives, I think you'll find a diverse mix of topics from week to week, some of which deal with readers' restaurant experiences. I post both positive and negative comments, and I'm more than willing to air concerns or responses from restaurateurs (and have, in the past).

A lot of "the trade" follows this weekly conversation, and changes (for the better) often result from problems that get publicized here.

You and I agree: most of the people in this business work hard and their jobs are not always easy. But ignoring anything negative would be counter-productive and less than honest. The full chat is here.

In my mind, it seems that Sietsema has hit upon the very thing I've loved (so far) about eGullet; it's a place to post our 'reviews' and thoughts about local restaurants, the food industry, food in the media, recipes, etc. Positive AND (sometimes) negative posts, that is. And it's obvious that even in NJ, members of "the trade" are reading--and sometimes, responding.

I still say that if we want good restaurants (and other businesses, for that matter) to thrive where we live, work and play, we have to participate in the process. No, I don't expect us to be consultants who pay to have bad experiences and then teach the restaurant owners how to fix their problems. But as Katie has stated in numerous ways, sometimes there are bad nights, sometimes there are issues too big to be fixed by anyone, and sometimes there are actually people running businesses (restaurants and non-) who will actually want to hear what their customers have to say and try to improve themselves.

I'm going to jump off the soap box now. Oh, but while I'm up here, one more thing...don't forget to vote on election day.


Edited by Curlz (log)

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