YELP!

The Yelping Class: The Chronically Dissatisfied Modern Diner

As a wine and hospi­tality profes­sional I study service obses­sively. The ability to antic­ipate guests’ needs and to guide them through dining or drinking expe­ri­ences that will leave them loving your estab­lishment — and loving food and wine in general — more than they did before is the mission of nearly every person who works in this industry. But in spite of our greatest efforts, care, vigilant attention to detail, guests at times will leave unhappy — even irate.

Some­times it is the fault of the restaurant: the manager, the wait­staff, the bartender, the hostess — some­where along the line we dropped the ball. We were busy, distracted, under­staffed; someone was having a bad day or other elements beyond  our imme­diate control collided to our demise. But some­times, I blame the guest.

Yes, that’s right: how good your expe­rience is at a bar or restaurant is largely up to you. Being a passive diner will more often than not leave you disap­pointed. Having a good expe­rience means being proactive.  Some diners, fueled perhaps by the future Yelp review they look forward to writing, go out expecting to be treated badly and then spend their entire expe­rience just waiting to be wronged.

Case in point: At one local estab­lishment recently, two girls seated them­selves on cush­ioned chairs around the open fire pit. It was a sunny afternoon, they had their feet up, dark sunglasses on and honestly, they appeared to be sleeping. While selling wine and food is our primary goal, we are not opposed to visitors resting and enjoying the space.  It was a busy weekend and there were several other groups enjoying glasses of wine while multiple members of the staff buzzed about. It was quite possible they were simply enjoying the garden; it certainly looked that way. Even­tually, these two girls got up, stretched and left. We thanked them and wished them an enjoyable rest of the weekend. Once inside, they proceeded to tell the manager that they had been completely ignored for nearly 45 minutes. It was not untrue. By not opening her mouth and asking for a menu (and instead doing her best impression of someone who had just been drugged), she turned what would have otherwise been a pleasant afternoon into a inchoate disgruntled Yelp post. Just, perhaps, what she had been hoping for. This young lady clearly was a victim — not of bad service but of her own passivity.

When I go out to eat, I have a good expe­rience 99 percent of the time. Partly, because I choose to.

  • If your bartender tries to make your hot toddy with Bacardi, clarify that you would, in fact, prefer whiskey, please.
  • If you want to finish your Negroni before your cauli­flower soup arrives, ask the server to please wait to fire your meal until you’ve finished your drink. Servers aren’t mind readers — he may think that you enjoy that particular pairing.
  • If you feel strongly that you would like your wine decanted or that you would prefer to pour it yourself or that you would like your coffee with your dessert rather than after, please please say something.

The point is that if you expect to have a good time, you will proac­tively go about doing so. Most hospi­tality profes­sionals want you to have a good expe­rience and jump at the chance to right a wrong — but you have to speak up.

Knowing the difference between a fair request and an absurd one, is, of course, key. No one wants to be a high main­te­nance customer — coded “HM” in the reser­vation system. But taking the right action at the right time is not only appro­priate, but welcome. Commu­ni­cating your needs is how adults deal with situ­a­tions. Stewing and feeling increas­ingly disgruntled because those unstated needs are not being met and then later spewing anony­mously on Yelp is how entitled little children behave.

But I Don’t Eat Meat!

If you are a vege­tarian, a steak restaurant is probably not the best choice. One “Yelper” after visiting a well-respected Napa Valley restaurant that, according to its own website, is “known for the finest prime dry-aged beef, wood-fired rotis­serie chicken, and locally raised lamb and pork,” writes:

The menu is fairly well constructed, but is difficult for those who don’t appre­ciate meat and prefer not to eat salads for a main.

Huh. I happen to know this restaurant very well, and the chef does gladly assemble vege­tarian entrees (as do most meat-centric estab­lish­ments) — upon request. But still, a steak­house where the parking lot reeks of seared cow is not the most obvious choice for someone who does “not appre­ciate meat” and does not want to eat a salad, either.

That’s not how I like it.

From one complaint at the same restaurant:

The petit filet was a little more rare than I would have liked for a medium rare steak.

Wow, what an easy thing to fix. A few more minutes on the grill and voila. It would have taken less time to fix than for you to “Yelp” about it.  Every steak restaurant has a different defi­n­ition for doneness. Set the chef up for success by describing how you like your steak cooked. For example, I like my steak charred on the outside and lightly pink in the center. Then only send it back if you are really, truly  inca­pable of enjoying it the way it is prepared — knowing that the rest of the table will be enjoying their meal while you are waiting for yours. Ask yourself if it’s worth it for the overall enjoyment of the evening. Often­times, it’s not.  The food after all is only part — albeit an important one — of the overall dining experience.

How could they seat me here?

From one Yelper who felt that she had been profiled as a “youngish” person who, in “business casual” was too “under­dressed” to be seated in the formal dining room and was thus seated in the bar:

I glanced to my right, to see a couple who barely turned 21, and to my left, to see an Asian couple who also got judged…

It seems to us that the diner — a white person — is the one doing the judging here, but whatever.

Then I see the whole section is either minorities or young-looking people — our section doesn’t even have table cloths, whereas the other formal section does.

God knows what was actually happening here. There are any  number of reasons a hostess would seat someone in the bar (believe it or not, some people actually prefer sitting in the bar). But clearly this diner is suffering not from profiling, but from extreme narcissism. She even­tually asked to be seated in the dining room and was happily moved. But appar­ently, this affront, which she spent three para­graphs describing was, sadly, her takeaway from what was, according to her, an “otherwise” good experience.

Likewise, one young lady felt that she was not given enough attention because of what she ordered. “Someone who orders a cocktail and an appe­tizer should be treated with just as much enthu­siasm as someone who buys an expensive bottle of wine.” Believe it or not, your server is not judging you and probably doesn’t care how much money you spend. They just want you to be nice, respectful and leave a fair tip.That table with the expensive bottle of wine demands more time and attention because well, expensive wine demands more time and attention.

What? All I did was wave my arm around a little…

From a review at a local dive bar:

Tonight, a friend and I went in to grab a drink, as we’ve done many times before. After a few minutes with no attention from the bartender, he held up his hand. Appar­ently, she took offense for some reason I still don’t under­stand. After another 10 minutes, she finally asked for his order, then poured some beer and took our money.

If you are standing at a bar, no matter how busy it is, there is a very good chance that the bartender sees you. They are profes­sionals. If they are ignoring you it is because a ) they are very busy, b) you are drunk or c) you’re acting like a jerk by waving your arms around and pushing women and children out of the way. Eye contact and a smile is the way to go. A slight hand in the air, accom­panied by said smile and eye contact is permis­sible. If you continue to be ignored, go some­where else.

We were prepared for battle.

Here is another example of how NOT to approach a bar:

We came here to see one of our fave performers and as I was reading the reviews I was honestly scared. Almost every review mentioned how rude or disre­spectful the bartenders were. I planned on drinking and I didn’t want to get into it with any of them. …. We eyed our table, went to the bar and prepared ourselves to battle the bartenders.

Please, for the love of god, do not approach a bar with the intent to “battle” the bartenders. Surely, you will lose.

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