Friday, September 21, 2012

Yelpless: The Many Bathrooms of Gary Danko


Other Yelp reviews of the bathrooms at Gary Danko include:

"Not only was there no server to open the door, but the bathroom floor was also sticky." One Star Review

"Bathrooms - they fancy YO" Four Star Review

"The cheap bin that is usually used to hold dishes but now for used towels makes the place look cheap." Three Star Review

"Bathroom: 25/25 Stars" Four Star Review

"Bathrooms - super nice, relaxing and...CO-ED. EW. I waited for the bathroom and this guy came out, looking at  the toilet behind him, with this "I hope I didn't leave any drops" look. EW. (Excuse: "Sure the bathrooms are nice, but do you know what's even nicer? SEPARATE, nice ones.")" Three Star Review

"good food, sick ambient bathroom music." Four Star Review

"Ambiance is lacking something, maybe it's something about staring at that gauche zig-zag carpet while eternally waiting for that one co-ed bathroom to open up." Three Star Review

"The bathrooms are a Zenful experience, just the perfect lighting, scents and music in there made me want to sit down and meditate. " Four Star Review

"Minus one star for the lame and bland ambiance in the actual seating area and for the bathroom smelling like foccacia (I don't quite understand that one)." Four Star Review


"The bathroom was like being in a professional day spa." Five Star Review

"The bathroom even smelled like a spa, which really annoyed me - if I'm eating at this type of restaurant, I don't want my palate influenced by the smell of patchouli.  Although, I guess it is better than smelling like poop.  That would probably annoy me more." Three Star Review



Restaurant Gary Danko is a one-star Michelin-rated restaurant in San Francisco. Since 1995 it has received numerous awards and honors including Esquire Magazine's "Best New Restaurant," San Francisco Magazine's "Chef of the Year," Zagat Survey's "Top Restaurant." It has been recognized by the prestigious James Beard Foundation for "Best Chef-California" in 1995, "Best New Restaurant" in 2000, and was nominated for "Outstanding Chef of the Year" for 2002.

Yelpies have given Restaurant Gary Danko an average of 4.5/5 stars ... and yet, they can't seem to agree on those belabored bathrooms. It is said that "everyone's a critic" and at Yelp that is certainly true. It is also said that opinions are like assholes because everyone has one. Perhaps that explains the fixation Yelpies have with their experience in the bathrooms at Gary Danko.

Experience is subjective. A Yelpie's trip to Gary Danko's bathroom isn't going to be yours or mine. It is all theirs, and they are dragging every other experience of their lives in there with them. They are either going to love the bathroom, hate it, or be completely indifferent to it, spa-like or not. The same applies to the total experience of their restaurant visit: the atmosphere, service, and food. And, like beautiful and unique snowflakes, no two experiences will necessarily be alike. See these one-star reviews of another San Francisco restaurant, Yank Sing:

"Greasier than my 5 o'clock face."

"Not worth it for the price. It's a sanitized/non-greasy/high-class version of dim sum."

Are you starting to see the problem?


I'm not saying that people shouldn't have an opinion or a place to express it. I'm saying that the cacophony of opinions that Yelpies deliver isn't doing anyone, consumers or the restaurants that they patronize, any good service. Beyond some vague guidelines, Yelp simply turns their Yelpies loose with an arbitrary five-star demerit system to base on whatever criteria the Yelpies themselves choose. This leaves the business' reputation at the whim of whichever minutia failed to please each Yelpie. With such poor tools and some alleged review hocus-pocus by Yelp, any fool Yelpie is able to easily drag a restaurant's reputation ... well, through the bathroom.

Let's take a look at the type of review that is all-too-common on Yelp.

"I would so much rather have plain-old mexican food than the 'authentic' & 'organic' junk they serve here. I like white chicken and big portions - not gross dark chicken and slimy finger food..." --- Nopalito, SF, CA Top 100 Restaurant, One Star Review

"Plain-old" Mexican food. The Mission-style burrito, a.k.a. The San Francisco-style burrito is what this Yelpie meant when delivering his slam on San Francisco restaurant Nopalito. The Mission burrito is a Mexican-American variation on the Mexican burrito and is to a Mexican burrito what American pizza is to Italian pizza; each shares a similarity of shape. There is, of course, nothing wrong with a Mission-style burrito. There is simply nothing "plain-old mexican [sic]" about it.

There is, however, plenty that is "plain-old" and Mexican about the food at Nopalito where the goal is to provide Mexican-style food, not the Mexican-American cousin that the Yelpie clearly craves.

