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.
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?”
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.
Avoid the talk shows until AFTER the food is improved upon AND the NYT food critic gives the restaurant a thumbs up. For that, Guy needs to get to work right away.
Thanks for your comment. I certainly agree that no matter how he handles this, he sure better get to work on improving his restaurant’s food!
My favorite response to negative reviews involve painting the reviewer as an insolated elitist. Michael Bay does this brilliantly – and all the way to the bank.
That’s a very smart approach. Instead of merely attacking the media as elitist, paint the New York reviewer as someone who just doesn’t understand Middle America. Good thinking.
Really, Brad?!? Are you honestly suggesting that “attack the dissatisfied customer” might be a practical alternative? In the context of the review, the critic acts as a proxy for us… The potential customers of the restaurant. He paid for his meals and got served the same way we would. He points out many specifics in flavor, temperature, consistency, and service. I don’t think the right response would EVER be to encourage people to rip up the review or come back with the equivalent of “Oh yeah? Well, you’re just a big doody head!”
It would be different if the reviewer had solely concentrated on Guy’s car and TV show… Those are just personal reactions to an entertainment persona and can be dismissed or playfully argued about. But the review featured factual details that were unacceptable in a dining experience. They need to be addressed on a non-personal basis, not dismissed as inconsequential.
Thank you for your comment. I respectfully disagree with you on this.
First, I think you mischaracterized what I wrote. I didn’t say “attack the dissatisfied customer,” and I don’t agree with your argument that a dissatisfied customer and a restaurant critic are the same. I’d agree fully with your logic if Guy Fieri had attacked a dissatisfied customer – those other diners are indeed proxies for me. But I’ve never once thought of, say, a movie critic, as a proxy for me.
Nor do I agree that reviews are “factual.” Sure, there are facts in the review – but if your contention was correct, than every reviewer who ever reviewed a restaurant would offer the exact the same review. After all, objective facts are objective facts, right? There’s obviously a high degree of subjectivity in one’s review, and the tone of Mr. Wells’ review in particular offered a lot of personal commentary that went well beyond the basics of food analysis.
I believe that Fieri could indeed succeed by saying something such as:
Finally, I just want to make the point that I’m not recommending that Fieri take this approach. My article listed five possible approaches, of which this was one.
I agree with Brad (and essfuller) here, in the sense that there’s room for Guy Fieri to make the “we never said we were the Four Seasons” argument.
Attack the reviewer might work if you choose the right weapon or write weapon. Invite other food critics to come in, especially those who write for community or young-male oriented publications. Nothing beats a bad review like three or four other reviews with an opposite opinion. But you better be honest with yourself, was the reviewer being honest about the food he was served?
Here is an example of what not to do from Ottawa in Canada (in response to a negative customer review on line): http://www.ottawacitizen.com/life/Restaurateur+awaiting+libel+sentence+also+party+lawsuit/7542599/story.html
“Elitist?” I guess I am too, given that I don’t enjoy my French fries oily or cold.
Doesn’t understand “middle America?” Is that the purpose of a restaurant, to “understand”? And are all the customers presumed to come from that mythical place, with a similarly presumed set of expectations?
“We never said we were The Four Seasons?” So, we can serve abysmally poor quality food, or food that doesn’t remotely resemble the menu description, because we’re not a different, more expensive, white-linen restaurant?
These arguments are so full of fallacies of logic I hardly know where to begin.
And it’s a truism that a restaurant review is a personal opinion. So taking that to its ultimate conclusion, we can disregard all reviews. But we shouldn’t. That’s why we read them. And as customer experiences, which is exactly what they are, Brad, they are valid.
This reviewer backs up his review with specifics. It’s just that the restaurateur doesn’t much care for them. Perhaps he’s accustomed to fawning acclaim and can’t fathom that someone would actually criticize poor food without regard to the “celebrity chef” status of the owner.
Perhaps he should improve his food and stop defending the indefensible. Period.
How about Guy invites a a handful of respected restaurant reviewers in the city to stop by all on one night for a comlimentary meal. A single review seems like a very subjective thing. If Guy’s brave enough and really believes in his food and a faulty review — he won’t be afraid to hear the truth from the lot of reviewers that show up!
He has a chance to redeem his restaurant’s rep if it’s worthy and get a good nanny-nanny boo boo in without haveing to say anything negative about Mr. Wells.
Was in New York in november and desperate to find somewhere to eat having just landed totally sold by the promoter on the sidewalk. So thought we wold give it a whirl, it was awful, and the statement about oil sogged cold fries, that is 100% true, Throughout the rest of our stay our group would sarcastically suggest going to guys American kitchen. I don’t normally right reviews but when I saw this article. Immediately thought, YES it’s not just me, it’s a top food critic as well!! How does he handle it, produce better food and don’t settle for mediocre standards!! And certainly don’t oversell and under deliver linke your guy on the sidewalk did!!