Chefs Versus Bloggers

In pretty much every conversation I’ve had with a chef in the past, oh, month, the topic of bloggers has come up. Usually it’s the bloggers who show up on the first day of a restaurant opening and trash the place in a review because things are not perfect. Chefs and restaurateurs seem not to know how to handle this kind of criticism, and when they ask me for advice (like I’d know!) I’m at a loss as to what to tell them.

I mean, it’s not as if I’m anti-blogger. I really believe that the future of food writing exists online; I run a number of blogs myself, run a blogging network and somehow convinced myself that creating the Canadian Food Blog Awards would be an easy thing to do to promote food bloggers in this country (umm… yes, I did pretty much just make a 2nd full time job for myself). But I still don’t have the answer.

What I really want to do is give the bloggers who do these (usually poorly written) too-early restaurant reviews a smack in the head. I mean, there’s one school of thought that says that some person on the internet with no qualifications or expertise isn’t going to be able to affect the business of a restaurant, that most people don’t even pay attention to blogger restaurant reviews, instead relying on long-time experts for the major dailies and weeklies who have the experience and writing skills to back up their opinions. But I’ve also seen (and talked to) a lot of restaurant owners and chefs who are mighty worked up about a shitty review or comment on some site like Yelp or Chowhound.

This is in my thoughts because last week in the UK, Chef Marcus Waring responded to an unfavourable review by some regular customers (they had been there 7 times, but only decided to write about it after the occasion when they had a less than favourable visit) by calling the customers/bloggers at home and giving them shit. I hope I don’t need to point out that this is way unprofessional and inappropriate.

But based on conversations I’ve had with Toronto chefs, I get his frustration. Chefs and restaurateurs want the opportunity to make things right if a meal is not satisfying. That’s not always possible – some customers just aren’t happy with anything, but in a restaurant where the customers are regulars, the least they could have done is talked to the chef first.

And here in uber-polite Canada, where, when the server comes by to ask how the meal is, we’ll smile and nod appreciatively, even if the whole thing is utter shite, we especially need to learn to speak up when things are not to our liking. Whether we’re bloggers or not, if we’re there because we love food and we love dining out, and especially if we’re out there spouting BS about “supporting the local restaurant scene”, we had damn well better be giving our local chefs an opportunity to get things right before going online and lambasting them.

I wish I had a good answer for the chefs who came to me asking for advice. I wish there was a test that bloggers had to pass before being allowed to write reviews that could potentially hurt a restaurant’s business. I wish that the poking and snarking that we did on TasteTO at bloggers (and some professional food critics *smacks head*) was taken to heart with lessons learns, protocols followed and journalistic integrity placed at the forefront. But right now, all  I can do is commiserate and rant.