Everyone’s A Critic

Recently, there was a tad bit of drama in the social-media-sphere as a bar owner got into a bit of a comment-tussle with a customer who happened to put up a negative post about the bar. Several sarcastic comments and insults were tossed in, not by the bar owner alone, but also close friends and other staff of the bar. I won’t go into details, but as an outsider, it was both hilarious and brutal at the same time.

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It could have easily become one of those funny screenshots you post on BuzzFeed or BoredPanda if it were just banter between the bar owner and customer, that turned from sarcastic slander into a funny confrontation and eventually an understanding. Unfortunately, since other parties took it upon themselves to add their share of insults towards the customer (some of which were probably working for the outlet in some way). The first sarcastic comment from the bar owner was cute (one of those “#burn”s you’d clap for). The downright insults were just unprofessional and made in poor taste, in my point of view. I see the point of view from the bar owner / bartender and the customer — I don’t see why several third parties needed to step in and “bully”.

I was on the side of the bar owner at the start, but that was simply because of how the customer had phrased the comment. But then I start overthinking things (as I usually do) as a “viewer”, and wondered… is the customer really in the wrong?

Or to rephrase my question is: What ever happened to the freedom of being honest? I don’t know about other countries, but honest reviews are hard to come by where I’m from. I often wonder if Ratatouille lied to me when they showed that professional food critics or reviewers would show up unannounced and if you’re lucky, you’d recognize them before you served them and gave them a 3-star Michelin experience.

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Is this all a lie??

Where I’m from, recognized publications and food blogs always share good reviews. Whether they mean those good reviews is a completely different story. I mean, how could you possibly write a bad review if the establishment gave you a free meal, right? I did wonder that if maybe the offerings were that bad, the publications chose not to publish it instead of embarrassing the outlet — a possibility in this day and age where reputation is absolutely everything and there’s no recovering from a bad one, right?

To be honest, I’m guilty of helping some of these establishments offer free meals or drinks to publications in exchange for a write-up. Whether they actually enjoyed the overall meal or experience, I guess I’ll never know. But it was my job then.

With that in mind, if every establishment is practicing this, that leaves no room for an honest, poor review does it?

What if your service really was bad?
What if the food really was just mediocre?
What if your drinks aren’t amazing?

How does an establishment learn whether or not it’s on the right track if there is no room to criticize? Or… are there certain people who are allowed to criticize? Or maybe… there are just certain topics we aren’t allowed to criticize.

I’ve got several thoughts to share about this whole game of reviews (lol, sorry, just watched Game of Thrones S8):

  1. Consumers and publications have the right to criticize if, and only if, it is not biased or personal. For instance, the combination of flavours in a certain meal or drink may not be subject for criticism because it is up to personal preference, i.e. some people like mango with lychee, some people may not. However, when it comes to service or technique, if you’re not delivering in terms of these criteria, then why are you operating? Ok, harsh but true, no? Of course, if these are areas an establishment CAN work on, so if you need to criticize, do so with some constructive criticism and not outright insult or shame them.
  2. Owners and management of the establishment who are on the verge of receiving a bad review reserve the right to be told if their quality of service and offerings are not up to standards, and why the person thinks so. I personally feel that the publication could offer the establishment a do-over to change their minds (incognito again of course), and if things don’t change, the poor review will still be published. Everyone deserves a second chance, no? Especially if someone’s livelihood is on the line.However, I don’t think this would apply to restaurants or bars that have already garnered a credible reputation. If you’ve got a world-class chef in your kitchen and an internationally-renowned brand, you best be bringing your A-game every single time.
  3. Paid reviews should just be thrown out the window. Incognito reviews all the way — don’t do it for the free food. Your journalistic integrity should be worth more than that (even if it is a meal worth 5x your paycheck).

The above points are pointed at professional reviews though, i.e. legitimate publications and recognized blogs. But, you know, everyone’s a critic on social media. While it’d be much harder to control the keyboard warriors out there, if one’s really trying to establish themselves as an “influencer” (this word could spark up a whole blog entry of its own, but let’s not go there), there should be some sort of decorum when you’re commenting on a particular establishment. In fact, even as everyday consumers, we should put into practice something we were all taught (I hope) when we were young:

“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Words are powerful. And words can hurt. Words, especially on social media, can absolutely destroy a budding restaurant or bar that perhaps hasn’t been given a chance because you brutally brought it down by sharing a “This shit’s disgusting” caption to your circle of friends and/or followers.

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Like in the case of the Bar Owner vs Customer: I was on the side of the owner because of how the customer had worded or presented the negative comment. It was clearly a case of personal preference, but the choice of words made it seem as if the bartender was incompetent. In this case of a “review”, if you’re really not an expert, perhaps you shouldn’t be spreading your negative opinions like wildfire, unless you have a damn good reason to (which 90% of the time, neither of us ever do).

From these arguments then stems another question: Is the customer still always right? If the customer was right, why did the bar owner feel that he had to “attack” the customer for posting her caption up? Again, it probably chalked up to how the entire situation was handled, but that also means, there probably is a limit as to how “right” a customer can be. The question is, how does the industry then make that line clear?

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The number of questions I have about the entire nature of the industry-patron relationship in F&B is unending. As someone who now has a tad bit of insight into what goes on on the other side, it gets both harder and easier to be a consumer. This post probably ended up seeming like a huge rant, but it really is something I wonder about. Are there really only certain people who are allowed to criticize an establishment? Is anyone even allowed to anymore?

When I find out, I’ll let you know.

(All GIFs were sourced from giphy.com)
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