Everyone’s a Critic

I sit and watch my twitter time line as it flashes past and so often I see comments about restaurants and coffee shops. I see comments about car companies, banks, City Power and everyone else as well but for the purpose of this blog I am sticking to food. Yes, I do have a vested interest.
In days of old there were “Food Critics”, feared paragons of food virtue that every restaurateur everywhere hated. One has visions of stick figure people with waistcoats and waxed mustaches popping in unannounced, expecting the best table in the house on a busy night and examining every plate of food for every nuance and flavour. Rolling every morsel around their palate fifteen times before swallowing that mushy gelatinous mass to extract the last micro ounce of flavour no matter how subtle or missing. Lucky there are no spittoons in modern restaurants, this isn’t Rome any more.
Then the following day that very same stick figure critic, after licking his plate clean, paying his bill, giving you a sour smile as he exits your establishment proceeds to destroy your restaurant one carefully placed very long word at a time.
The ambiance wasn’t right, the music was too loud, the plate too big, the portion too small. The fillet was just so when it should have been just so. The food was hot, the food was cold, I ordered it rare, the list of things he could, would and will judge you on endless, the potential for obscurity huge. Did you think he would judge you on the colour of your serviettes, the colour of your plates, the quality of your wine glasses. I heard Barry Ronge, the movie critic, on the radio one day talking about, wait for it…………restaurants. How he wouldn’t eat off coloured plates or drink out of coloured glass wine glasses and serviettes had to be white. I had to text him to say “I know where you shouldn’t eat”
My point in all this actually being that there was this one person a restaurateur actually feared walking in the door because that person could make or break your establishment with one swift flick of his pen and the morning’s daily paper.

Those were the old days! Today we have social media, twitter, Facebook, food bloggers and every one of us is a critic no matter how much or how little experience on the subject we have. We walk into restaurants, we check in. We order and then we begin to tap our fingers on the table. The food is slow, let’s tell the world. The food arrives, let’s tell the world. The food is cold, let’s tell the world. The order was wrong, let’s tell the world.The food looks fabulous, let’s take a picture and tell the world.

Are we so busy telling the world that we forget to enjoy our meal? Are we so busy telling the world, that we forget to tell the owner, the manager, the waiter (I refuse to say waitron)? Have we forgotten how to speak to people? How to pay a compliment face to face? How to complain face to face in such a manner…actually that is the material of a whole other blog post.
What sparked this post was a tweet I happened to see last week which I followed for a while until it had run its course. A blogger was sitting in a very well-known very busy restaurant with friends, they had ordered and they were waiting for their food. If they had their times right, they had waited an hour and the food hadn’t arrived yet. Granted that is an incredibly long time to wait and is wrong, particularly if no one is communicating with the client about the delay. So the blogger tweeted to the restaurant, to whomever runs that twitter account which is not necessarily a person who is on the spot to complain to about the wait. By the time the reply and responses had gone back and forth with the apology made etc, another 20 minutes had elapsed and the food had arrived and the blogger never said another word about it. However the parting tweet which didn’t mention the restaurant’s name was words to the effect, if you cannot manage a 200 seater restaurant you shouldn’t run one.
This tweet was phrased in such a way that it went out the entire follower base and not only to the intended recipient thus ensuring that everyone and his dog saw the comment.

For me this raises a couple of questions………..
What would have been wrong with calling the manager or the waiter over to the table to inquire as to the whereabouts of the food and the delay?
Why was it necessary to tweet to everyone and not just the restaurant?
Why was it necessary to tweet at all?
Are there such things as twitter ethics and should we be looking at them?
Are we entitled to rip into things just because we can, does that make it okay to do?
Are you entitled to be a food critic just because you eat food?
Are we becoming hyper-critical just because we can be or have we always been this way and now it is just easier to moan to a wider audience and bring someone else down?

I am just putting these questions out there in the ether, it isn’t my intention to actually answer them so please don’t hold your breath waiting for the answers. I don’t have the answers. However it is my feeling that discussion is needed. Whether it is a murder trial or bad service in a restaurant, a lousy driver or a radio presenter saying something you don’t like, just because you have an opinion, do you need to voice it? I was brought up with my mum saying, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all”, is this an outdated ethic or just a modern dilemma?

The question can also be asked of the restaurant……………..
Why wasn’t the waiter communicating with the client about the food delay?
Why was there such a delay?
And indeed if your clients are waiting over an hour for their food, are you running your restaurant properly?
Maybe your staff need a little training in customer relations?
These questions, whilst I have posed them, are not pertinent to the subject of this blog and maybe will tackle them at a later date……………..maybe.

In the meantime every restaurateur everywhere from Jozi to the world at large best jack up his service, his ambiance, his food, his decor, his sense of humour and thicken his skin because everyone’s a critic

17 thoughts on “Everyone’s a Critic

  1. Great reflection succinctly expressed! A little kindness and communication from all parties is always helpful.

  2. I agree with your post, Mandy. And this from someone who blogged for many years as ‘The Coffee Shop Schmuck’.

    In general, I’m a pretty easy customer to please. As long as I don’t get mushrooms or shellfish in my order, my waiter will probably get a tip between 20 and 35% of my bill.

    But there’s a phenomenon at play in almost every South African restaurant or coffee shop I’ve been in… The vast majority of waiters have NEVER BEEN SERVED at a restaurant before. They simply do not know what it is to be a customer.

    Many of the waiters would not even WANT to eat the food on the menus they’re selling from.

    This means a whole lot of things, almost all negative. The lightest downside is that the waiters are just links in a production line. This results in forks with bent tines, dented knife blades, chipped crockery getting to the table. The heavier downsides are to do with customer experience.

