With consumer-authored restaurant review sites proliferating online, many people wonder if there is still a need for professional critics. Gaurav Anand is not one of those people.
The owner of three Indian restaurants in New York City — Bhatti Indian Grill, Desi Galli and Moti Mahal Delux — Anand has been hoping for a review in The New York Times since he opened his first restaurant in the city in 2009.
That dream came true last week when New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells gave his newest restaurant, five-month-old Moti Mahal Delux — part of an Indian casual-dining chain based in Delhi, India — a solid, two-star review. That’s about as good as a neighborhood restaurant with an average per-person check of around $20 can expect on the Times’ four-star scale.
A review in the Times can be a double-edged sword. Wells’ takedown of Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen & Bar sparked a national discussion that was embarrassing to Fieri, even if it wasn’t necessarily bad for business.
Even a positive review can draw fickle, trend-conscious diners who may crowd out loyal locals and overwhelm the kitchen or service staff.
Anand knew he was being reviewed — The Times sent in photographers in advance of the write-up — but he didn’t know whether it would be good or bad.
He recently discussed the impact of the review with Nation’s Restaurant News.
How has business been since the Times review?
Very good. The restaurant is sold out for two weeks, and I think the only critic on this planet who can do that is Pete Wells. When you get a review like this, the whole city wants to eat here. Your phone doesn’t stop ringing. We had five [servers] on the floor; now we have 10. Your kitchen gets a lot of pressure, because to maintain the quality you need good people. Luckily we got some.
How did you find new staff so quickly?
I got a call from The New York Times to say they wanted to send someone to take pictures. The next day I got a call from Mr. Great Pete Wells, and I started hiring people that week. My chief of staff said, ‘Sir, you’re jumping all the lines,’ because we didn’t know whether it would be a good or bad review, but I decided to take a chance.
Then on Tuesday night [when Wednesday’s review is posted online] I got a call from [a well-knownin New York] saying ‘Congratulations, you got a two-star review.’
By Wednesday morning we had an extra 10 people ready for battle. It was still a little tough to handle [the increased traffic], but now everything is under control.
What if you had gotten a negative review?
I believe in one thing: Dream it to achieve it. So far, God willing, everything I’ve dreamed, I’ve achieved it, and that makes my confidence very high.
I’ve seen guys in my kitchen, when things get busy they’ve just left their pan and run, and they never even came back to take their pay, they were so ashamed. But a person who can stand and fight like a warrior can achieve anything.
Has your restaurant been full ever since the review?
When I saw the first people coming in, I didn’t say, ‘Oh, let’s grab all this now.’ I don’t want to cater to 200 people in one day at lunch; I want to cater to 100 people. When I saw at 2 o’clock today that my lunch business was good, I said, ‘We’re sold out for lunch’ [and stopped taking new customers]. Quality is your strength, so I’m making sure that we don’t lose ourselves on that side.
Have you been able to accommodate your regular customers?
Some regulars have complained that they can’t get tables. But you know what? It is what it is.
How do you feel about reviews on web sites such as Yelp?
Remember, people who have always had great experiences don’t write about it. I’ve been in business for four years, and I’ve calculated that I’ve served almost 300,000 meals in that time. I have 144 reviews on Yelp. Can you judge my restaurants on that? No. I don’t rely on them; I rely on word-of-mouth.
I love Open Table, honestly. They take your reservation and give you points, and if you write a review, they give you more points, and that helps diners share their experience, good and bad both. And those are destination diners who came to your restaurant just for the meal.