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
Bret Thorn's response
The difference between amateur reviewers and professionals
The following is NRN senior food editor Bret Thorn’s response to Kruse Company president Nancy Kruse’s take on restaurant reviewer cards.
Nancy, a professional critic, ideally, is a consumer advocate whose responsibility is to let readers know what to expect from a restaurant. That requires actual investigative journalism — going into a restaurant, trying the food, observing the service and decor, noting what might please or irk his or her audience. To do that, you have to be treated like any other customer. Currying favor is antithetical to a fair review and is a disservice not only to the restaurant but, more importantly from the critic’s perspective, to the restaurant’s customers.
Declaring in a restaurant that you write reviews is basically telling the staff that you’re not a professional critic, but a loudmouth blowhard. Decent front-of-the-house workers will see you coming from a mile away anyway. Showing them a card just saves them the trouble of using their natural powers of observation.
Difficult customers no doubt have been around for longer than currency has been exchanged for goods and services. Yelp or no Yelp, dissatisfied diners have always shared their opinions with everyone they know, and restaurateurs disregard the opinions of their guests at their peril. That has always been the case.
But loudmouth blowhards’ money is just as green as anybody else’s. A restaurateur’s job is to make those blowhards’ experience enjoyable. If that means fawning over them, complimenting their good looks and expressing awe at their ability to type on a device that can be connected to the Internet, then so be it. Should those people get free meals? Absolutely not. But if a glass of wine or a cookie will make them feel special, then that’s a small price to pay.
To answer your question about whether the voices of professional reviewers will be drowned out by the shouting masses: I seriously doubt it. I doubt it more now than I did two or three years ago, when all of this social media stuff was much more murky to me than it is now. The sorts of customers who read random online reviews — and the last data I saw indicated that it’s a small minority — have figured out how to distinguish the rants of ignorant people, or those with grudges, or those with the delusion that they are clever writers, from thoughtful observers with intelligent things to say about the restaurants where they’ve eaten.
I believe professional critics will continue to have their place, and I hope they’ll be joined by thoughtful amateurs who blog and comment with ingenuity and integrity.
Nancy Kruse, president of the Kruse Company, is a menu trends analyst based in Atlanta and a regular contributor to Nation’s Restaurant News. E-mail her at email@example.com.