Is Restaurant 06 the most relevant and best organized trade show for the Hospitality Industry as yet? Probably. It’s on for another day so why don’t you go and see for yourself. For more information go to: http://www.restaurant06.com.au
Yesterday I participated on a panel at one of the Business Talks sessions, called ‘Reviews, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly’. All Business Talks Sessions are led by Matt Preston, journalist from The Melbourne Age. Other sessions include: the Culinary Skills Theatre; Wine Sessions led by Consultant Sommelier Christopher Morrison; and Spirits Workshops organized by Yakusan.
Here are some of the questions, and my responses, from yesterday’s ‘Reviews’ panel discussion:
Why do I want to be reviewed?
Recognition of a job well done. Bums on seat or danger of being empty
Don’t forget: the reviewer’s job is to present restaurants to the public to entice them or warn them about spending their money there, but: the reviewer isn’t the chef’s enemy, either. I don’t believe in the great divide because if a reviewer knows the chef, the restaurateur and their attitude it makes for better and more informed reviews.
Can I stop you reviewing me?
The short answer is no. Restaurants are understood to issue an invitation to the public at large to dine. Once you eat, drink, pay and leave, you have had a dining experience, which is uniquely yours, and you are at liberty to do with it what you like. Restaurants can impose certain restriction, e.g. dress code, but it does not extend to ‘you are not allowed to share your experience with others’. A lawyers' dream would be a scenario where the restaurant offers a contract for the diner to sign, disclosing any food allergies, etc. and the restaurateur could include a ‘non-disclosure’ clause. Alas there is nothing that forces the diner to sign. If a subsequent review is libelous then the restaurateur obviously has the option to seek legal advice and sue.
What gives you the right to comment?
Industry knowledge having grown up in a restaurant. Global knowledge of restaurants. Represent the tastes of the informed diner.
Should reviewers move on regularly?
Yes and no. If the reviewer is bored with his/her job then it’s time to move on. Staying on and being consistent means that the diner has a chance to get into the reviewer’s head and interpret the reviews to his/her benefit.
How do I get reviewed a) in the paper/mag; b) in a guide
It’s important to get noticed, to make sure the reviewer knows you exist. This can be achieved with a Press Kit. You don’t necessarily need an expensive PR agent for this, just someone who’s literate. A bio of the chef, a set of menus and wine list, a short summation of the restaurant and its owners and a few good photographs is all that is needed. Send that out by snail or e-mail. Make sure you only e-mail low res but make it clear that high res are available on request.
Most reviews are often of new places, how does an old place get reviewed?
You again need to attract attention. Stage a
special dinner. Bring in a guest chef for the night. Repaint. Make sure there
is an angle of interest for the reviewer and his/her readers – then send out a
press release to media and past clients.
Reviewers: how do you spot one?
The bloke in the trench coat and silly hat. Seriously, it’s your job to recognize the prominent reviewers. Get a photo, by hook or by crook and make sure your floor staff is on the ball. BUT: in the end you can’t know the reviewer’s friends and family and others who’s opinion he/she trusts. So: Do your job to the best of your ability and the review will look after itself.
How should you treat a reviewer when you spot one in your restaurant?
If you know him/her greet them by name (just as you would a prominent person, even if he/she doesn’t know you). Then treat him/her like every other diner, don’t fawn!
What tricks can restaurants pull to get a better review?
You can try your tricks, however a good reviewer will care little what happens at his/her table and be far more interested in seeing what’s happening on all the other tables that are in view.
(change floor staff; put half of kitchen team on a reviewer’s dish; complimentary dishes; know the reviewers likes and dislike; reduce table numbers during the reviewing period – You can do all of these but I’m not so sure they’re all that effective)
What are the little things that can affect a reviewer’s visit both positively and negatively?
It’s all about being noticed positively by the reviewer. We all like to be recognized for what we do. So when you get a good review, and no doubt you deserved it, then send the reviewer a quick e-mail saying so. Something like: ‘Hey there, thanks for the terrific review. We appreciate your support.’
All we ever get is hate mail so a nice e-mail will be noticed.
What do I do if the reviewer actually gets something wrong?
You guys are all used to customer complaints, rightly or wrongly so. You deal with them and that’s I suppose what reviewers have to do as well. If something is wrong, point it out politely. If it is a severe mistake then a retraction should be printed (on the relevant page, not on page 197 at the bottom in 6point text). If it is negligible then I suggest a personal acknowledgement should be enough. Example: if the reviewer states that the serviettes are linen when they’re cotton it’s mostly irrelevant to the outcome of the dining experience. If he says there were only shoddy paper serviettes whilst there were large, linen serviettes, then that has an immediate effect on the diners’ experience and a retraction should be printed.