|Point-Counterpoint: Yelp review gone amuck|
A heated debate took place last week in the blogosphere over a review posted to Yelp about a Scottsdale, Arizona based restaurant. Dine & Cook's editorial team invited both parties involved to present what happened in their words.
After a negative review placed by local blogger Joel LaTondress on Amy's Baking Company was uploaded, the owners of the business responded back in force. The incident went viral, making headines both locally and around the country.
The review by LaTondress read:
In retrospect, I should have known better than to step foot into Amy's Baking Company (a.k.a. ABC Bistro).
-8 pm on a Saturday night, three tables are occupied
-a sign on the door indicates they're looking for an experienced line cook, a dishwasher, waitresses, you name it
-Pita Jungle, just a stone's throw away, is packed to the gills
These are all bad signs. They go ignored, however, because I'd eaten one thing all day, and I had drove here to try their pizza. Never, ever again.
The waitress brings me out a water and a menu to my table for one on the patio, which I had all to myself. Browsing the apps, I was pleasantly surprised to see several things priced $3, which seemed like a bargain, given the high price of everything else. $3 tapanade sounded like a good deal, but I was informed that it didn't come with anything - it was $3 extra for bread. Since I was solo, I decided to skip it and instead pay $14 for their 12" margherita pizza.
About three minutes later, the waitress drops off my pizza. "Your pizza", she says, leaves a plate and off she goes. I sat for a moment, confused as to how things happened so quickly. I try to grab a slice of the pizza, but it was so blazing hot that I wasn't even going to attempt to handle it. I waited for a few minutes to let it cool off, only to discover that not only had it cooled enough to handle, but was actually well-cooled and most likely reheated. After a closer inspection of the pie in front of me, it was evident that it had been reheated, as there were smaller tomatoes that had spent their time in the oven, and larger tomatoes that had barely been kissed by the heat of the oven.
I took a bite, and was immediately underwhelmed. The crust had very little character, was slightly sweet but had that store-bought quality to it. The pesto tasted okay, but the tomatoes were completely tasteless and overall, it just fell flat. It's margherita - the ingredients need to shine to make such a simple pizza. These ingredients were sub-par. After two small pieces, I decided I was wasting my calories and just gave up on it.
So I sat outside, not eating, and sat. And sat. Where the hell was the waitress? I glanced inside a few times, hoping to catch her eye, but she must have been occupied elsewhere.
The owner comes out. "How'd you like your pizza?" Instead of immediately responding, I asked how it had come out so quickly. In short, he told me another table had ordered it, decided they didn't want it, and it sat in the kitchen for two minutes, who in turn decided to send it out to me since I didn't order anything else.
Me: "Well, it didn't really taste fresh".
Him: "No, no, our pizzas are the best. Ask our customers. You're the first person since we've opened to ever not like our pizzas".
He got very defensive about the pizza, but I hadn't really launched a harsh criticism on the pizza, just said I didn't really enjoy it. So I sat some more, with an empty drink, and realized they wanted me gone. The owner wouldn't make eye contact with me. The server never came back out asking if I wanted something else. And they still hadn't refilled my drink.
So I sat on a patio, alone, and decided to have a smoke. The waitress comes out...
Her: "Sir, there's a no smoking sign over there, I was told to tell you to not to smoke here."
Me: "Is this the last f*** you in this experience?"
Her: "Yes, I think so".
She walks away. I walk inside, pay the bill, and leave. No apologies, no discounts on the bill, nothing. $18 for weak iced tea and shitty pizza.
This is arrogance in its worst form. I can forgive bad food, but I cannot forgive misplaced arrogance and the blatant dismissal of a customer, whether you agree with them or not.
Perhaps the sign on the door should also say, "Wanted: New owner".
I cannot, for the life of me, recommend this restaurant to anyone.
A day later, the owners of Amy's Baking Company posted a response to the review by LaTondress:
Dear Joel,L. It is blatantly obvious to me why you were ALONE on a Saturday night!
Read any of the reviews that have been written about us and you will see that EVERYONE loves us!! The only people that don't is our "Competition". We knew you had been sent by another restaurant before you even ordered your $14.00 Pizza.
The Pizza was fresh and amazing. The reason the tomatoes had different texture was because I use three different heirloom tomatoes and some of them are sundried. So of course they are going to have a different texture from the fresh ones!!!
But perhaps you are only accustomed to tasting the ones that come "fresh from the can!"
Moving on to the "Store bought Dough" Comment. PLEASE!! My dough is made fresh every day from 100% organic ingredients. Perhaps your palate is not sophisticated enough to tell the difference.
