One of the more recent features YELP has implemented involves the ability for business owners to respond to their reviews, whether positive or negative. Obviously, this is opening the floodgates for extremely boring and politically-correct communication between consumer and producer...am I right? Right.....wrong. Let's jump into this particular case:
Let me setup the battlefield: Negative Nancy Yelp Reviewer vs. Passionate Chef/Restaurateur.
As a prologue, on a recent visit to aggregate-review site Yelp.com, I was drawn to a particular back and forth argument occurring between some displeased customer and the owner of that very restaurant. Why should you care?
Well, the review seemingly reamed the restaurant at length, in fact the 1-star rating was over five paragraphs long, touching on everything from the forced 3% gratuity, refusal to cook Kobe Beef well done, chef's family walking around "trying to be restauranteurs," and soggy french fries, to name a few.
The owner's response? Five paragraphs of his own, rounding out the entire piece with a real bruiser:
"Burn in hell." -- Jason Quinn
Popular food truck-chef-turned-restaurateur, Jason Quinn, has accomplished quite a bit in his short 25-years on the planet. His once-chef duties with The Lime Truck helped him secure a $100,000 prize on Food Network's food truck show, and shortly after, he rode the wave of success to open up his own brick-and-mortar restaurant in Southern California -- The Playground.
If you're not familiar with Quinn from his appearance on The Great Food Truck Race, you'll likely hear more about him through the reverberating halls of the foodie community. He's a passionate fellow, quick to defend and boast about his craft, his people and the ultimate food art he produces.
A few of his competitors on The Great Food Truck Race were quick to pigeon hole him, and his team, as cocky and young -- which frankly, isn't too far fetched. They are young, but they're winning, and the food is speaking for itself. Anyone who's tasted a dish from The Lime Truck, or experienced a night of dining at The Playground can quickly attest to the quality of food they're putting in their mouth.
Quinn is a skilled chef, and explains every dish he makes with the same enthusiasm one would use while describing their newborn baby's first uttering of "momma" or "papa." He's a giddy chef -- it's refreshing. Just look at him busting at the seams in the video we shot of him a couple months back at a local food truck gathering [see below]:
Now let's switch gears. We've established Jason Quinn's passion, his built up anxiety for success, and now...we'll explain how he does his darndest to stay active on Yelp. And by active, I mean he responds to a majority of his Yelp reviews, good or bad. To his credit, the majority of feedback he gets about his Santa Ana location is positive. Easy to deal with, for the most part.
With a running total of 84 reviews written of The Playground, the heavy majority of them fall in 5-star range, with the average rating standing at 4.5/5 stars. So what happens when a bad review comes in? Here's a look at the full conversation, starting with the lengthy, negative review:
Full disclosure, I loved my visit to The Playground. Quinn was super hospitable when our friends had dinner, all the food was delicious, and everyone around was having a good time. The review above? Some could view it as narrow, and I definitely wouldn't disagree, but playing devil's advocate, there are far more disgruntled, naive and obscure reviews to be had on Yelp.
Trolls are a plenty on the Internet, and this person just doesn't seem to understand the type of restaurant he/she walked into. Many a gastropub and chef-driven restaurant involves dealing with a certain heir...if you don't like it, you don't dine there. There are plenty of other establishments that will cater to your changing of their menu, your cooking suggestions, and more wallet-friendly dishes.
With that in mind, does that negative Yelper's review warrant this response from chef Quinn? You decide:
One of the most interesting lines in Quinn's response is his self questioning of his restaurant's core drive, to be "chef-driven" or "hospitality-driven." The option of being chef driven, while un-Orthodox, would at least give a semblance of a reason behind his passionate response.
In a chef-driven environment, the policies set forth by The Playground aren't too out-of-bounds.But does that mean Quinn's move to be so passionate and transparent (he openly expresses the $300,000 investment he made to open the restaurant) in his Yelp responses are a good business move?
It's up for debate. Quinn hasn't shied away from his response, he's not chalking it up to a lapse of judgement, he's kept his response up on the review website and even gone a step further, he's opened up a "Dialog" section on his restaurant's website. He discusses the incident at length. It's actually a very interesting read, I've lifted some of their notes in response to the beef:
The artistic license we allow the kitchen touches on a sensitive tension between the chefs in the kitchen and the customers in the seats. The chefs design their dishes in the way they believe will highlight the quality of the ingredients, the culinary art involved and the customer's experience. Every component of every dish is carefully considered and tailored to complement the other elements of the dish. Regardless whether you and I agree that they have created a masterpiece, they do their best to design the perfect dish.
If a customer orders risotto, he would never dream of telling the chefs that they should use a different white wine in its preparation; if the customer could detect and disapprove of the white wine being used, he would either not order the dish or say that it did not suit his taste. In that case, we would take it off his check and offer to substitute something more to his liking. (Much as we did for the infamous one-star reviewer.)
So what's the next move? An open discussion.
Even if a chef can win an argument, should it be had in the first place? In an age of transparency, social media and direct customer interaction, there are indeed new liabilities that should be accounted for.
For many restaurateurs, they fear that one "unhappy" customer may spread those negative sentiments to his immediate network, and subsequently, his network's extended network.
That itching task of trying to please every customer, which undoubtedly led to the phrase "The customer is always right," keeps many chefs/owners up at night wondering if they did all they could do. It's fair to say Quinn has that itch, he's attentive to customers, he's responsive on social networks and Yelp and does all he can to correct inconsistencies in service and quality.
Being an accessible, open and outgoing entrepreneur can have potential drawbacks though.