Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Bad Restaurant Dilemma

A few months ago while driving to the library I noticed an "Opening Soon" sign on a once empty restaurant space a few miles from our house. As the weeks went we perked up as we saw it was a Moroccan restaurant. We watched as curtains popped up, and outdoor seating spaces were carefully arranged and then finally, we saw the words we' been waiting for: Now Open.

Last night we met up with a small group of friends, eager to try it out. Walking in, we were pleased. The decorations were fantastic. Lovely maroon and gold rugs strewn throughout, tables with beaded sequins, and impressive paintings in lovely frames. Music played gently in the background and the lighting was exquisite. We ordered a variety of things, promising to share with another and eagerly awaited our food.

And waited.
And waited.
And waited.

We arrived at the restaurant around 7:30pm and ordered about fifteen minutes later. I turned to K and asked what time it was: 9:00pm. We waved over the waitress who informed us dinner would be at least another fifteen minutes.

One hour later, we got our food.

At this point I thought, whatever they gave me short of a live baby duck would be devoured with great satisfaction but I was wrong. The kebobs were cold undercooked, and bland. The moroccan style potatoes seemed mysteriously like McDonald's frenchfries (and there is a McDs right next door). No one liked their food. And the food, it wasn't cheap.

For the most part, I avoid bad restaurant experiences because I'm all about research. Chef Google leads to me to lovely review sites. I take reviews seriously, particularly when there are comments to explain the ratings, and usually lean towards higher rated establishments and avoid the ones that are consistently poorly rated. This has worked for me and in an effort to pay it forward, I also review on sites like yelp and tripadvisor. This restaurant had no reviews since its only a few weeks old.

Normally after such a bad foodie experience I'd immediately hit up my usual review sites and tell them what I've told you: The food, it did stink. However, I hesitate. Five years ago I went to a start-up restaurant that had high reviews on zabihah.com and the food was abysmal. I went home and reviewed it. As soon as I did so, a few others chimed in with similar reviews. The rating plummeted as the days passed. The restaurant owner chimed in, quite upset at the reviews and a month later, the restaurant shut down.

I'm not saying I caused the restaurant to shut down, but I'm saying I felt really guilty about it. They were a small start-up just trying to make a buck and perhaps my review dissuaded others from going. Though that's the whole point of reviews, to help each other out figuring out what to eat in a city of so much food, it still sucks they went out of business. After that, I stopped reviewing small start-ups unless I loved the food, and this has worked well until last night. You see, the food, it really did stink. And did I mention it wasn't cheap? I would have loved it if someone had given me a heads up about this and I could have spent my money on the Chick-fil-a across the street instead. But I feel bad. The owner had that desperate look in his eye, and you could tell he was wondering if he'd go under next month. I'd hate to write a bad review and then feel responsible for his dream tanking.

So the question is, if you ate at a bad restaurant, and you knew you would be one of the first people to review the restaurant online, likely dissuading others from eating there, would you go ahead and review it knowing there's a risk you might single-handedly be responsible for someone's lifetime dream of owning a restauring going down the toilet?

6 comments:

mystic-soul said...

I had a great restaurant experience last night.

Coming to review - yes now I openly write my sentiments at review sites about hotels, restaurants etc. I found other reviews very honest and I think its good that we can share our experiences.

(Earlier send you an email on one previous post - I hpe you get it)

Esther said...

The tough cookie in me says -'review and be d@mned' they should have tried harder and such a long wait for the food is inexcusable.

However if you are going to feel bad about it don't. Nobody is paying you to review it and maybe in this case if you have nothing nice to say it would be better to say nothing

Shahed Amanullah said...

As the founder of zabihah.com, this sentiment has come up often ("bad review guilt"), and I've responded the same way every time: there may be short-term pain in holding these restaurants to higher standards, but in the end the whole industry will respond by making the experience better and more accountable. We care whether or not the review is fair, not whether or not it is good.

'liya said...

Waiting longer than 30 minutes for a meal is ridiculous! They could have at least offered a discount because of the lateness at least. Did you guys leave a tip?
I feel guilty if I don't leave a tip at expensive restaurants but sometimes I don't think it's deserved!

Safiyyah said...

Salaams Aisha:

You aren't "single-handedly" responsible if a restaurant goes under. You don't have that much power, do you, lol? These places know that success or failure is gained by word of mouth, reviews, etc.

Most of all, it would be the owner's fault if his restaurant were not a success.

If something like that happens again, maybe you could say something to the owner or manager. If they make good, perhaps it is a fluke or something. If they don't, well, you'll know it's a bad restaurant!

mezba said...

They are in the service industry and they did not do service. Most successful restaurants I see have one or two main draws and as long as they fulfill that promise they will remain in business.

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