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"We are now in an era of food critics being everywhere",  KnifeofBrian talks criticism in the catering industry.

With review websites, food bloggers and of course, social media, chefs and restaurants can be provided with online feedback (good or bad) in seconds. Chef and blogger KnifeofBrian talks about judgement in the hospitality industry.

We are now in an era of food critics being everywhere. Anyone who has a smartphone can praise or annihilate a chef or establishment in a single statement. The hospitality industry has become more challenging, difficult and stressful.

peopleonphonesatrestauranmtThere are few careers where absolutely anyone can make a judgement on your skill based on their own ability or expectation. For instance, I would never critique a plasterer on the colour of his overalls or the choice of music on his radio. But these are areas which will regularly turn up in restaurant reviews.

Yes. I know it’s a different thing/experience. But my point is, the expected level of criticism is higher in the catering sector. The whole experience is judged, not just the result or end product.

Don’t Just criticise.

Under pressure

Being a chef has always been a high-pressure job. Taking ownership of our work and putting your heart and soul into a business of any description is hard enough. Setting up to try and please the majority. It’s never nice to receive negative feedback. Some people thrive on trolling restaurants, with delusions of being a feared Times reviewer. They live in hope that a column in a food monthly supplement will be theirs any day. Or even, the holy grail of critique, a judge on MasterChef or Bake Off.

This post is not about bashing the general public. They are our lifeline, our (gluten-free) bread and butter and our saviours. But after having a few nights of rotten sleep filled with dreams about angry customers, I felt compelled to write this.

reviewing restaurants

I wanted to give an insight into the how the chef and front of house staff react to reviews and criticism. Now, I don’t like confrontation. I can handle it, I just prefer focused and rational conversation. But when a customer has an issue, it will rarely end with them saying “yeah, I get your point, you’re right. I’m wrong. Sorry!”

In fact. THAT HAS NEVER HAPPENED. I have been on both sides of the conversation. In both cases, I made the swift decisions to back down, because I knew the person I was talking to was an idiot. I mean, some battles are just not worth fighting.

Obviously, not all customers get it wrong. Some, in fact, most get it right. Especially here in the UK. Brits can complain very well and articulately. This gets issues resolved without fuss. It’s the customers who smile and slide away saying nothing, then to go home and become a keyboard sniper assassin. Punching up a 1-star review because they were sat next to a noisy table or the restaurant was too busy.

Customer reviews

Chefs mostly take issue with sites like TripAdvisor. The simplest reason for this is not the reviews. It’s the anonymity of it. Hidden behind a tropical beach scene avatar, P3n15fays4 can leave a review, good or bad, without being seen. Shooting from range. That is so frustrating. Who are you? When were you in? Are you a real person or are you the owner of a rival pub?

As for the actual professional critics *smiles big* “I love you. Hello!” I have the utmost respect for those who do this full time. Those who dare to offer up unsponsored reviews and take pride in their smartphone food-photography as much as they do their literacy skills. There are some cringe-worthy reviewers out there who should not be let near food. Leaving reviews which leave chefs and restauranteurs scratching their heads. A clearly “phoned in” review which has been copied and pasted like a lazy adolescent’s history homework. Accompanied by a photo taken on a vintage blackberry phone with a greasy lens.

Responding to criticism

We are in a world of free speech, opinions and constant judgements. Some chefs are brilliant at fighting back, some use sassiness, some use their wit. I’m always impressed with Gary Usher’s responses to TA reviews. I don’t always agree, but I respect his fire! Some just retaliate with boldface aggression. Some, like me, just turn to passive-aggressive blogging to vent.

I can tell you now that chefs themselves are the most aggressive food critics. There are certain Facebook Chef forum pages, where I would never dare post a food photograph. I’ve seen some dishes which look amazing, get ripped apart by a troll chef in the comments section. I avoid these types of pages. I’m not that type of chef. Support and encourage. If you’ve got nothing good to say, then don’t say anything.

As chefs, we don’t earn footballer salaries. We don’t all have a TV series, cookbooks or column in a glossy magazine/website. A lot of us earn minimum wage or less due to hours worked. We put ourselves out there because we want to be accessible. A proud chef wants to see the customers enjoy their food. It rips us to the core when someone has an issue with a meal. It’s a little ironic that I write this as I’m about to head off to a cookery competition. Quite literally the lion’s den of food criticism. But this is a different realm altogether. I will be covering this in my next blog.

A good chef who cares, will lose sleep over it too. So be nice. Chefs are human too….allegedly.

Brian Powlett, KnifeofBrian
Brian Powlett, KnifeofBrian

Knife of Brian is head chef at the Greyhound Ipswich and Knife of Brian Cookery & Catering. He supports CALM (campaign against living miserably) male suicide charity and has just finished his first pop up event at the Suffolk Show and would be a gigolo if he wasn't a chef.

For more blogs like this from Knife of Brian visit his website

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 7th April 2018

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