I recently had a pretty bad meal at another restaurant. I’m not close friends with the chef, but we’re friendly. He wasn’t there when I ate there. He saw my name in OpenTable and asked me how everything was the next day. I told him, “It was OK," but it kind of sucked. Should I have laid it all out for him?
I think this is a good opportunity to exercise the golden rule. As a chef, would you want to know when a colleague is less than satisfied with her meal? Or would you be upset to be critiqued? Overwhelmingly, chefs and restaurateurs prefer to know so that they can improve.
I spoke with a number of chefs, managers and owners about this question and in a rare instance of industry solidarity, people agree. James Feustel, a Moorestown, NJ based chef and commercial kitchen designer says, “It’s a tough conversation to have but a necessary one.”
Brian Lofink, chef at Kraftwork in Philadelphia recommends following up with an email the next day, “If I’m not happy with my meal and I know the management, I never tell them at the time because I don’t want them to think I’m angling for a free meal. But they usually appreciate the heads up.”
When I let industry friends and colleagues know about problems I’ve experienced, I take Lofink’s advice to email the next day and also start with, “I’m only telling you this because I like you and your restaurant and want you to succeed. I want to make you aware of a problem I experienced before the Yelpers do.” Even though I sometimes agonize over whether to share my criticism, it is always an ultimately positive conversation.
Ben Fileccia, General Manager at Sbraga Dining takes this one step further—he not only wants to know what industry colleagues think but asks friends to essentially be secret shoppers at his restaurants, giving them assignments like making strange requests to keep his staff at a high level of performance.
In all, so much time and effort are spent soliciting consumer feedback and making quality improvements that to encourage feedback from industry colleagues can be a gift.