As an avid reader, I have had to develop an unnatural impulse when it comes to collecting reading material. The amount of books, magazines, articles, catalogs, reviews, and cookbooks that catch my attention is enormous. And it took me several years to realize that there is no way I would possibly have time to explore every one of them. The stack just kept getting higher and higher as did my frustration level with each added resource. I have to religiously cull through them or else get accused of being a hoarder because the pile gets too high.
Now add the Internet on top of that.
The glut of information that exists today because of our online access is unbounded. Before the web, resources were much more limited, and dominant mastery of a subject was a little more likely. Thirty years ago you probably could have thought that you were the world’s foremost expert on the tarantula because you read all the books in the local library on it, only to go online and find out there is a whole society of folk committed to understanding the critter. (yeah, I Googled it.)
The trouble I experience is not in finding information, but finding good information that tells me what I need to know without having to worry about reading more and more and more before I feel like I have a good solid answer.
Which brings me to my beef with Yelp, the online review service that is intended to be a helpful source of information on finding a good restaurant or service, but often ends up being a latrine for anonymous folk to vomit in.
As a business owner, I watch online reviews regularly. They can be extremely painful to read at times, but they can also be a good way to identify a trend in our business that needs to be addressed. They must be taken with a grain of salt, because many times those who post are not writing objectively, but emotionally. A guest was offended in some way and placing a scathing review is a way to make someone pay for the offense. Angry guests often enter the establishment already angry and plan to stay that way. This is why I don’t choose restaurants based on Yelp, or any other online site. Instead I go straight to the source of proven and experienced understanding: those who own places in the industry.
Karen and I like to take a food trip every year. We pick a city and go there with the sole purpose of eating at noted restaurants that will inspire and encourage us in our work back home. Cities like Denver, Kansas City, Portland and Chicago have so many destinations, how do we choose where to go? I follow this plan:
- Ask for personal recommendations.
When planning our trip to Portland, I quizzed folks who had been there recently to tell me where they liked to eat. When the same restaurants started getting suggested by different, unrelated people, I know that’s a good place to start.
- Personally contact the owner of that favored establishment.
Independent owners are a pretty small fraternity, and we are honored when someone tells us they’ve heard about our work from someone out of town.
- Ask, in addition to the owners place, where else would she recommend?
Those in the industry know better than any Yelp reviewer, because we all have the same wounds from hurtful guests. We can give a more comprehensive view of the culinary landscape.
- Introduce yourself upon arrival.
We owners love connecting with guests. This is our work. It’s vulnerable, risky and leaves us exposed, but we do it because the highs of success are directly proportional to the lows of disappointment. You will never feel the joy quite as intense if you never put yourself out there with the possibility of getting crushed. And nothing injures as deep as words. They are rightly referred to as a fire. No one escapes flame without being scarred.
Taking this approach allows you not only to find a memorable place to eat, but a chance to make connection with others that want to provide you with more than just food. It’s what I call Relational Hospitality versus Transaction Hospitality. You get more than a meal, you’ve made a friend.
And the friend lasts much longer than the meal.