to review or not to review …

So there’s been quite a bit of chatter about my Metromix review of Dante that appeared several days ago – good and bad. I’ve received a ton of e-mail on the subject, and various people in various mediums have weighed in. And in all honesty, I can’t see what all the fuss is about. And trust me, for those that don’t know me, I really try to see situations from all sides and have no problem admitting when I’m wrong or have made a mistake. But here, I find this kind of silly. So here we go for one last time …

First, the facts. We ate at Dante last Saturday night at 7 p.m. (everyone was on time). We ordered by 7:30. It was after 9 when we got our first course and they were done serving by 10:30 (we had to ask for our dessert to go). Jamie ordered the tasting (which is included in the review); the rest of the party had a variety of items. Our server never said the tastings can take longer and instead told us he’d talk with the chef about bringing a few of the tastings out at the same time so we’d all eat together. Service was slow. We expected to wait, but this was really long. And it wasn’t the wait so much that really even bothered us, but that neither our server or the GM talked to us – and we asked several times. That’s what my complaint was, that there was poor communication. And don’t tell me it’s opening week, because no one needs to be trained to say I’m sorry, the food is coming, they are really backed up, anything. I used to be the world’s worst server and I knew every excuse in the book to tell my tables (truth be told I always forgot to put the check in – like I said, I was a crappy server). And we watched other people come and go. The only thing communicated to us was a smile, shrug and at one point we were told they were shucking our oysters, only to come back 30 mins later and say they were another tables.

And the funny thing is, the server knew I was there for Metromix – not that that matters one bit and not that I ever expect anything different because of it. I’m just saying he knew because I asked him a ton of questions when we got there and explained to him why.

In my review, I clearly said it was opening week. I also clearly stated that I have no doubt these hiccups will very soon work out and encouraged everyone to go. I also said in general, that our server was great and that we have had him many times before. Further, I said the food was good! Oh, and did I mention that I encouraged others to go and offered the disclaimer of when the review took place?

So again I ask you, why all the fuss? Should I have lied and said food came out swift and that I didn’t receive a wrong dish? Is that what you expect when you read reviews, details omitted? I don’t think Metromix does, who pays me to review places on their behalf. Just the opposite – they expect full honesty, which is why I enjoy writing for them so much. Contrary, I decided no longer to freelance for Cleveland Magazine because I learned this is not something everyone values.

The question of whether or not media/bloggers should review restaurants this soon after opening keeps popping up.  And I most certainly can see valid points from all sides. But it doesn’t matter what you want, the reality is that because of social media, people are sharing their experiences these days right from the dinner table! At one point, media may have gone several times before they review, but that’s not the case anymore. Social media is a good thing and shouldn’t scare off restaurants, chefs – or anyone. Those that learn to embrace it will find it can be a powerful tool to engage with your customers. Those that choose to ignore it are in for a long battle. It’s part of our daily lives now. I’m not talking out of my ass here; this is a subject I know very well. It’s what I do for a living. People have always talked – word of mouth is the oldest form of advertising. People are still doing the same thing, just now they have a new medium to share and the speed is greater than we have ever experienced. This proves to be a great opportunity – chefs, business owners, etc. can listen to the conversation and have a direct line with their customers. Know what’s being said about you and why, learn from it and engage. I promise you, the benefits are endless.

All that being said, I do fully agree that it can still be tricky to review a place during opening week. People are learning a system and how to work together – I get that. It takes time and waits could be off and checks may be incorrect. I’ll give anyone a pass for all of this during the first few months of opening.  Heck, I don’t care if you have been open for years, I’ll always give a restaurant one free pass on service because I know how lousy I was at it (it’s repeated mistakes when I opt not to go back). This is why I clearly stated when we went and put it in context for readers. But what I think is fair game to judge right out of the gate is the food and décor. If you’re not quite yet comfortable with your food and think there is a possibility that people will find fault, then don’t open! But if you are open for business and charging full prices for food, then the food should be what you are hoping it is and it’s fair to review. We all make mistakes. I screw up constantly and there’s no shortage of people waiting to tell me. But if you’re open for business and charging away, then I think it’s totally fair to review (again – with the caveat that I do think service is the one exception).

Bottom line, I was a regular at the old Dante and plan to make numerous visits at the new location through the years. I think Dante himself is very talented and we’re lucky to have him back in Cleveland (and he’s a fellow Italian so automatic points for that). And you should go as well. I have no doubt that you won’t have anything but a wonderful experience. But I am always going to be honest. Period. And it sounds like Dante’s team has already learned from this, which is the point. So it should be nothing but happy eating from here on out.

11 Comments

  1. Kelly
    Posted January 24, 2010 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Well said.
    I want to try the new Dante and I still will, even after your review. I appreciate and value your honesty and opinion on a variety of restaurants in Cleveland. What’s all the fuss? Keep up your amazing work, Michelle!

  2. monica ferrari
    Posted January 24, 2010 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Michelle,
    much ado about nothing…
    Hope to see you back at the restaurant soon, and hopefully everything will be just as it should be.
    All the very best,
    Monica Ferrari
    (or Mrs.Dante)

  3. Posted January 24, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    you 100% did the right thing, i would have done exactly the same thing. you were more than complimentary of the food and in my opinion you could have been a lot more harsh in regard to the slow food service.

    saying your sorry, having the GM come to the table or simply comping a dessert goes a LONG way.

  4. Posted January 24, 2010 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    crossing my fingers there is some kind of calamari there! I loved the lime one from the old restaurant.

  5. Posted January 24, 2010 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    I really do appreciate your honesty, and do not think poorly of you or the restaurant for doing so. For example…We went to L’Albatros on opening night and experienced a few kinks but look where they are now!

    Keep doing what you’re doing.

  6. Posted January 25, 2010 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    Cheers to that!

  7. Joanne
    Posted January 25, 2010 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Given that I was with you and actually experienced the almost four hour dinner, I think your review was dead on. The whole point of a review should be to spotlight the good AND the bad.

    My food was solid but I wasn’t amazed and I’ll wait a good six months or longer before trying it again and hope they’ve worked out all the kinks.

  8. Posted January 25, 2010 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    @ Allison – there is a wonderful calamari with rock shrimp dish; you will love it.

    Glad to see everyone is moving on.

  9. Darla
    Posted January 25, 2010 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    @ Nancy – I couldn’t agree with you more, on both points :)

  10. Jennie
    Posted January 26, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    All of the fuss means a lot of people are reading what you write, regardless of if they have a bone to pick with what you say or not! kudos for a well written and honest review. I still plan on checking out Dante sometime soon.

  11. Jessica
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

    We had the misfortune of dining at Dante New Year’s Eve a year ago the night before they closed the old location. We had nearly the exact situation that you did – slow slow slow and ridiculously awful communication – it almost felt like a really bad joke was being played on us. The food was actually delicious save for a really bad shrimp pasta dish. We never made it to dinner. Someone finally tried to bring it out around 11 (our res was for 8) and we asked for the bill instead. The “manager” comped one member of our party but those of us who paid cash got screwed. I actually will never bother with the new place – too many other great and exciting places to eat in the area. Of course restaurants have off nights. Nonetheless, that experience turned me off. I wish him luck with his new location.