Writing About Eating
Yesterday’s post, about not sending back food that failed to live up to expectations, generated a lot of feedback over Facebook and in the comments section of the FLB.
There were those who took me to task for not telling the waitress that the pizza was undercooked. Some were harsher than others. But I especially appreciated the constructive and thoughtful response from J who wrote:
We allow substandard food to be served and offer a half hearted “it’s good” before turning to a place like Yelp to trash the restaurant for serving undercooked pizza. It’s the double edged sword of the industry. Do you offend the restaurant to its face? Or do you take to the Internet to do so anonymously?
And J is not alone. In fact that very sentiment was echoed earlier this year on Tasting Table.
However, I was also encouraged to hear from those who absolutely do the same thing, including one of my colleagues who writes a blog focused more on the food of Saratoga Springs. My goal in writing yesterday’s story was to shine a light on the fact that a lot of people struggle with this. Perhaps I didn’t quite hammer home the conclusion as well as I could.
So let’s address J’s issues, and clarify a big reason why I generally don’t make a fuss.
Suggesting to a restaurant that a dish was improperly cooked should not be offensive to a restaurant. Perhaps an egocentric chef might take offense. But that’s why there is a layer of staff between the eater and the kitchen.
What is so interesting to me is how often I hear restaurant owners saying how they would like customers to speak up when something is wrong. However, there is another chorus of restaurant owners who gripe about how their patrons are always trying to get something for free by complaining about small problems with their meal.
Are there people who get some kind of kick out of milking free desserts, drinks, or discounts from local businesses? Sure. I can’t deny it. They exist. I’ve met them. I’ve eaten with them, been privy to their scheming, and chided them about their behavior.
But some managers and owners have grown too suspicious for their own good. And frankly, it’s having an impact on the common good.
Because people who have brought up real concerns in the past, and have been rebuffed, no longer think it’s worth their effort to speak up when something goes wrong. They don’t want to be accused of being cheap or petty. They don’t want to get in an argument about whether the steak is the appropriate level of doneness. And they don’t want the correction to be half-assed in the kitchen, and to have the problem not solved on the second go-round.
Diners weigh the potential costs, and evaluate them against the potential benefits. Which is why a lot of waiters will hear the half-hearted, “It’s good,” when there may be an underlying problem.
And that’s just one reason why it’s actually good to have a platform like Yelp. Not so you can bash a business, but rather so you can alert the owner to problems, without the social costs of holding up the meal, or potentially embarrassing your fellow diners.
What I like about Yelp is that it encourages people to actually not be anonymous. I’ve used my real name and picture from the moment I created my account. Because Yelp asked me to. I’m not hiding behind the Internet. And neither are Yelp’s most active users. Business owners who read my reviews have the ability to either contact me directly through the site, or respond publicly to counter a claim made in the post.
While you may want to take my thoughts on Yelp with a grain of salt, since I’m now a paid employee, I’ve been Yelping as a hobby since 2007. I like to write about eating. I like to share those experiences. For a while I was doing that on All Over Albany. And, of course, that’s what I do on this blog.
When one write about restaurants, it’s important to write about the food the kitchen serves.
I’m not bringing my own bottle of tabasco sauce to put on my oysters because that’s how I like them. Nor am I going to insist on a lemon with my oysters when the chef has made a special mignonette of the day to accompany the dish. I will eat the food the way it is prepared, and I will try to evaluate it on its own terms.
This is not to say that I won’t send anything back either. If there is clearly a mistake that’s been made, and somehow the dish has been brought to the table, that should be addressed and corrected. For example, if something is so salty as to be inedible, that’s going back. On the other hand, if something is simply aggressively seasoned, or regrettably under seasoned, that stays.
The pizza I had this week is clearly how the kitchen is making pizzas. And thanks to Yelp, I can see that others have had similar experiences with the pies. Looking at other pictures from around the Internet, the food I was served wasn’t made in error. This is just how the kitchen has decided to make its pizza.
Menus are like contracts. I’m agreeing to pay a certain price for something that fits the description on the menu. Were there a few “well done” spots on the outside edge of my pizza? Yeah. There were. Barely. But they were present.
And you know what? Most people in the Capital Region like it that way. But like I said yesterday, I can only fault a restaurant so much when the people of Albany demand bad pizza.