The Yelpie even goes so far as to call the food "gross" and "slimy" since it isn't the type of chicken his mommy fed him. He hates it because it wasn't the popular, commercially standard color of chicken meat available at the large commercial grocery where mommy no doubt did her shopping. White meat or dark used to be a matter of preference and a choice that factory farming has since taken away from the dining experience. Most people in America may not only have never tasted dark chicken meat, but they also may not even know of the existence of white meat's more flavorful alternative. The "big portions" that the Yelpie desires are born of selective breeding and hormone treatment which are also processes of factory farming. In a factory farmed world bigger and blander sells and is therefore king. Perhaps the Yelpie should have taken "authentic" and "organic" as a sign that Nopalito was not for him.

So, having bumbled into a restaurant that wasn't a Chipotle or his usual San Francisco taqueria, the Yelpie has a tantrum and lashes out at the restaurant's arrogant act of daring to serve him flavorful, "'authentic' & 'organic'" food instead of the "plain-old" Wonder Bread burrito he was accustomed to eating. What. Bastards.

A professional reviewer would not even think to compare the two and would, instead, judge the food at Nopalito on its own merit based on his or her knowledge of the food style that was being presented. The amateur reviewer instead bases his opinion not upon what he was served but upon what he would have preferred and resorts to name calling to make his "point." This is one of my main problems both with everyone being a critic and also with what Yelp calls a service. It's like your drunk uncle suddenly became a restaurant critic.

"The shitter at Gary Danko didn't have my brand of toilet paper or a single copy of Swank." Your drunk uncle's one-star review

I ask you, are we to base our consumer choices upon the ravings of drunkards and children? This is a service? This is a benefit?


It isn't just dark meat and bathrooms that are getting restaurants undeserved Yelp ratings from petty or misguided Yelpies. Take this one for Le Bernardin (Michelin three stars, New York Times four stars) as an example:



Thanks to Yelp's "anything goes" policy, in addition to standards of service, hospitality, and food, restaurants are now responsible for the opinions of your fellow diners too. Will this review hurt Le Bernardin? Yelpies still gave it 4.5/5, but what of the thousands of restaurants struggling to get by without recommendations from the New York Times or Michelin? Every pissy, thoughtless Yelping drags them a little further toward placing that "out of business" sign in the window.

Certainly, things are off at times in any restaurant. Restaurants have off days/minutes/hours. It's a performance every time they open the door and if it was a Broadway show on a long enough timeline something is going to go wrong. It's inevitable to the point where it would be miraculous if an off-day never occurred. In the kitchen alone between the fire, the food and the multiple people working quickly with knives there are just too many moving parts for something not to go wrong. Even Thomas Keller's lauded French Laundry must surely have dropped a stage light into someone's cream of walnut soup now and then.

In my own experience recently a favorite restaurant sent out a pizza briquette to the table. The pie was charred almost beyond recognition, and I could only imagine the back of the house chaos that had placed it before me. I wasn't going to eat it, but I didn't go out and shame them in a public forum for the mistake. I sent the burnt disc back and had it taken off of the bill. My next visit was a completely different and more positive experience.

A matter of days later another fave forgot my order, and they made it right in every way possible immediately. A lot of Yelpies would have still felt the need to bray like a jackass in public about such a perceived "slight." I appreciate that there are flawed humans behind every restaurant and took it in stride.

If staff hadn't done the right thing, of course, I'd have taken my business elsewhere. I'd do the same if they did make it right and then repeated the mistake on a return visit, but I certainly wouldn't dangle one failing over their heads and whittle away at their rating and reputation because I happened to catch them understaffed or overwhelmed. I'm not perfect, and I don't demand perfection from the world around me. I can accept that sometimes my head is going to be under the plummeting stage light. Many Yelpies, it seems, have little or no capacity for understanding or forgiveness or that capacity lies crushed beneath their overdeveloped ego and sense of entitlement.

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Personal note to the Yelpies of the world: What if your life/friendship/last dinner party were reviewed by your peers? How would you score, oh gatekeepers of quality? What if that score affected your income?

"Dinner at the Olson's left me flat, frankly. Mary's unibrow was constantly twitching throughout the meal and Phil just never stopped talking about their damned ugly kids. And Hamburger Helper? Really? OMFG. Their choice of wallpaper in the bathroom left much to be desired." One Star

Are you perfect, Yelpie? Of course not. Yet you expect everything and everyone else to be perfect. By perfect, of course, I mean meeting your accepted norms within your small subset of experience in the world where we all live. If you are patronizing a business everything, every single molecule and moment should meet your personal standards of perfection, or the stars will fall.

Oh yeah, and STOP USING THE WORD PERFECT.