    I used to ask for the manager when things went wrong. But I’ve had enough spit burgers to resist that temptation anymore. Restaurant managers aren’t really trained to understand the customer experience. I’ve encountered far too many angry managers to waste my time with them anymore.

    My experience in restaurants now is pretty much to stick with dishes I know they make well. Shut the hell up and eat my food. Pay my bill. When service has been shoddy, the waiter really suffers… They only get a 15% tip. Yeah. That’ll teach them.

    As expensive as the following suggestion might be, I think it’s a good way to change service in SA restaurants… Send the staff once a month for a meal at a different restaurant. Waiters AND kitchen staff.

    1. Thank you for your essay Roy 😉
      I understand completely how you feel and I agree completely with your sentiments about angry managers and staff who are either not trained properly or unaware of your needs. I can usually spot an error the minute I walk in the door!
      You didn’t however comment on the tweeting perspective

      1. Ah, yeah. That got lost in the thread Inwas following.

        As I see it, owning a restaurant must be one of the most astounding acts of self-masochism ever invented! Idiot staff. Idiot customers. Idiot suppliers. Idiot government. Idiot weather. Idiot events.

        I strongly doubt that restaurant owners can get enough scraps of positivity to counteract the slime-dam of savagery that meets them every day.

        And then we add Twitter to that.

        But here’s the thing… That scalpel-wielding critic of olden days WASN’T the customer. No matter how influential that bastard might have been, he or she WASN’T coming to restaurants as an ordinary human being.

        We live in a super-connected world of absolutely instant gratification. If you’ve ever watched a tv series using Netflix, you’ll know that DStv is dead. Do NOT buy shares in DStv. They belong to the old ‘fixed attention span’ economy.

        This relates to eating out. Because restaurants have to compete with phones. Establishments that don’t have wifi are in trouble. And if they HAVE wifi, they’re in another type of trouble. They’re attracting connected people. Who will spatter their opinions all over their connection-spheres.

        The truth is that the person with the Twitter account IS the customer. And so few establishments are able to give people a good customer experience. And FINALLY, ordinary people are able to let their friends know what’s happening in the service experiences. In the past, the critic wielded the power cos only the critic had the vocal strength to reach people. Which is why restaurants in the olden times had a longer lifespan. It took MUCH longer for trickle-down conversations to take place. Real customers just didn’t have reach.

        Twitter means restaurants have to facilitate splendid experiences. The bar has been raised. Because there may be idiot customers. There may be fickle customers. There may be ignorant, spiteful, disappointed customers. But one thing they certainly are NOT is wrong about how they’re feeling. They feel what they feel. And they tell people about it.

  3. My Melrose Arch Tasha’s tweet was about a mostly-inedible omelette at a restaurant that’s been getting poorer and poorer over the past few months.

    I asked for a Spanish omelette, no mushrooms, raw green peppers instead. The dish arrived with two eyeball-sized mushrooms literally peeking out from the forehead gash of the omelette. If the waitress had simply LOOKED DOWN at the plate as she was walking it to me, she’d have known.

    So, I asked her to check if maybe I’d been given someone else’s Spanish omelette, and they had mine. She muttered something about the kitchen not listening. She apologized, and took it back. A grovelling manager-type came over and apologized too.

    No hassles, really. Stuff happens.

    But when it came back, it was the same omelette with the mushrooms fished out, and badly chopped green pepper mixed in. Along with what I can only describe as tomato vomit. Watery, splashy tomato vomit.

    I was two hours past my lunch time. And I needed to eat. So I ate what I could. And I can tell you that my tweet was seriously restrained and polite. And I can also tell you it’s my last visit to that branch of Tasha’s.

  4. This is so true and not just for the food industry. I feel that Twitter is often abused for “free stuff” because people have become aware of the powers of social media. The social media pressure is a terrible reflection on the establishment in question. Companies don’t need bad publicity ever.

    In cases where the service is as bad as described in this post I have to say that I personally feel no shame in ripping into the facility. I went to a restaurant the other day and there was a creature in my food. I didn’t tweet it I did call the manager and didn’t pay. I just feel that there is a line and we can’t always not cross it to keep others happy.

    Twitter makes expressing feelings and opinion so easy. I’ve walked out of restaurants and handed plates to managers. There is a standard, some people expect more some are too “nice” so it all depends on the situation…

    Thanks for the post pops…

    1. Thanks for the feedback Miss Pix, I would have charged you extra for the creature, it is an extra source of protein after all 🙂
      Glad you didn’t have to pay and happier that you never felt the need to tweet, but yes I agree social media is a source of Free Stuff very often abused!

  5. Great piece, Mandi. The food critics of old, just like the movie critics of old, were incredibly powerful and influential creatures. Sometimes they were entertaining, sometimes just pompous and pretentious. I’m much more likely now to follow a recommendation from a tweeter. And I’ll tweet if I like something too, because I think Twitter is a great medium for reciprocal recommendation. And yet I still enjoy a good piece of professional food-writing, even though I’m not at all a foodie – I just enjoy tasty writing. Speaking of which, Roy really should revive his Coffeeshop Schmuck blog. It was delicious, and I miss it!

    1. Thank you so much for this comment Gus, much appreciated.
      I don’t have a problem at all with people recommending places, we all appreciate the punts big or small that we receive. We live however in an emerging society of people who see twitter as a fast method for gaining the attention of others, not always good attention, so I do feel that it before tweeting one’s dissatisfaction with an eatery, the first port of call should be management and by all means if there is no satisfaction from that quarter, by all means tweet away

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