As for you having the Patio all to yourself unless you have been living on another PLANET it is summertime in ARIZONA MORON!!! Only TRAMPS and LOSERS want to sit outside in 110 temperatures!!!!
We are hiring because we are so busy that we need to hire more people. You just so happened to come right after a huge rush. And the people did not change their mind for the Margarita Pizza they ordered. They were still enjoying their amazing Caesar salad and I thought perhaps you would appreciate not having to wait so long for your pizza. Which was just coming out of the OVEN.
I am the CHEF and the owner, and I am the one that made your Pizza.
As for the no smoking comment everyone knows that it is against the LAW to smoke within 20 feet of a public place. But perhaps you think you are above the LAW. Have a little respect not everyone wants to subject themselves to being around second hand smoke.
And as for the overpriced menu items if you think that $12.00 is too much for an ENTRÉE sized ORGANIC Salad or $14.00 is too much for an AMAZING Pizza then perhaps you should go to the PITA JUNGLE that is just a stone's throw away. And if you get lucky maybe you can even dig up someone up to take with you so you can share a $5.00 Falafel.
Do US a favor and keep your ugly face and you ugly opinions to yourself and go back to the restaurant that you really work at!!
I would LOVE for anyone who reads this review to come to ABC and try our Pizza. If you don't like it then I guarantee you don't have to pay for it.
Dine & Cook reached out to both parties involved to present in their words what happened. We have not edited their words or tried to influence them in any way. Both were unaware that the other side was writing about their experience until just before publication. Our editorial team determined that LaTondress should present his side first since it was his comments that sparked the incident.
In his words: Joel LaTondress
I think that within the realm of “foodies” (a term I loathe, but I’ll save that rant), I fall within two standard deviations from the mean. I love experimenting in the kitchen at home, re-creating classics, tinkering with new recipes, and occasionally planning a meal around something cooked sous vide. I have an entire cabinet dedicated to cookbooks, with everything from fondue recipes to an autographed copy of Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc. I’ve never cooked professionally, unless you count a six hour stage at an acclaimed fine dining restaurant where I picked herbs, made beurre blanc and cooked crab cakes and escargot on the line. I also dine out a lot, so inevitably, when I talk to someone that I haven’t seen in a while, the question is asked, “Been to any new places lately?”
I also happen to write about food online, being a regular contributor to the Phoenix board on Chowhound and part of the Yelp Elite squad. I started a blog last year focused on single-serving recipes (onefordinner.com), but my primary outlet to discuss all things food-related is still Chowhound and Yelp. There have been a great number of in-real-life friendships that I have formed while discussing cocktails, new restaurants, or even debating the merits of Pizzeria Bianco on the web.
In the roughly two years that I’ve used Yelp to post “reviews”, the topic that has generated the most discussion was the simple fact that that I was using it at all. It seems that most food bloggers decry Yelp and its for-profit business model, arguing that their use of advertising, disappearing reviews and even reported guerrilla-marketing tactics prevent it from being a truly democratic system where the cream, based on its own merits, truly rises to the top. While all perfectly legitimate points and issues I’ve also struggled with as a user, the simple fact remains: if you’re considering going to a restaurant and you type the name into a search engine, Yelp is near the top of the results, and to help supplement its popularity, also offers to mobile applications for both Android and iPhone. My goal, as a user, is to bring useful content to site while supporting locally-owned business.
But nothing I have ever written on Yelp has generated as much online discussion as a recent post on Amy’s Baking Company, a Scottsdale bistro I visited to try their pizza, having read good things about it online. After receiving a disappointing margherita pizza and even worse service, I posted my narrative of the meal online the next day, something I’ve done countless times in the past. The owners of the establishment lashed out at me, in the form of a five-star self-review, in which they attacked me personally, called me names, and made false accusations about my intentions at their restaurant. The debate was picked up by a local food blog Chow Bella, the local news called for an interview, and the piece even made it on Google News a couple of days later.
What is clear to me through this situation is that some businesses are still completely clueless when it comes to social media in general. After I wrote about a local taco joint several months ago, they saw an uptick in their business after becoming the #1 bookmarked business on Yelp. When the owner was asked about the state of her business, a mysterious figure known as “Mr. Yelp” was attributed to the recent referral program for her tacos. While I gave the business praise after a few visits, I have found that it is somewhat inconsistent in quality, but still very much a business that I enjoy and support. After the “Mr. Yelp” theory was debunked, the owner has been appreciative of the pictures and short review that I posted, but really, she’s the one making the tacos, paying the bills, and sitting behind the counter when no one is there. All I did was write a few hundred words about her.
