Biting the hand you feed

How likely am I to dine at Ken’s Place? Not nearly as much as I might have been before I saw Chef Ken’s screed in the comments to his restaurant’s review on Portland Food & Drink.

I can understand feeling offended when your pride & joy is criticized. But to go on the attack with a guy who’s been a paying customer in your restaurant? Well, that’s just a bad PR move, for starters. And it left a nasty taste in my mouth.

From Ken’s comment:

Who is this ìFood Dude?î Who is he accountable to and what is his background and training, and who enforces his objectivity?

If he’d spent a little time poking around FoodDude’s site before launching his rant, he’d have discovered that the guy spends a ton of time and money dining out around town (his triple digit dining bill for last week alone almost knocked me off my chair.) His reviews are based on several visits, and start with the premise that the experience will be a pleasant one. His critiques are velvet gloved, and I know he’s pulled punches that might sorta maybe approach the suckerpunch realm. (I wouldn’t have been as kind…)

But, most importantly, he’s the guy who paid his tab at the end of the night. He’s the guy who’s already promised to pay more tabs in the future, in hopes that things will be better. He’s your customer.

Do you really want to be calling him out in front of several hundred people – many who could care less about what ‘professional’ restaurant reviewers have to say? Wouldn’t it have been much more gracious to say this?

I’m sorry your recent experiences here weren’t good ones. While we strive to make each meal enjoyable, occasionally we may miss the mark. Please let us know next time if something isn’t to your liking, and we’ll do our best to remedy the situation. We hope to see you again at Ken’s Place.

Here’s a simple truth: You don’t bite the hand that you feed. Especially when there’s an audience paying attention.

To be fair, it does appear that FoodDude and Ken have had several subsequent email conversations and come to a meeting of the minds (although Ken might want to think about deleting the screed, as it reflects poorly on him.) And it’s also fair to note that FoodDude is a friend of mine – even though he might characterize it as a stalker/stalkee relationship and has NOT asked me to write about this (and no, I’m not going to tell anyone who he is or what he looks like…)

And just in case I need to post my CV? Years working in restaurants, years as a reviewer (although not food) for mainstream pubs, not to mention several additional years spent marinating in media outlets. And – oh yeah – that time spent working for a PR firm.

(Ken – feel free to adapt that and use it from now on. No charge…)

11 Comments so far

  1. ExtraMSG (unregistered) on October 30th, 2005 @ 5:27 pm

    They’re fair questions, though, truly. Food Dude goes out of his way (now, since his previous blog used his name) to remain anonymous. Not just anonymous in the sense that when he goes into a restaurant he uses a false name or doesn’t put pictures up so that chefs don’t know who he is, etc. He puts no information whatsoever about himself on the internet. As far as we know, Food Dude could work for Cafe Castagna down the street and have an interest in Ken’s Place’s demise. I don’t believe that’s true, but it’s possible. He could be related to someone who got fired by Ken and have a grudge, etc.

    I just got done reading an email from a friend who has been involved in a controversy in his blogger community because a few people created a blog and posted very emotional, but fake, stories that in turn induced others to post honest personal stories, etc. Over several months a whole community built up around a fake blog. Food Dude, for all we truly know, could be doing the same. He could be faking all his reviews.

    The internet is a shield that can be used for good and ill. Ken is essentially asking why we should give Food Dude any credibility when he has no one he must answer to. Seems like a fair question.

    Personally, I found that review of Food Dude’s to be one of his less credible, not just because I like the food at Ken’s Place, but because I think it was one of his more poorly written, lacking much description. To me, it almost sounded like a second-hand account. Ken follows what you quoted him as saying with just this point.

    I still don’t get why people think that someone shouldn’t be able to truly defend their business. Ken obviously doesn’t think he missed the mark, or at least doesn’t miss the mark consistently enough to warrant a bad review, so why shouldn’t he defend himself? PR? So you’re just saying he should put self-interest before truth, money before honesty. Maybe that would be smart. But it seems wrong, then, for a reasonable, fair-minded person to then chastize him for putting truth before economics. I wish more restauranteurs and chefs (and others) felt they could just talk openly and honestly and not have to worry about political correctness.

  2. Betsy (unregistered) on October 30th, 2005 @ 9:01 pm

    The point I’m making here is that it’s often wise to stop and take in the whole context (or take a deep breath) before shooting off one’s mouth. There were different avenues Ken could have taken that wouldn’t have caused him to sacrifice his integrity or his honesty, (and it would have accomplished the side bonus of enhancing the reputation he felt had been besmirched.)

    It would have been smarter for him to investigate those avenues first (emailing Food Dude directly, spending some time exploring the site, posting a version of the note I drafted, asking you about him, etc.) before posting the comment he did.

    It’s also clear to anyone reading the site with more than a cursory glance that FD’s not in anyone’s pocket, nor does he have a hidden agenda. I know that you feel his anonymity is a liability – but there are many of us who find it just one more reason to find his reviews that much more credible, as the discussion on his site clearly illustrates.

