What is in this article?:
- Bret Thorn, Nancy Kruse discuss online restaurant reviews
- Bret Thorn's response
Menu experts Bret Thorn and Nancy Kruse debate the validity and influence of online restaurant reviews
In a monthly series, menu trend analyst Nancy Kruse and NRN senior food editor Bret Thorn debate current trends in the restaurant industry. For this installment, they debate the merit of online reviews.
The dark side of online restaurant reviews
Kruse Company president Nancy Kruse says the new ReviewerCard institutionalizes outrageous customer behavior.
Bret, if I hadn’t known better, I’d have sworn that I was watching a Saturday Night Live parody. But in fact it was the real YouTube promotional pitch for the new ReviewerCard, a credit-card-like piece of black plastic that states “I Write Reviews.” The video suggests that simply by brandishing this card, which vaguely resembles American Express’ super-premium black Centurion card, its holders receive all kinds of free stuff. The restaurateur in the video, after actually kissing the hand of the card bearer, comps the entire meal. The diner earnestly assures us that it’s because the restaurateur “knew the power I had.” No, I’m not making this up.
ReviewerCard is the brainchild of a California entrepreneur who suffered what he perceived as mistreatment at the hands of — wait for it — a rude French waiter. Had the waiter only known that said diner happens to write lots and lots of reviews he’d have been “treated like Brad Pitt.” Seriously? To right this wrong and save himself from future humiliation, he invented the card. And he’s made it available to other frequent reviewers whom he feels deserve their own ReviewerCards with their promise of “A-list service” and all kinds of extortionate goodies. The tagline for the card is “Empowering Reviewers/Protecting Businesses.” With protection like this, who needs enemies?
I’m teetering between amusement and horror as I write this, Bret. Clearly we’re looking at the dark side of the whole citizen-reviewer craze that the dining digerati have embraced with both arms. There have been consistent complaints about self-important Yelpers making vague threats or satisfying personal grudges, and this card institutionalizes such egregious behavior. Don’t misunderstand me: I believe that at their best, online reviewers provide truly useful information to both fellow patrons and restaurant operators. But at their worst — and surely this must qualify as the worst — they embody a staggeringly misguided sense of entitlement.
This brings me to the question that I’d like to pose to you. I know that you’ve been a professional restaurant reviewer, which some view as an endangered species facing preemption by legions of regular folks armed with smartphones. Do you agree? Or do you think there is still a place in a wired world for expert food commentators, with or without a little black card?