I couldn’t help but feel bad reading this FB post by a young restaurateur:
‘It's so hurtful when someone comes to your restaurant and says your food is not authentic. I am a Vietnamese and I know how my country food is. People write anything they want, they say we charge a lot of taxes, c’mon did we make the tax rules? I am sorry but I had to let this out. We have put all our heart in our work, please do not write reviews without any understanding on anyone’s food, be responsible, your actions can be very hurtful.’
I know these restaurateurs and realise how upsetting harsh reviews can be, especially when they are so committed to serving good Vietnamese food in Bangalore. These are young, first-time restaurateurs and the reaction is understandable. In fact, I know that even seasoned chefs and restaurateurs take adverse comments very badly, especially if they believe they are without justification.
That, as it happens, is the nature of the beast. With social media allowing every diner to be a restaurant critic, restaurateurs are, in effect, sitting ducks for everything from mild swipes to vitriolic attacks. Feedback, no matter how adverse, is useful, particularly if it helps a restaurant to correct a flaw in the food or to up the service quality.
I’ve noticed, though, that often a small glitch like, say, the water taking a few minutes to reach the table, is blown out of all proportion and diners will vent on social media.
Comments on the food, meanwhile, are a tricky area. What, for instance, does a diner mean by ‘authentic’ or ‘not authentic’? I remember when I was writing a weekly restaurant review for a newspaper I’d rated highly a restaurant serving Bengali food. I heard back from a reader who ranted that my rating was all wrong, that the food was terrible. Now, I may not know my Peruvian cuisine or Hungarian for that matter, but I have a good understanding of Bengali food having spent a great deal of time in Kolkata and eating in homes that pride themselves on their cooking. So, my reading is that my disgruntled reader went expecting, perhaps, chicken tikka masala and had no taste for murghir jhol.
It is not possible for restaurateurs who take real pride in what they do to cater to every palate. They can be crowd-pleasers, but cannot be all things to all people. They should be able to sift through reviews and act on comments that will actually help up quality of food and service. If they believe in their concept and the goodness of their food, they cannot be swayed by adverse comments. It’s about trusting your instincts, having confidence and soldiering on. As Hemingway said, ‘You must be prepared to work always without applause.’ After all, chefs and restaurateurs are artistes, too.