Phrases Yelpies Should Never Use Again:

That Perfect Bite
Absolute Perfection/Absolutely Perfect
Perfect Ending/Perfect Beginning
Grilled/Fried/Seasoned/Cooked/Seared to Perfection
Perfect Balance
Perfect Execution

Seriously, enough already.
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Look, I get it. Writing a review is hard. It involves thought, spelling, grammar and "choosing words and stuff." Stealing catchy phrases remembered from old Rachel Ray shows on Food Network is easy. Spewing petty hatred all over the intertoobs is easy too, but Yelp is, allegedly, a service to help people have a higher quality consumer experience. Wouldn't a higher quality review better serve that purpose?

The reason film, book, and yes, restaurant criticism worked so well for so long was that people found a critic with whom they agreed a certain amount of the time. They then followed the reviews of those critics and then made their own judgments based on the critic's past and continued successes or failures in matching with their own tastes. It took a while, but if all went right, it produced a fruitful relationship between the critic and the consumer.

Unfortunately, the Internet doesn't have the time for such a courtship. More unfortunate was the day when publicists started paying critics and reviewers off and even creating their own critics and reviewers. From there it all degenerated into the kind of self-serving soapbox where everyone gets to have a say in the fate of a business based on whatever whim or criteria they choose, like daring to serve dark meat or their choice of towel baskets in a bathroom.

While it is true that everyone is a critic, it is equally true that everyone can not critique.


The Nopalito review above has since disappeared. A review stating that another Yelpie would "rather eat cat shit with a knitting needle" than dine again at Nopalito is also gone, thankfully. Did the owners of Nopalito pay Yelp to have them removed as some might claim? Perhaps, but the existence of such a system has yet to be proven in court.

Are there bad businesses out there? Certainly. Do the people have a right to know about them before they give them their dollars? Absolutely. Yelping, however, is not the way. The abuse of unchecked Yelping is causing good businesses more collateral damage than it is helping them to improve and thrive. Not letting Yelpies give businesses zero stars, as much as many of them complain that they would love to wield that power, isn't much of a consolation prize.

When a friend of mine requested that his business should no longer be listed on Yelp, a Yelp employee informed him that it was "the people's right to post about his business." While he was not offered any hocus-pocus with his bothersome one-star reviews, he was offered instead, for a monthly fee, a service whereby his competitor's advertisements would no longer appear on his company's Yelp page. How convenient. What a service. Way to go, Yelp.

Yelp enables the Yelpies who in turn enable Yelp to make millions while businesses are ground up in the process. All the while Yelping is creating a wider gulf between businesses and the patrons they serve. Calling their food "gross" is no longer just a slight a restauranteur or their staff can laugh off. It's a threat to their survival. One Yelpie's one-star off-night could well be a good restaurant's next empty table.

Is there a better way? Of course. The creation of better guidelines and standards for reviews and their associated star values beyond Yelp's would be a great start. Limiting Yelpie rants to a lesser word count might also be a step in the right direction. Then again, that wouldn't be much fun for the Yelp-appointed klaxons of good taste and style, would it? I wouldn't look for those changes soon, or ever.

What can you do, reader? Stop using Yelp. If, however, you must use Yelp, take the time to see what kind of criteria the Yelpies are basing their ratings upon. It might take a little more time than simply glancing at a grouping of red stars, but you may be surprised at what you find. I recently dined at a restaurant which had quite a few unfavorable reviews - nearly half - from the amateur public and was delighted by every course and the excellent service. Why would I gamble on such a place? Because after reading a sampling of reviews from one-star to five I realized that most of the lower reviews were simply petty griping and dismissed them. Take the time to make up your own minds, folks. Don't let the whining of drunks and children be your guide. That goes for any review site, not just Yelp.

In the meantime, especially with the release of its integration into iOS, Yelp will continue to butter their bread with the entitled egoist rantings of Yelpies who can't seem to reach a conclusion about something as simple as the bathrooms at Gary Danko. The world will be poorer for it.


Restaurant Gary Danko
800 North Point @ Hyde
SF, CA
Phone: (415) 749-2060
http://www.garydanko.com/
Reservations Recommended
Restrooms for Customers Only ;)

Yank Sing
Rincon Center
101 Spear Street
(415) 781-1111
&
49 Stevenson Street
(415) 541-4949
SF, CA
http://www.yanksing.com/

Le Bernardin
155 West 51st Street
NY, NY
(212) 554-1515
http://www.le-bernardin.com/

Nopalito
306 Broderick Street
(415) 437-0303
&
1224 9th Avenue
(415) 233-9966
SF, CA
http://www.nopalitosf.com/