Practically the first day my new restaurant, Porsena, is open for business we have Yelp reviews posted—and they are horrible. Any restaurant opening is shaky. There are so many cogs that have to run together and they never move smoothly out the door, but already, a month into things, I am really happy overall with the food coming out of the kitchen and the service on the floor. I am inordinately proud of my wine list. We do of course have missteps: the wrong pastas get fired, people wait too long for their pasta (which is cooked to order every time), sometimes one lone guy has to put up 18 pastas all at once and I admit that they are not quite as perfect as when he puts up four pastas. In the ongoing process of trying to be the best that we can be, we adjust and tweak every day, generally improving what I think was pretty good even in those first shaky days.
I believe in criticism and I believe in humbly analyzing one's faults. When my father taught me to ski, he also taught me that if you don't fall down you're not learning. Pick yourself up, understand what you did wrong, and then try to do it right the next time. Part of trying to understand what we do wrong is reading the reviews on Yelp, which are unfettered, unfiltered information about what you are doing right or wrong. But as I read these negative reviews I sometimes don't understand what restaurants these people are eating at.
One person writes that his wine glass could have held a lot more wine than was poured into it, which is true: I could probably pour half a bottle into it, but then it would be wine by the half bottle, not wine by the glass (and priced somewhat differently). Another person is shocked and disgusted that there are toasted bread crumbs in the pasta and implies that they are stale beyond belief. Someone complains that the anchovies on the salami plate are too few. Every time the plate comes up to the pass I look at the tangle of three to four fat anchovy filets and think, but how many anchovies does anyone want to eat? Another review says there were too many clams in the vongole and not enough pasta; it should be called clams with pasta he thinks.
Meanwhile around me what I see is people devouring their food, the happy warm glow of people excited about what's put in front them, strangers coming up to us telling us how good everything is, how they can't wait to come back. We've been open a month and we already have regulars, people who have been in five times already. Every day is a struggle to prepare enough food to feed all the people coming in, so it's pretty guaranteed that everything is fresh. There are no stale breadcrumbs in the house, that's for sure. It's a dream as far as waste goes because there is none (except for the beautiful chicken that no one orders, but that's a whole other story).
So I don't know what to believe. I want to read my criticism and take it on the chin, use it to better see what we are doing wrong and improve, but I really don't know what restaurants these people are eating in. I have to put more faith in what I see in front of me, and that is good honest food and happy people. I try not to read Yelp anymore, and I think that's where I'll just have to stay until I feel a different current in the room.
Recipe: Pasta With Red Wine Redux