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Leadership

How to give feedback to a fellow restaurateur

chef chopping vegetables
Photograph: Shutterstock

Question:

Some industry friends and I have made it a goal to go out at least once per month to a restaurant we’ve been wanting to try. It’s the ultimate irony of our industry that chefs and GMs never get out to eat. One thing I’m struggling with is when things are bad—or just could be better, which is basically always—is that feedback welcome, or would we be jerks to say anything? What if chefs ask “How was everything?”

– Executive chef, fine dining

Answer:

First, kudos on scheduling and routinizing your dining. So many industry people I know bemoan the fact that they “never get out,” but don’t do anything to correct it. Dining at competitors, trend setters and friends’ restaurants is a great way to stay current, become better known in the industry and get creative ideas.

You raise a question that comes up periodically: When do you tell a colleague, peer to peer, that things could be better? I deal with this a lot as well, as someone who is connected to the industry and dines out frequently. My advice, and what I do, is as follows:

  1. I never provide unsolicited feedback unless I observe something that can put the entire business at risk such as an egregious food safety violation and know the heads up would be appreciated.
  2. If asked, I’m always positive the first time: “How was everything?” “Very good, thanks! I’d love to know how where you got those greens.” If it ends there, I use the golden rule below.
  3. If probed (“Glad to hear it. I’d really appreciate your honest feedback”), then I go for it. I use the sandwich technique, used for constructive feedback in education and management: compliment, critique, compliment. “It was a lovely evening and everything looked and tasted really great. Just so it won’t happen to other guests, the stuffed squid wasn’t cooked through and was still cold in the middle. It’s a beautiful restaurant and we were so happy to have had the opportunity to dine here.”

 

Restaurants are complex organisms where hundreds or thousands of tiny decisions—how to space the tables, how much salt to season with, should I pull this off the heat or leave it on a few more seconds, which tables are assigned to which server—can shape an experience. In giving feedback, it’s a good metric to use the golden rule to distinguish between helping and whining. Were you in the other’s place, would you appreciate the feedback and the opportunity to correct or improve (“Hey, I don’t know if you noticed, but that open sore on the server’s hand is very unappetizing and unsanitary”), or would you be annoyed by the nitpicking (“The server mispronounced the wine we ordered”)?

Using the steps above with the golden rule in mind can help all of us raise our games. More on providing feedback here.

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