How To Handle The Worst Restaurant Review Ever

Many chefs have found themselves on the wrong side of a restaurant critic’s pen. But I’ve never seen a review more scathing than the one that appeared in today’s The New York Times.

Food critic Pete Wells took aim at celebrity chef and Food Network star Guy Fieri, who operates Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar in New York’s Times Square.

Photo of Guy Fieri from The Food Network

Here’s a sample of the review:

“What exactly about a small salad with four or five miniature croutons makes Guy’s Famous Big Bite Caesar (a) big (b) famous or (c) Guy’s, in any meaningful sense?
Were you struck by how very far from awesome the Awesome Pretzel Chicken Tenders are? If you hadn’t come up with the recipe yourself, would you ever guess that the shiny tissue of breading that exudes grease onto the plate contains either pretzels or smoked almonds? Did you discern any buttermilk or brine in the white meat, or did you think it tasted like chewy air?
Why is one of the few things on your menu that can be eaten without fear or regret — a lunch-only sandwich of chopped soy-glazed pork with coleslaw and cucumbers — called a Roasted Pork Bahn Mi, when it resembles that item about as much as you resemble Emily Dickinson?

Mr. Wells doesn’t relent later in his review, writing:

“Somewhere within the yawning, three-level interior of Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar, is there a long refrigerated tunnel that servers have to pass through to make sure that the French fries, already limp and oil-sogged, are also served cold?”


Guy’s American Kitchen and Bar. Photo Credit: Casey Kelbaugh for The New York Times.

All of that got me wondering: In terms of PR, how should Guy Fieri respond? Here are five ideas—please vote for your favorite and/or add your own thoughts in the comments section below.

1. Do Nothing

By saying something, Mr. Fieri would only serve to make more people aware of this devastating review. Given that the restaurant is in Times Square, it likely serves more tourists than locals — and the majority of them likely don’t read The New York Times.

2. Pledge To Do Better

Even if the restaurant isn’t quite as bad as Mr. Wells’ review suggests, it almost certainly can afford to improve. Mr. Fieri’s most humble play would be to admit that he can do better and to say that he will use the review to take a hard look at the restaurant and make the customer experience even better. He may do that tomorrow morning during his appearance on The Today Show, using his humor to deflect the negative review.

3. Attack the Reviewer

Mr. Wells’ review is unusually harsh, seemingly personal. I can’t help wondering whether Mr. Fieri kicked Mr. Wells’ dog or dated his girlfriend. Given the vindictive nature of the review, Fieri should question Wells’ professionalism. Given that much of the nation holds the media in low regard anyway (especially journalists from the “liberal” New York Times), Fieri’s attack may garner sympathy.

4. Attack the Reviewer More Creatively

Mr. Fieri could get the last word by adding the “Pete Wells” to his menu. Here’s a possible menu description:

“The Pete Wells is a mean little dish. This petty entrée thinks it’s better than all of the other entrees, but it’s really just a sad, insecure little tart. It’s made of part pig and part ass, but mostly bile. On second thought, order something else.”

5. Do a Stunt

Fieri could respond in his typically light tone by conducting a playful stunt. For example, he could advertise that next Monday night (traditionally a slow night), any customers who bring in a copy of Wells’ review and tear it into small pieces will receive 20 percent off their bill.

UPDATE: November 15, 2012, 9:40a.m.

Guy Fieri appeared on The Today Show this morning. Overall, I thought he did a nice job. He questioned the reviewer’s “agenda,” but he also had a perfectly good talking point by saying,  “Do we do it perfect, no. Do we strive to do it perfect? Yes.” Plus, his tone seemed spot on.