Does a restaurant have the right not to serve a restaurant critic?
It’s a curious story because the restaurant also outed the critic–no, not sex; identity.
Now it’s not a a heavy news topic but it’s universal in that everyone eats out from time to time, and one of the questions that comes up is how you decide where to eat if you’re looking to eat at someplace fancy. An anniversary, a business lunch, and so forth. (Besides, it’s nice to get away from politics for awhile.)
To do their jobs, most restaurant critics try to remain anonymous –or at least keep low profiles– because that assures the restaurant won’t step things up a notch to get a favorable review.
So here’s LA Times restaurant critic Shirley Irene Virbila showing up with friends at the new Beverly Hills Vietnamese restaurant, Red Medicine. (She had a reservation for four under the name “Fred Snow.”) She wasn’t even planning on writing about the place; she just wanted to check out the menu.
But after a 40 minute wait, managers decided to turn Virbila away, and worst of all, snap her photo in the process. After 16 years of keeping a low profile, Virbila’s anonymity was destroyed –or at least seriously damaged– when Red Medicine managers posted the picture on their website later that night, blaming Virbila’s “unnecessarily cruel and irrational” reviews of costing restaurant workers their jobs.
The decision to out Virbila was “not a rash decision,” according to Red Medicine managing partner Noah Ellis. He told the LA Times, “Irene is not the person any of us wanted reviewing our restaurant.”
The incident has critics and restaurateurs divided over whether it’s reasonable to expect anonymity in the age of Facebook, or if it even matters. But Ellis says that wasn’t the issue. “We didn’t do this to prove a point and liberate the restaurants of the world. We did it because it was the right action for us. We’re just trying to be a great restaurant.”
Can a restaurant refuse to serve a restaurant critic, or is that self-defeating?
As long as they don’t violate the law, any business has the right not to serve a customer, but this isn’t a legal issue, it’s a personal one and an ethical one. The restaurant’s managers claim Virbila’s reviews have been “unnecessarily cruel and irrational,” and cost people jobs. Does a restaurant critic have that much clout just from writing a review? What if the restaurants were bad?
Do you read restaurant reviews? That’s sort of like asking whether you read movie reviews. With websites like Yelp and Chowhound, is your decision where to eat based more on word of mouth –which is someone else’s opinion, or the opinion of a professional reviewer who knows what to look for, whether it’s a movie or a restaurant? It’s possible to disagree with a critic, isn’t it? He hates the movie; you like it. One person’s “medium rare” is another person’s medium, no? How does one critic’s negative review cause an establishment’s demise if the food/services are excellent and prove otherwise.
Is the restaurant being childish? They made her wait 40 minutes and then kicked her out? If the managing partners are angry at what they think are unfair reviews, is there a proper, more dignified way to express that? She’s doing her job. Shouldn’t they do theirs and let the restaurant’s product speak for itself? Is this a reflection on someone’s inability to take criticism? And you just know some potential customers will wonder whether the restaurant has something to hide.
Then again, if her reviews are that bad –that is, if she’s unprofessional– why would anybody put stock in them? (Here are some) If she’s mean and vindictive (some restaurateurs call this woman Cruella di Virbila) why is she still employed at the paper? (It also suggests that there’s a story here for the newspaper: Restaurateurs giving a review of the restaurant critic.)
One problem with critics keeping a low profile is that you hope they dine at a restaurant more than once. If you show up on a particular night with a particular server, the only perception you have is what you see on that particular night. One bad night doesn’t mean it’s a bad restaurant. On the other hand, if you’re paying good money for a meal, is it unfair to expect excellent service at a restaurant every single night? You hire and manage employees with that in mind, don’t you?
Seems like what’s happened revolves around concepts of the free market and free speech. She has the right to offer her opinion. The best way to address that is to provide an exceptional dining experience. In other words, the best way to address free speech is with more free speech, not less. In the restaurant biz, you do that offering a superior product, which is how you compete in the marketplace. Wouldn’t that be the best way for the restaurant to handle this critic?
As an aside, there’s also a tough question for the critic: Can this critic be professional enough to ever give this restaurant a positive review, even if the restaurant deserved it? Could you?
Words you don’t want to see in your restaurant review:
“Air sickness bag”