Frank Chen

Frank Chen

email newsletter #9

superlatives, review responsibility


In my latest Instagram post I shared what was probably one of the more disappointing restaurant experiences that I had abroad.

I've become more cautious over the years using superlatives to describe food. Comparisons are already hard to make because food and its experience are subjective. Using superlatives just adds an extreme element that doesn't provide constructive color. What I prefer one day could be different the next, so thinking in shades of grey and not black and white helps to position my criticisms on a spectrum.

It's fine to be critical of a restaurant. It's how we present that criticism that helps or hurts the hospitality industry. At any point during my post, I could've named this restaurant, but I didn't. I simply gave reasons for why the service or the food didn't jive with me that day. I try not to say "never" because that implies a zero probability that the restaurant will get better and a zero probability that I'd ever go back. Very few things in life ever reach that kind of point.

That being said, my gripe was mainly surrounding the less than optimal service, which would indeed color the experience of the food. How you experience the food does depend on who you're with, the mood you're in, and how you're treated in the moment.

review responsibility

So, what is my responsibility as a guest who had a less than savory experience?

I think it's to be honest and forthright.

Should the review be done publicly, privately, or anonymously? To me, it doesn't really matter. There's not a right or wrong way. I think the key is to avoid outrage, and to make sure you're presenting the information in a way where the criticized can understand your experience. A great example is Justin Khanna's honest review of a restaurant he ate at recently.

In my case, I did it publicly and anonymously. I plan on doing it privately as well, otherwise they'll never know and then they can't improve.

So, how can we make this process better? If we view hospitality as a two sided marketplace with both the restaurant and the customer, it serves to stand that a restaurant should receive an opportunity to respond to constructive criticism, just as a guest has the free opportunity to write a review.

There's currently not a great platform or structure to do that. There are a myriad of ways that guests can communicate with restaurants - email, food forums, Reddit, Yelp threads, YouTube comments - none of which are scalable ways to open a real conversation and respond to customer feedback. Email is probably it, or perhaps the odd responsive business owner in Yelp threads.

The second thing that could help is for guests and patrons to have a cultural understanding that reviews provide only a snapshot in time, and a restaurant has a reputation, which transcends that snapshot in time. We can think of reputation as actions over time, and one review is just a moment.

There's a ways to go in achieving that culture as a whole. Right now, only the most responsive guests and businesses will create an ongoing "review conversation" which gives context on the two parties and if things are getting better. This requires a very special set of:

  1. guests unafraid to give honest opinions
  2. guests open to giving second chances to restaurants
  3. and businesses that are open to constructive criticism

The fourth point probably lands somewhere in "culture development" and having psychological safe places to have these kinds of discussions. For the time being, let's all try to show love and land in one of those open-minded categories listed above.

quote of the week

"and the children go to summer camp and then to university where they are put into boxes and they come out the same."

~ Malvina Reynolds