Restaurants vs. Bloggers: Rage Against the Machine

"Sometimes [people] have this idea that a restaurant like Le Cirque doesn't need the kind of person who looks at blogs. We do need those people," he said. "You pay attention and you try to polish your service."

Recently, writers of the blog NYCNosh commented on a restaurant's menu item -- a braised bok choi accompaniment to a main dish, saying it had too much sauce.

The chef e-mailed a response to NYCNosh's writers.

"He said, 'You're right. I never thought about it. I'll change it tonight,'" said Nosher, who would not reveal his real name. Nosher runs the site with his cohort, Hungry Man.

When the pair returned to the restaurant, the dish had been changed.

"We know they're responding to criticism," Nosher said of chefs.

Nosher thinks blogs can be a resource for chefs and restaurants, rather than a hindrance.

"I can see how a chef can be sensitive about what's being said about his or her food. … I can sympathize about that," he said. "This is really an opportunity to learn what people in their restaurants [think]. They overlook at their peril. … Only a foolish person wouldn't pay attention to it. … We take very great efforts [to] pay attention, especially if we say something negative, and we offer some kind of information that would help the restaurant or the chef to overcome it."

Should Personal Blogs Wield Power?

But not everyone in the restaurant industry feels that way, particularly because personal food blogs, unlike magazines and newspapers, are often unedited and, some say, come from an ill-informed point of view.

Food Network staple and Croc-wearing celebrity chef Mario Batali, who rules over a small empire of Italian restaurants in New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas, has been outspoken about his dislike for food blogs.

Like Batali, Chicago-based gourmand-chef-TV-personality Rick Bayless, who runs Topolobampo and Frontera Grill, is no stranger to criticism emanating from the Internet.

In 2003, Bayless was skewered by blogs and the mainstream media for hawking chicken sandwiches in national Burger King commercials. On sites like Yelp and Chowhound, anonymous critics sounded off that Bayless' restaurants no longer had great service.

Not that Bayless would know that people were saying these things.

"I don't read them," Bayless said of blogs. "Once a year I will go onto a number of local sites just to read [through] them really fast. … If I see consistency in comments, then I'll start to take note. … I could list more problems in our restaurants than anything you could see in those blogs."

While Bayless doesn't disagree with the fact that food blogs may be wildly entertaining for the people who write and read them, he said he didn't believe they had a lot of value.

"Clearly there are people who know what they're talking about and people who don't know what they're talking about," he said. "The Internet is totally democratic in that regard, but it doesn't mean that everyone has to read it, and I certainly don't."

Bayless contends that food criticism is very difficult to write and not for everyone, even if they do have a high-speed Internet connection.

But Pim Techamuanvivit, the mastermind behind Chez Pim, a San Francisco-based site that's been around since 2001, practically the Stone Age for food blogs, thinks that's just ego talking.

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