So… the Arrogant Prick is at it again, living up to his moniker. Yours truly showed up in the South China Morning Post again, in the Food and Wine gazette today. As a blogger, providing a counterpoint to an argument. And I'm not exactly shy when it comes to giving people a piece of my mind…
A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted to provide the "blogger's perspective" for an article about "dining etiquette", in particular complaints about dining experiences. This is a subject that's close to my heart, and so I readily agreed to answer the questions posed to me. My answers were condensed, edited and appeared in print today. You can read the full article here (requires subscription to SCMP.com). I'm reposting my section here:
Bloggers bite back
I complain if I have a bad meal in a restaurant that I go to regularly or one that I would like to go back to. If the food or service is so horrible that I feel the place is beyond salvation, or it clearly doesn't care about its customers, then I don't bother to complain. I just never return.
If I complain directly, I try to make sure that I do so politely, without getting too emotional. Recently a Spanish restaurant failed so miserably that I was never going back - so there was no point telling them. My review was rather scathing and prompted the co-owner to message me and post on my Facebook page.
The opposite occurred in a Michelin-star restaurant in France. When the chef asked me how my meal was, I said everything was perfect except I thought the langoustine could have been fresher. He disagreed, but he took the dish off the bill. That is service. I think the view that it is disrespectful to the chef to complain is nonsense. For me, a restaurant that serves food that is below my expectations or tasteless is disrespectful to me, the customer.
When the questions were posed to me, I got a little worked up and my blood began to boil, and I started banging on the computer keyboard furiously. Here's the full set of questions as well as my original, unedited answers:
Do you complain when dining out (like you do in your posts) and under what circumstances do you think it is appropriate to complain when dining in a restaurant? Please give 1-2 examples (you don't need to mention specific restaurants, can just say a French restaurant for example)?
I complain to the restaurant when I have a relationship with the establishment, or if I care to return at some future date. If the food/service is so horrible that I feel the place is beyond salvation, or they clearly don't care about their customers, then I don't bother to complain. I just don't go back ever again. On rare occasions such as during a certain birthday dinner, my friend who is a VIP complained on my behalf when the dessert tipped over before it was served to me. It doesn't affect the taste but it clearly isn't something that should happen at a Michelin-starred restaurant. So I let them know that it is something they should not have allowed to happen.
You are quite open in your blog with your views, why do you think not all bloggers/foodwriters are as honest?
I am among the group of bloggers who are not invited to "media tastings". The vast majority of my posts are about meals which have been paid for by myself or my friends - they are not about meals which are at the invitation of the restaurants. Since I don't care if no one ever invites me to these media tastings, and usually turn them down even when I am invited, I don't need to worry about pleasing or not upsetting the restaurant or PR agency. One of the main reasons why some people follow me is because of the honesty of my opinions. I can't speak for the other bloggers or food writers, but I suspect very few of them would want to be on bad terms with PR agencies or restaurant groups. There seems to be a certain conflict of interest. I on the other hand couldn't care less.
Some chefs are of the opinion that complaining is disrespectful to the chef, what is your view on this?
That is total bullshit/bullocks/[insert appropriate expletive]. When I pay for a meal as a customer in your restaurant, and you provide me with food that is below my expectations/tasteless or I receive poor service, YOU as a restaurant are being disrespectful to ME, your customer. Not to add to my reputation for being arrogant, but the restaurant exists to serve its customers. Restaurants and their staff are part of the service industry. When customers have criticisms about the food or service, it is the restaurant's job to listen to them. Hopefully the criticism/feedback provided is constructive. Harlan Goldstein is one of my favorite chefs in town not because he cooks better food than anyone else, but because he openly solicits feedback from his customers so that he can improve. That is the mark of a great chef and smart businessman.
In your view, what do you think is an acceptable level of complaint on a blog, that is, can it be taken too far? Please give an example.
On a blog anything is fair game. My blog is a venue for me to voice my opinions, and I can talk about the food, the decor, the service, the smell, the clientelle...etc. because all of them are factors which affect my dining experience. If I write trash and go over the line, the readers will see this and start discounting my opinion, and gradually they will stop following me. If I am "reasonable" in my opinion and criticism, people will find me credible and continue to read what I have to say. There is a mechanism to ensure that bloggers don't go out of line lest they lose their relevance.
Any other comments on the etiquette of complaining?
If I complain directly to the restaurant, I try to make sure that I do it in a polite manner, without getting too emotional and without the use of colorful language. I don't want to be raising my voice and letting things go out of hand. As I said before, if I am not happy with the result, the best way to let them know my opinion is to never go back and give them another dollar. I vote with my pocket book. If everyone does that, then restaurants with poor food and/or service will find that they need to fix things or go out of business.
The shining example of where the food was so bad - in my opinion - was at Boqueria in HK. There wasn't any point in telling them because they failed miserably, and I was never going back. My review was rather scathing and prompted the co-owner to send me a message directly and post on my Facebook page. I didn't think he would have listened to my comments, so I didn't bother, and I was right!
Not wanting to get into an ugly war of words, I declined for the SCMP to name Boqueria in the article. There's no need to do that in public. But here in the "privacy" of my own turf, well...