I like stories like that, because it’s a clear example of how social media can work positively. Her business, like many others, will never be on the radar of the traditional critic, so it falls on word-of-mouth and social media to drive traffic to her doors. Conversely, in the situation with Amy’s Baking Company, the online rant and statement that “people can’t just write anything about us” shows how little they know about tools like Yelp, because it goes against its very premise. No business in the world is going to please every customer, whether you agree with them or not, and most certainly, not every customer is right. But people are already talking about your business, whether they write about it online or not, so embracing that fact, it’s the owners’ job to focus on their core competencies, focus on their customer, and embrace the notion of continuous improvement.
Particularly for food people, it’s important to remember the “social” aspect of social media – it brings people to the same table, to have conversations, to interact and to develop relationships. It’s more than just a meal for us - it’s a chance to engage in something that we’re all passionate about. So whether it’s a blog post, a Yelp review, a thread on Chowhound, or even a tweet, the conversation is already taking place. We all just have to learn how to mind our manners.
In their words: Amy's Baking Co.
I sincerely appreciate the unbiased opportunity to allow my true voice to be heard. They say that there are always three sides to a story their side, our side, and the truth.
This is my side.
From the moment Joel walked into our restaurant on Saturday night he was rude. He insulted my husband by forcefully pushing his pizza plate across the table. He verbally insulted our 18 year old waitress by saying profanities at her. He was obviously trying to hustle us out of a free pizza. He complained that a $3 olive tapenade did not come with anything and when he realized that the Italian flat bread was an additional $3 he then decided on ordering a pizza.
The pizza was not reheated; I have never sent anything out of that kitchen to a customer that is not fresh. Upon arriving home on Sunday night I received a provoking email through our website from Joel reading “I hope that $18 was worth it” with an attachment of the YELP review.
I was furious that someone would lie and say things that were so blatantly untrue and insulting I responded. If I sincerely believed that Joel had come to our restaurant that evening with an open heart and good intentions and really did not care for the food I would have never responded. I would have accepted the fact that some people may or may not like my food and leave it at that. However it was his attitude and demeanor during the entire evening, followed by the rude email that made my husband and I realize that this person purposely came that evening to try to harass us.
Or to get a free dinner.
I would like to be perfectly clear here, I would not change anything that I did .I responded truthfully. I stood up to someone who was trying and is still continuing to slander the business that my husband and I have worked hard for. The verbal attacks that I have received have been completely out of line. I think it was incredibly low for Martin Cizmar from New Times to post my Criminal history on line. I find it mildly amusing that people actually think I have nothing better to do with my time than to sit at the computer and make up fake screen names to post fake reviews. All anyone needs to do is pull up our restaurant history before this entire situation happened to see that we have only ever had great reviews.
I have received death threats, hate mail, horrific emails and phone messages from people who clearly lack and understanding of this situation.
There is a society of Elite YELP reviewers that obviously have nothing better to do with their time than to go from one restaurant to another criticizing. These people clearly have no idea what it means to own a restaurant or the amount of work that goes into it. I have received numerous calls from other business owners telling me of similar situations they have had where people have tried to get free services or meals by threatening to write a bad review.
Of course I became defensive when Joel tried to say slanderous things about my husband and I. YELP and other Blogs that allow people to hide behind a screen name and computer screen are trying to become the new MAFIA. These people have no balls.
The only thing they are good at is hiding behind a computer screen. If they have a valid complaint then that complaint should be addressed at the time. A business owner should not be in fear of being extorted by someone who will write a slanderous bad review about them, if they don’t receive a discount or a free meal. No the customer is NOT always right.
Fortunately this has not hurt our business; the intelligent people have formed their own decisions and are open to give us a try. We are supported by our loyal customers and have received new ones who after trying us realize that we are telling the truth.
There are still slanderous lies that are being posted on YELP and other Blogs from people claiming to have been in our restaurant .I contacted YELP and asked them to remove the fake reviews but they stand behind the reviewers. We have had customers who have tried to post real reviews on YELP but have received emails from YELP informing them that the reviews would be removed because they think it is me.
I would like for the people who are posting fake reviews to produce a receipt form being in our restaurant.
For all of those people who think I have damaged my business so badly that I will close my doors. All I can say is that time will tell. But for now we are still here, serving great food to happy customers. All of the HATERS can stay home hiding behind their computer screens.
Amy & Samy Bouzaglo