Chefs VS Bloggers Recap

Chefs VS Bloggers

from L-R: Brook Burton-Lutton, Amanda Baumgarten, Mark Peel, Kat Odell, Darnell Holloway

The Western Foodservice and Hospitality Expo is a mecca of panels, samples and wares for sale. One such panel, Chefs versus Bloggers, was sponsored by Brad Metzger Restaurant Solutions. Moderated by a service coach and food blogger, Brooke Burton-Luttman, the panel included Amanda Baumgarten from Water Grill and Mark Peel from Campanile and the Tar Pit. On the bloggers side, Kat Odell from Eater LA and Darnel Holloway from Yelp.

With the advent of the internet, online postings aren’t uncommon and the panel was to discuss how should chefs respond. It was interesting to hear Chef Amanda talk about checking yelp every couple of days whereas Chef Mark rarely did. He mentioned the one time he did, one reviewer had blasted his restaurant but then gave their local 7-11 four stars for their hot dogs. This was probably the most frustrating point for chefs. They felt the average person wasn’t qualified to review. Yet, they do and the point was how to address it.

Chef Amanda talked about inviting writers/bloggers back and hoping to turn around their experience. I have heard many marketing professionals doing the same. Sometimes it’s a successful strategy and what was interesting was hearing how some people take it back. I think the difference between writing about something and talking directly to someone at the restaurant is that people tend to be more shy about their opinions verbally. Yes, people do hide behind a computer sometimes.

Some questions presented to Kat and Darnell were about fact checking and posting accurate stories. Questions from the audience reiterated these points. A restaurant owner questioned how do you get someone to remove a post from yelp when it’s obvious it wasn’t about their restaurant? Brook had co-written the ethics to food blogging that wasn’t discussed during the panel. What stood out to  me was asking people to act like journalists even when they weren’t. The problem is most people have no idea what journalistic integrity is. In the Food Blog Code of Ethics, version 2.0, they seem to be more precise about what they want people to recognize- that if you put something out there, you are responsible for it.

A couple of reviews were read aloud about Melisse Restaurant. One had been filtered by the yelp system and one wasn’t. They were similar users. Both had very few reviews and didn’t seem active. I could tell which one was filtered right away. It seemed to all-positive. But at the same time, I questioned if it was actually for Melisse. I don’t recall the menu items the reviewer talked about or a interior design feature. The other was more typical of yelp reviews I’ve read. It was really more of a soft-core homage. Some yelpers think of themselves are writers or humorists. It definitely seemed more human. But what it lacked was a certain professionalism of a food critic. That’s because they’re not a professional restaurant reviewer. Should they be accountable to write a good review? They’re not being paid to do so. I felt there wasn’t anything wrong with the review. It may not be useful but it was definitely funny and cool, two of the other things you can vote for on a yelp review. We were spending too much time debating the finer points of individual cases.

Moving on, the panel didn’t seem to have a natural conclusion. We were running out of time and there probably can be a 3-day conference on chefs versus bloggers and food blogging ethics. The audience was later invited to ask their individual questions after the panel.

What I really wanted to know was what to do after a bad experience. I get that a restaurant probably only wants positive reviews. But actually Chef Amanda said it was good to get real  feedback because they can improve upon things. She gets a kick out of turning someone’s opinion around about her restaurant. Chef Mark had been asked about the Tar Pit vs LAist debacle. The situation was explained to the audience and he stated he shouldn’t have responded in the way he did. But he did because he felt someone was attacking his kids.

Later, an audience member (who is in the Industry) was telling a story about getting a glass of wine at a “celebrity chef” restaurant in Beverly Hills. He was charged $32 for the glass and when asked about his experience on his way out, he decided to speak to a manager. Who was rude to him– saying these were Beverly Hills prices. Later he wrote about all of it on his Facebook page. And the whole thing got back to the celebrity chef. His response? The chef had to side with his restaurant– clearly showing a lack of understanding not just for the situation but lack of respect for a member of the Industry. This is not what hospitality is about.

I thought this was rather ironic. Although he was not a blogger, he used the internet to air his story and there was no happy conclusion to the story.

After the panel, I found myself getting drinks with Chefs Amanda and Mark. He pulled up my blog on his phone at the table and I feared for a real Chef versus Blogger moment but there was none.

As I said, the debate is endless and ongoing much like how much should you tip? For the most part, I like to be positive. There have been a few instances where I’ve been upset and wrote about them– causing further drama that I didn’t want to deal with. Brooke was right about being responsible for what you put out there. I will always stand by what I put out there. I just hope it does something, whether it’s a restaurant adjusting their ways or helps a future diner pick where to eat.

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