Today in her guest post, Clare from The Vegetarian Experience examines whether the views of food bloggers and reviewers really matter to the food industry.
Our family eats out quite often so I regularly review restaurants on my blog. Unless specified in the review, I always pay for my meal. I am therefore giving the restaurant feedback on my experiences of their establishment as a customer, in terms of food, service, ambiance and other elements. Essentially, I am also providing them with free advertising by mentioning them on my blog, especially if the review is complementary. I always write my honest opinions about a restaurant in a fair and impartial way and I try to give constructive criticism if my experience wasn’t amazing.
When I review a restaurant, I use social media to let the owners or PRs know that I have eaten in their restaurant and have written a review of my experiences on my blog. Recently I reviewed a restaurant on my blog and sent it to the owners via social media. I have heard nothing from them in return, not even a “we read your review”. As a blogger and a paying guest, I take this to basically mean “we don’t care about your opinion and your feedback about our restaurant isn’t important”.
@Kateab says that “a business that ignores feedback is toeing a dangerous line”. She thinks that in order to succeed, businesses should have an ongoing dialogue with their customers.
So what is it that makes some restaurateurs think that customer feedback isn’t important?
Firstly, I know that not all restaurant owners think in this way. In fact, I know one UK restaurant brand who is currently asking bloggers to review their branches in order to improve the customer experience. This is great forward thinking on their part and shows that they are being customer focused.
However, many restaurants are not so open to food bloggers and reviewers. This week, I watched an episode of Kitchen Nightmares USA where British Chef Gordon Ramsay visits the Burger Kitchen in LA and tries to turn their restaurant around. The restaurant had received many negative reviews from bloggers and reviewers, all telling owner, Alan Saffron, that they had visited his restaurant and had a bad experience. He disbelieved their reviews. In the episode, Alan says of bloggers & reviewers “Every Yelper (reviewer) lies, they hurt and damage restaurants, they are deliberately attacking my restaurant”. Other restaurants like Rooz Coffee in Oakland, CA have started clearly displaying signs which state “No Yelper’s allowed”, inferring that they are not interested in the opinions of their customers. It would seem that the Yelp phenomenon is also alive and well in the UK, with people posting restaurant reviews on Yelp UK, in the same way that food bloggers are posting reviews on their own blogs.
In my opinion, it seems that many restaurants do not really evaluate their performance and the service that they are giving their clients. They may invite feedback in the form of “prize draw offers” for comments, but I wonder how many of them actually implement any changes and take heed of what their customers are telling them. I worked in a well known chain restaurant for five years where they asked for this kind of feedback and nothing ever changed, other than the high turnover of staff. When a customer complained, they would merely be appeased with a free meal, drinks or desserts. To me, this was extremely frustrating as they never addressed the root of the problem or aimed to rectify the bad practice.
Aly, @plus2point4, a former Chef says that “people should be vocal, whether at the time of the meal or via reviews”. She also thinks that Restaurateurs should start paying more attention to their customers and act upon complaints. Gordon Ramsay says that if there are complaints about a restaurant then “we’ve got it wrong…..so we move, we change course, we take Yelp (reviews) as an advantage to reposition ourselves and we listen, that’s what we do”.
When I write a review of an eatery on my blog I am offering my honest opinion. I am not going to a restaurant to deliberately have a bad time. I visit a variety of different restaurants, serving all kinds of food in many price brackets, and sadly it seems that my experiences are often negative. The standard of cleanliness and service varies, as does the quality and taste of the food, and it is not dependent on how much I am paying for my meal. When I am in a restaurant as well as assessing the food and service, I always take a look at the decor and cleanliness of a restaurant. I sometimes find sticky tables, dirty walls and ladies facilities with water logged, mildew smelling carpets and cheap air freshener trying to cover it up. If restaurant owners keep customer areas in such a bad condition, what does this say about the state of their kitchens? How can they be surprised that they are being given a bad review?
As a food blogger, if I write a less than outstanding review about a restaurant, or complain about an aspect of the restaurant whilst I am there, I am not a freeloader looking to be compensated with a free meal or insincere gestures. I am offering genuine feedback in the hope that the restaurant will take my comments on board and improve their practice. I want restaurants to be successful and have a great reputation. I want to dine out and receive great service and delicious food. I want to take pictures of amazing, appetising dishes to post on my blog and write about the fantastic time I have had at a restaurant. I would hope that restaurant owners would start to take the comments of food bloggers on board. If they get a good review, I would hope that they would be pleased. If the review is not so good, I would hope that they would evaluate the review and act on the feedback constructively.
Graeme Taylor who tweets as @Scotslarder commented to me that food bloggers have “passion with no paycheck…..just the love of sharing good food” which is why we are so important to the food industry. I couldn’t agree more.
What do you think? Do you review restaurants as a food blogger? Are enough restaurants & eateries open to food bloggers? Do they take comments on board or are food bloggers arrogant to think that the food industry should act upon their opinions?