retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

The age of transparency cuts both ways. It can help or it can hurt; it all depends on how you use it. But in any age it’s important to remember one simple rule: losing your temper is rarely a good idea.

Just before the holidays, a restaurant owner in Los Angeles tried to turn transparency on its head. He noticed that the restaurant reviewer from the LA Times was in his restaurant and promptly threw her out. Not only that, but he took her picture and posted it on line, making certain that the reviewer’s ability to visit restaurants unannounced would be forever compromised. He did it all, the owner said, because he found her reviews overly critical and unsympathetic to the challenging job of running a restaurant.

It’s easy to sympathize. I’ve had bad reviews in my life and each time I could justify them away by saying the critic didn’t respect the time, effort and challenges that went into my work. But I was wrong ... and so was this restaurant owner.

The critic is simply doing a job and the real key comes down to how the reader reacts to the information. I read restaurant reviews knowing full well that I lack the sophisticated palette to have the same experience as the critic. Likewise I am usually far more forgiving of service lapses than most critics. So while I find the articles interesting, I frequently look to see if they write about anything that really hits my hot buttons, such as too much noise, too little lighting or, heaven forbid, lax food safety standards. I feel the same about movie reviews. They are helpful, but frequently there are movies I know I’m going to see no matter what the reviews say and I suspect I’m not alone. (The Die Hard movies didn’t win many Oscars as I recall.)

But the real problem in Los Angeles wasn’t the critic. It is how this restaurant owner thinks of his clientele. They, too, don’t judge a meal based on how hard the staff worked or what challenges they overcame or how hard it is to operate a restaurant. Rather, they decide based on whether the food tastes good and was a good value for the money.

The Los Angeles case is even more interesting because it clearly has issues. The reviewer was kept waiting 45 minutes for a table even though she had a reservation. Again, regular patrons might find that one more reason to give this restaurant no more than one try, if they even stayed long enough for that.

Let’s be honest. We all love praise and hate criticism, but in many cases the bad reviews are those that really require our focus. If we can force ourselves to face our shortcomings, we’ll get a lot further than we do by simply slapping ourselves on the back.

Two sage bits of wisdom come to mind regarding the Los Angeles story. First, don’t blame the messenger; that hardly ever works. Instead assess and fix the problem. Doing well is always the best revenge.

Second, remember that those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make angry. Your outburst may feel good for a moment, but in the long run you are sure to lose. Especially in the age of transparency.


Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at msansolo@morningnewsbeat.com . His new book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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