    And I’m not talking about enforcing political correctness – instead, it’s simply good customer service. There’s a difference…

  3. ExtraMSG (unregistered) on October 30th, 2005 @ 10:26 pm

    But you’ve said more than that, Betsy. You’ve said that you found it personally offensive, that it “left a bad taste in your mouth.”

    Of course it’s a questionable PR move. But I think that says more about us as a society — that we are so ready to punish openess. You see it in politics and business all the time. Hell, you see it here.

    We’ve had several arguments on here about whether a person should patronize a store where the owners disagrees with them politically. In other words, the “smart” or “clever” — some might say sneaky or sly — owner hides his personal feelings, his politics, etc. Better to nod and smile than take the chance you might offend.

    It’s a sad state. People shouldn’t be afraid to have opinions, to have their opinions challenged, or to challenge others’ opinions.

    (An irony in all this, btw, is that if employers took this approach with employees they would be vilified and boycotted for that, too. Customers, apparently, are right to not send their money to companies that disagree with them or disagree with a customer publicly, but if an employee were to disagree politically with their employer or were to publicly complain about their employer, they would be honored, and if they were fired, the company would take the heat.)

  4. ExtraMSG (unregistered) on October 30th, 2005 @ 10:31 pm

    PS: I don’t think I’ve said anything about FD’s anonymity being a liability for him. My arguments about anonymity have more been along the lines that lack of anonymity isn’t necessarily a liability. Hell, most of the time I’m essentially anonymous. I know some people have an unrealistic notion of the importance of the blogosphere, but I don’t. My readers are a drop in the bucket. Even a Portland Mercury writer has more power and prominence than me.

  5. Mikey (unregistered) on October 31st, 2005 @ 1:21 am

    When Ken writes “Who is this ìFood Dude? Who is he accountable to and what is his background and training, and who enforces his objectivity?” he isn’t just questioning a bad review, he’s questioning citizen journalism and bloggers. Heck, he’s questioning YOU ExtraMSG. The idea that only a “paid” writer is a real writer is pretty silly these days.

    Food Dude is accountable to his readers. His background and training are in his archives, published, for everyone to see. And his readers enforce his objectivity.

    Ken’s attack on his credibility is hypocritical. If Food Dude lacked credibility, then why does Ken feel a need to respond? Obviously it’s because Ken knows that people read and react to what Food Dude says. And people do that because they trust him.

    Ken’s dismissal of bloggers, and subsequent attack on the form is what leaves the bad taste in my mouth.

  6. Betsy (unregistered) on October 31st, 2005 @ 6:22 am

    I have nothing against “openness”, and that’s not what’s at issue here. I’m objecting to the guy’s attitude, which was condescending, rude, and insulting to someone who’d just shelled out a ton of money eating at his restaurant, no less.

    It’s not what he said – it’s how he said it. And reacting to that isn’t punishing ‘openness’ – it’s recognizing bad form, is all.

  7. ExtraMSG (unregistered) on October 31st, 2005 @ 9:30 am

    What, Mikey, you think I shouldn’t be questioned? I don’t. You think that my qualifications and credibility shouldn’t ever be at issue? I don’t.

    It’s worth remembering that I don’t have an editor or a publisher or boss. That means there is at least one less level of accountability and oversight. And in Food Dude’s case, there’s not even a person, per se, to make accountable. He could at any time change his site and change his name and start up something new. It’s one of the problems with the internet, that anonymity is so easy. If Food Dude were to lose credibility, he could just change his byline and instantly start a new source of publication. If Food Dude were to libel Ken or another chef or restauranteur, who would they even sue?

    Look, there are benefits to the internet’s anonymity, but there is a dark side, too, that we should always keep in mind.

    Just peruse the waiter rant sites some time to see how bad it can get with fully anonymous and fully unaccountable posters being as slanderous and vicious as they want to be.

    Perhaps he was a little pissy, especially at first in that response, but then he is one of you hot-headed liberals, so maybe I just expected it. :-p

  8. nancy (unregistered) on October 31st, 2005 @ 2:20 pm

    Okay, here’s the logic over in in MSG-land, so far as I can tell:

    + Food Dude’s site is, potentially, an eight-month endeavor in order to slander Ken’s food and/or enact a vendetta for some other establishment. Really, since we don’t know who he is, how can we be sure of his motives?

    + Only paid reviewers have credibility, esp. when they reveal themselves to the restaurateur.

    Oh, and a little side-report from Ken himself:

    + I didn’t like his pecan tart because I was “stoned.”

    Here’s how it is in the rest of the world:

    + Food Dude’s site, at least according to the many people who write/talk to me, is hitting a nerve, and pretty hard, to the tune of 100,000+ hits a month. They trust it. (Unlike, say, Phil Busse at the Mercury, who reviews restaurants before they open.) It’s also comprehensive, always available, and doesn’t become a big papery wad under the car seat.

    + I cannot name three current Portland food reviewers, paid or otherwise, more reliable/readable than Food Dude and the crew he has writing (of which I am one). If anyone else can, please provide supporting evidence.

