November 23, 2011 | 1:02am
At a packed bar that opened recently, eight bartenders cleared glasses, delivered checks, scanned the room, and chatted with customers. Half the customers had full beers. A handful waited next to empties. Among a crowd of maybe 50 people, I counted fewer than five menus.
I was starving at 9 p.m., sitting with two friends who work in hospitality and chatting with two others I'd never met until last night. They were cranky about service. We needed another round and some menus, but were ready to give up.
"Will you ever come back here?" I asked. One guy said no. Then a woman in our group bolted inside and trotted out with the manager. "We all work in the hospitality industry, and we want to give you feedback," she said. The crew piped in while I listened, to tell him what went wrong and how service could improve. The manager was grateful for the feedback, bought the people who stayed a round of beers, and ostensibly spoke with his staff.
Their behavior showed an awareness that when we make the choice of where we go to eat,
we enter a relationship and are partly accountable for how we are treated. Kinda like dating, if we don't express grievances as well as affection and enthusiasm, the other party has to guess what's going on. This sometimes does not turn out so well.
By grabbing facetime with a manager, the pissed-off group aired complaints so the restaurant had the choice of rectifying or ignoring them. They did not bitch at him. Nor did they broadcast their anonymous complaints on Yelp.
Sure, there are benefits to Yelp. It encourages democracy in dining. Especially when combing unfamiliar territory, Yelp is helpful. I appreciate how specific I can search: best service, small plates, or by neighborhood, for example.
I remember talking to a pastry chef back in D.C. who expressed anxiety over the public nature of Yelp. Working sometimes 18 hours a day with major feedback from staff, her bosses, and her executive chef, she is honed to perform in one of the area's most popular restaurants for a salary that's not rich by anyone's standards. How could she know if the couple at table 22 hated their dessert if they didn't tell her? How could the restaurant compensate them if they didn't give the place a chance to do so? The chef is critical of Yelp for the method -- complaining after the fact -- not the message.
The disturbing thing about Yelp is that it fosters restaurant shit talk by nameless or faceless posters, encouraging behavior that ranges from passive-aggressive to gutless. Such pans on Yelp are the equivalent of bitching about someone to friends without the person being aware anything is wrong. It's like delivering serious criticism over text, g-chat, or Twitter.
If you're going to slam a place, at least man up and sign your name.
Even if things are disastrous, why not talk to management to give a restaurant the chance to address flaws? Speaking our minds in the moment to the people who need to hear ensures we're more likely to get what we seek, whether it's in a relationship or in a restaurant. Who needs more trolls, anyway?
Follow Clean Plate Charlie on Facebook and on Twitter: @CleanPlateBPB