Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Change ... For The Better?

During a recent conversation with Facebook friend and owner of Local Food Service, Joe Harvey, he lamented the fact that many of the food blogs he had come across weren't adding enough value to the discussion of the local restaurant scene. In his opinion, it wasn't enough to have a meal at a restaurant and then write up an article to be posted at a later date on the blog. He felt that for a truly fair and effective review, the restaurant in question should also be given the opportunity to respond and their comments published along with the original review. This would give the restaurant and/or chef the chance to correct any factual mistakes in the review as well as provide feedback on the food blogger's dining experience.

After having recently been banned from a local Cleveland restaurant for a review that appeared on my blog in late 2009, I began to revisit Joe's ideas again and have decided to create an experiment. What you won't see is a change in my posting frequency or types of food reviews that I do here on Exploring Food My Way. What you will see, gentle reader, is an attempt to solicit comments whenever practical from the restaurants that I review. What does "whenever practical" mean? It means that if I can get in touch with the restaurant or chef via email, website, Facebook, or Twitter, I will do so. I have set up a staging blog, completely separate from this one, where I will publish finished reviews so that the restaurant in question can read my review in its entirety. At that point they have the option of submitting feedback or not. I will then include some or all of this feedback at the end of my review. My intention is to give the restaurant at least a one week notice to prepare their response.

What if a restaurant prefers not to respond? A restaurant may not decide to respond for a number of reasons and I don't think it is a negative reflection on them if they don't wish to participate. In Joe's estimation, he feels that maybe only 25% will actually respond. I would hope that I will get a higher percentage than that, but that is where the experiment will eventually bear fruit. Depending on how successful this is, I may decide to continue doing it or simply give up the effort after about a four to six week period. Managing the staging blog does add extra work for me, but if the end result is a more robust review that benefits not only the diner but also the restaurant, then I am certainly willing to put in the time.

Sadly, the restaurant from which I have been banned did not and does not have a website of their own, so in that case, it wouldn't have helped the situation since I wouldn't have been able to contact them electronically.

This new, revised review process is set to start with the publication of tomorrow's entry about a recent lunch experience I had at Vaccaro's Trattoria. What do all of you think about this idea? I'd love to hear your comments about whether adding this type of response to my restaurant reviews will add more value to your experience here on the blog.


Amy Waldfogle said...

I'll be interested to see how this turns's sure to be a more positive experience than having an owner chase after your blog followers!

Mahala said...

I did my homework to ID the restaurant and I have NEVER heard of it. I would be amused if they banned me. They being so well-known and all. If their response weren't so pathetic it would be laughable. I think your reviews are eminently fair and the inclusion of the restaurant's response is completely unnecessary. What will they say anyway - "having a bad day, understaffed, really busy when you came in, bladda, bladda, bladda"? You tell it as you experience it, so what more is there to say?

Tino said...

@Mahala: I think you make a very valid point. Further strengthening your argument, there is nothing stopping the owner/chef from making a comment on the review either. Ultimately, at the end of this experiment, if there is little to no value added by soliciting comments, then I will be happy to scrap the idea.

Joe Harvey said...

I certainly HOPE more than 25% respond! I simply believe that many of the chefs/restaurateurs don't fully understand the value these blogs can provide to them. (or detriment)The world of restaurant reviews has changed. If criticism is offered constructively, the good ones want to know, and want to improve. They also will appreciate a chance to share "their side of the story", without making excuses. There are many good ones out there, I hope you find them all! Keep up the great work, Tom!

Janice said...

Exploring Food My Way is the name of the blog. It all boils down to opinions. I personally read this blog because I am interested in your opinon. I have enjoyed your professional well written and fair reviews. Restaurants are entitled to maintain their own blog. This blog however is not " Exploring Food My Way & Letting Restaurant Owners Put In Their 2 cents". That said, it is your blog and if you are compelled to offer this feature then I will stay tuned to watch the outcome. I hope food establishments do not abuse your goodwill and use this as a self promotion arena.
Opinions...I have paid good money for bad food way more often than I care to recall.
Opinion...This free blog might just save me from another tragic dining experience.

Thanks Tom!

Mahala said...

@Janice - Well said!

Joe Harvey said...

Janice..While I don't disagree with your your points in theory, I might suggest that to include a response from the restaurant would give the blog a point of difference. I, too, enjoy Tom's opinions, his writing style and his integrity. I'm simply an advocate for "the other side of the story". I believe that at any given moment, a restaurant can be good, great or not-so-good. No excuses, just reality. A bad experience would be tempered by an honest apology from caring owners. I believe that if you have a good experience, tell everyone, if bad, tell management. The response you get from management will tell the tale and the blog should reflect that. I think most would agree that the problem is NEVER the problem. The problem is the REACTION to the problem.

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