Various restaurant review websites offer customers to vent their frustration or sing praise for the world to see over recently-visited eateries.
I recently visited a restaurant in Charleston that I’ve heard friends of mine rave over. The location I visited was opened fairly recently; I had lunch at the downtown location of this same restaurant and had a good meal.
But the visit this past week was far from satisfactory. I ordered two Lowcountry staples: she-crab soup as an appetizer and shrimp and grits as the main entree.
The soup’s flavor was fine, but it was basically lukewarm. I don’t like lukewarm soup. I don’t like soup so piping hot that it burns the inside of my mouth, either. But there should certainly be a middle-ground at which food should be served. This wasn’t in that middle ground. Strike one.
When I ordered the shrimp and grits, I asked for it without tomatoes. I don’t make such a request to be difficult: I have a mild allergy to tomatoes. The allergy is really only to raw tomatoes: something in the cooking process of tomatoes eliminates whatever it is that mildly irritates the inside of my mouth, so foods like lasagne or spaghetti, fortunately, don’t bother me. But I specifically asked for no tomatoes in the garnish. After collecting my empty cup from the soup, she retrieved the shrimp and grits. She didn’t notice the mound of tomatoes that she brought to me. Strike two.
She brought the plate to me and I was left to pick them off the top of the shrimp and grits. Strike three.
Once that task was done, the shrimp and grits likewise was slightly better than room temperature. Strike four.
Oh, and then there’s the beverage. I don’t order sweetened tea all that often anymore because too many people seem to have completely lost the skill in brewing tea and mixing in the correct amount of sugar. No, I don’t want a glass of sweet tea to give me some sort of sugar overload, but I also don’t want it to be “almost” sweet as if one more teaspoon of sugar would make it right. Here’s a clue, folks: sugar does not dissolve in iced tea. You have to get the sugar right while it’s still hot or it will never be right. This tea was likewise “not quite” sweet tea. Strike five.
Needless to say, I was not pleased with the meal. I didn’t say anything, because in this day and age, one doesn’t know what might happen to food when it’s out of your site if the wrong kitchen employee gets the message that a patron doesn’t like what’s been served.
My recourse in such a case is quite simple: I won’t go back.
Restaurant review websites make it too easy to crucify a restaurant in such a scenario.
Sure, I could have gone to the various sites like Yelp and provide the information I just gave you. I could have, as seems to be the case quite often, embellished the rant to claim problems like a dingy atmosphere or rude staff — which, when I read that kind of thing, makes me wonder why anyone in their right mind would encounter those details and still sit down to eat.
But there’s just one problem: it’s too easy to do that.
Every restaurant can have a bad night. But just because it has a bad night when I’m there, I shouldn’t have the right to badmouth the business for the world to see.
You’ll notice I’ve intentionally not mentioned the name of the restaurant. That’s because I have so many friends who’ve waxed poetic about the place that I have to assume that they just happened to have a bad night when I was there.
Before I could feel like a bad review on a site like that was a fair review, I’d feel the need to visit at least a couple more times. And I was so unimpressed with this first visit that I wouldn’t waste my time and money going back even once.
I think there’s one thing restaurant review websites do well.
If I’m not sure about a restarant and I decide to look at reviews, I pay attention to the positive reviews and the overall score. I tend to ignore the bad reviews unless there are a lot of them because too many feel like they’ve been crafted to unfairly make a mediocre meal sound like it was the worst thing someone ever tasted.
Maybe it was, but too many of that kind of review just reads as a bit too contrived. It’s too easy to exaggerate just to be unkind. It’s too easy to be caught up in the temptation to craft a story that makes you the innocent victim. (After all, have you ever seen a restaurant review in which the angry reviewer admits their attitude wasn’t any better than that of the restaurant staffers they dealt with?)
So I’m not going to give that restaurant a bad review on any site that identifies it.
But I’m not going back, either.
If I was the only one who had a less-than-perfect meal, so be it. If I’m not, and others receive the kind of service I did, enough people will stop going that the restaurant will get the message pretty quickly.