F**k Yelp

We are currently on hiatus until March 1st but that doesn’t mean the blog is stopping. Thanks to our friend Christa Seychew, we will have a guest post every Sunday afternoon. Today’s post is by our friend Edward Forster, you can see the previous guest posts by clicking here.

Have you ever bought a pair of Levi’s and they just didn’t fit right? You get home, you thought they were the same cut you always wear, same size that you were wearing when you bought them, even the same damn colour? For one reason or another, they just don’t work. They’re too tight on the thigh, your butt doesn’t pop like it did before, or one leg is longer than the other (the leg of the jeans, not on yours. If you have one leg longer than the other, seek the advice of a medical professional, not your local denim retailer). Anyway, something is awry. I bet you took those jeans right back from whence they came, much like the devil to hell.

Then there was that time at the nice restaurant where the service was perfect, the room was great, the wine was lovely, your date looked cute as fuck, and the apps were good, but your steak was chewy. Did you take the fucking steak back to Levi’s or did you leave the restaurant unhappy, never to return?

Buffalo is a city that loves its under dogs, its working men and women, its innovators, creators, its do gooders, and its independents. Everywhere you look there’s a local farmers market, an indie record store opening, local artist, and a new band. This is truly a city on the precipice of a great new era. We band together, arm-in-arm, to support what’s new, what is good for the city, what is local, and what we need here. But what I am proposing is individuals taking onus to help make each of us better in our own professions. We need to give the artisan/creator/chef poignant criticisms on how to improve upon their product, rather than remain silent in the shadows.anonymous

Please don’t misread. This isn’t a call for every Thom, Dick, and Larry to take to their laptops and yelp about the breakfast they had at their local diner on an open forum that will never reach the only person that can change or improve the product (and therefore the outcome) for the better. Admittedly, as a chef, I stopped reading user reviewer websites long ago. Yelp, Metromix, Timeout, Open Table—each and every last one. The positive reviews are very nice to read, but also you don’t really grow from a friend who took to the interwebs to stroke your ego. If I’m feeling low, I can easily sort out a little ego boost of my own in the privacy of my own home. The negative reviews? Well, that’s a whole ‘nother headache that could be a column of its own. In my personal history, in every city, market, restaurant, and retail market I have worked, the negative “critiques” are usually a laundry list of venomous accounts against the owner or a staff member. They are often an essay littered with inaccurate menu items and pricing. Only sometimes are they really horrifyingly bad experiences, and rightfully, these should be cited so that no one ever has to experience the whipping upon the balls and anus that the writer took that day.

However, in most cases, when an issue or problem occurs, the worst-case resolution is when a guest or customer decides to swallow it down without bringing it to the attention of the staff. If you ordered a salad and it had a hair in it, please, let someone get you a new one. I’ve eaten hair, it’s not a big deal to me., but if it makes you uncomfortable, by all means, these things occur even under the most watchful of eyes. So I am already asking someone to prepare a new salad for you, hold the hair please. You like your salmon cooked through and the chef prepares his medium rare? Okay, please allow us to cook that to your liking and bring it back to you with all the ceremony you deserve. But remember, you didn’t keep those Levi’s in your closet. You didn’t think for a moment about it. Tags still on, keys in hand, you were back at Urban Threads getting the appropriate pair for you. If something is wrong it’s wrong. Black and white.

So, in the spirit of a city bursting with creativity and new ideas, products, and even beer and vodka, we need to help each other improve. In an essay about airing valid complaints, this writer cannot simply bitch and expect the world to change. So to you, dear reader, this is the solution I can preach: Please, whenever you can, bring attention to someone who can resolve a problem for you at the time it is an issue. Be poignant about your concern and share your desired solution.

Basing your criticism on fact (rather than feeling) makes this interaction incredibly easy for all involved. For example:

Pardon me sir, I ordered this tall skinny caramel mocha almond winter spiced fro-yo latte to go instead of in a ceramic cup. Could you simply give me a to go cup?

Or for the even larger, life alerting issues, “Cutler, I ordered this lovely Flemish sour ale by Community Beer Works of my own volition. However not knowing what a Flemish sour was when I did decree my desire, I now realize that I do not, at this time in my life, like that style of beer. Could you be so kind as to suggest something similar to a traditional lager that I would enjoy?”

Now, for the solution that actually helps our community grow and develop when ideas are at their earliest and most vulnerable. I’ve spoken to a friend about developing a user/ owner interface website. The business owner would ask to be involved on the site and elicit interaction with customers regarding how to improve. The customers can suggest improvements, link to websites with solutions, or share unsavory experiences they’ve had—with anonymity if they deem necessary. Bottom line, the contact is between the guest and the owner only. The anonymity helps those who don’t want to ruffle feathers, or who wish to maintain friendships. It may even help a staff member bring to light something that is occurring while the management isn’t around. As an owner, participation may not doesn’t build your street cred (which you could speculate that it may on public sites like on yelp) and it doesn’t score you free tacos for saying that you write a blog. Instead it is a useful and direct manner for suggesting improvement to an owner or creator that can, in turn, actually improve based on information provided in the spirit of community support.

Many independent businesses do not have a section for comments on their website, nor a method of contact that allows for anonymity. With this method, Once a business signs up, perhaps they place a link on their website or put up a bespoke sign somewhere in their place of business. As a customer, if you have a valid suggestion, you can now help our community improve, rather than swear off a small business, tell all your friends, and walk away from your less-than-ideal dining experience resentful.

Say you have an affinity for beautiful cocktails but were served a bastardized version of a classic cocktail at “x” bar?  Or maybe you found your braised veal shank a bit dry? Maybe the bathroom at your favorite café was a mess and lacked any hand towels. You told an employee and the problem still wasn’t solved? Send someone who can actually enact change the information, and then choose to sign your name or not.

Now, my friends and fellow Buffalonians, the solution is in your court.

Questions? Comments? Support? Hate mail?  Dead rats? Email theworkshopbuffalo@gmail.com.

(Actually, send the dead rats to that weird uncle of yours that ruined Christmas. I wasn’t there.)

 Edward Forster is a professional chef living and working in WNY. Follow the Workshop on Facebook and Twitter to see what he’s doing next.

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