    + The contention that I didn’t like the pecan tart because I was “stoned” is almost too sophomoric to respond to, but here goes: I didn’t like the tart because I didn’t like the way it tasted, nor did I like its texture. That I had no interest in naming where I ate this tart seemed beyond the logical purview of MSG, who accused me of being part of the anti-Ken cabal.

  9. skipjimson (unregistered) on October 31st, 2005 @ 7:02 pm

    Ken might want to think about deleting the “screed”, as it reflects poorly on him?

    I like how careful you are to not shove this FACT down Ken’s throat.

    Anyhow, I don’t understand all this energy you’ve put into needing others to behave how you want them to. I’m hoping Ken said what he meant, and has no regrets. In fact, after reading his “screed”, I’m definitely gonna spend my next dining dollar at his place. He seems like a straight-shootin’ guy who isn’t afraid to stand his ground, in his own voice, and I’m bettin’ the food has soul, unlike that canned apology you so generously offered up. Do you really think that sounds gracious? To me it sounds like “Apology 3a, client: Ken’s Place”. Again, my respect goes to the guy who writes what he thinks.

    “Here’s a simple truth: You don’t bite the hand that you feed. Especially when there’s an audience paying attention.” … hey look, more facts. Thanks, Betsy.

    You’re bringing all those years of traditional PR professionalism to this forum, Betsy, and I think that’s where you’re off. A Blog is more street-level… the audience is way wider than you, your colleagues and the editorial community for some small facet of the world you’re representing (or whatever… who cares?). You’re in all parts of town, talking to all types of people, and I don’t believe you represent a very large segment of our community as a whole. You write as though you think you do, however, and I find it very annoying.

  10. ExtraMSG (unregistered) on October 31st, 2005 @ 8:47 pm

    Huh, Nancy?

    Do hits = credibility? If so, does that mean I’m twice as credible as Food Dude because I get twice as many hits per month? Is the National Enquirer twice as credible as the LA Times because its circulation is twice as large? Were your articles that were read twice as much as other articles twice as credible?

    Does popularity make something more true? Does belief in something make it more true? When Bush originally made his statements about WMD and both the world and most Americans believed him was he more right than now when few people believe that Iraq had WMD?

    Honestly, I thought Ken went over the top in his attack on you and your piece, Nancy, and I’ve defended you privately to him in emails. However, I’ve re-read his criticism of Food Dude’s review and I think it’s quite fair. Basically Ken’s saying that Food Dude is anonymous and has no authority he must submit to. Therefore, his credibility comes from a professional writing style that emphasizes objectivity and minimizes opinions. His review of Ken’s Place, however, was dominated by opinions, giving primarily vague descriptions. Further, there were several inaccuracies. As such, Food Dude’s review wasn’t credible and there’s no authority above him to enforce his objectivity. (Ken goes through several concrete examples in making his point, btw.)

    As for what I said earlier, I thought I was clear, but perhaps not, that I was talking about possibilities, not probabilities. I have no reason to believe that Food Dude’s site is fake or that Food Dude is fake. However, it is possible. That’s part of the nature of the internet. I used to pretend I was an old lady on Yahoo Games because people were more likely to play me chess and cribbage. There was a minor controversy in a friend’s blogger community because they just discovered that for several months a small group of bloggers had been perpetrating a charade on the community, pretending to be people they weren’t, and creating stories that were believed and that emotionally involved people in their site and their alleged travails. It happens. Portland Food and Drink could be such. It’s fair to challenge the authenticity of any blogger, just as it’s fair to challenge the authenticity of mainstream journalism as Jayson Blair and Dan Rather have taught us most recently.

    Only paid reviewers have credibility, esp. when they reveal themselves to the restaurateur

    I must have an assfull of self-loathing, then, since I don’t get paid. You really must make a New Year’s Resolution to avoid creating straw men. It’s a common tactic you’ve used when you’ve attacked me. To restate, once-a-frickin-gain, my opinion on the subject is: Comped meals are no big deal. Neither are most relationships. Anonymity is not important except in that a restaurant may have an opportunity to give a reviewer special treatment. You may want to afford me the courtesy you would a subject of an article in the future and quote me. That way you won’t mangle what I said. To stop you before your next response: Because “If it’s raining, the street is wet” is true does not mean that “If the street is wet, it’s raining” is true.

    Finally, this is the first time I’ve used “cabal” in a sentence.

  11. Betsy (unregistered) on October 31st, 2005 @ 8:49 pm

    Skip, I really don’t try to speak for anyone else but myself, and I’m offering up my own opinion here. That’s what MetBlogs is about – a collection of PDX residents, each offering up his or her opinion, from his/her perspective – and no one’s toeing any kind of party line or following a style guide. You find what I’ve said annoying? Luckily, there are other voices here that may be more to your liking…

    I’m also by no means a PR expert, although I’ve worked for a PR firm in a slightly different (non-PR) role. I did observe enough, though, to know when you don’t want to roll your client out on the front line, and when it’s wiser to take the high road.

    I probably will end up at Ken’s some day – it’s certainly not on any kind of ‘must boycott’ list for me. But reading his comment didn’t rocket him up to the top of the ‘must visit’ list, either.

    Here’s hoping you find your meal much more enjoyable than my post!

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