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Tw’Eat’ing With Your Mouth Closed.

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By James Geneau



This is going to be a little controversial however a series of events over the past few months made me write this.  Some of you are going to love me…others will hate me.  Those who know me personally expect this kind of thing from me.  For those whom I have yet to have the pleasure of meeting, I hope this does not turn you off.  So here we go…are you ready? 

"Chew your food and stop with the god-damn tweeting!"

I had started writing this piece a few months back after enjoying dinner abroad in a rather well-respected restaurant.  I was dining alone and asked the server if I could Tweet some pictures of my meal to my followers.  The server looked at me completely perplexed and said, “Uhm, yeah, ok, sure”.  My first course arrived; I took a picture, and began savoring it.  It was lovely, so I tweeted where I was, uploaded the photo I had taken, and added the caption “seasonal Dungeness crab salad”.  No endorsement, no comments, just a picture with a description of what it was and where it was.

While I waited for my second course and sipped my wine, I scanned the room.  Three other patrons were taking pictures of their meals with their iPhones and Blackberries and sharing them with the world.  I was smiling thinking of how foolish we all looked when a large flash came from behind me.  A young man with a large digital camera had taken a picture of his meal with a flash so bright, it made several guests stop eating and look.  I felt awkward.  Please Lord – I hoped my innocent picture taking hadn’t given a green light for everyone to follow suit.

I returned to my scan of the room and looked at “who” was taking the pictures.  A young girl in her early twenties with her gal pals sipping a soda and texting away.  Another young man was texting with one hand while a shrimp on his fork dripped sauce on the tablecloth.  Could they be Tweeting?  Dining alone and intrigued I went onto Twitter and searched the name of the restaurant for recent tweets.  Sure enough, there they were.

“The wine list here is awful” was one tweet, hopefully not from the girl with the 2009 Coca-Cola Special Reserve Red Bottle “avec lime”.  I identified the young man with the shrimp easily by the tweet “shrimp here too saucy, spilled on jeans yo, never get laid tonight – shits”.  My friend behind me was probably a blogger and the third person, I could not tell – but she could have easily made a comment on Facebook.  Embarrassed, I put my iPhone away and decided to enjoy my meal for what it was.

After dessert, and an espresso, I was full.  As I finished, the chef came to my table and asked how my meal was.  I said it was fine thank you - a little puzzled as to why he would come to my table specifically.  “I wanted to thank you for asking if it was alright to take images and Tweet”, were his next words.  I was floored.  He sat down and we began chatting.  I told him I wrote for Gremolata.com in Toronto, happened to be in the city, and had heard of the restaurant from friends.  He was a little surprised that I actually did write culinary travel pieces and we talked about some of the places I had visited.  We discussed the restaurant, the local food scene, and people back in Toronto he should reach out to and invite to visit the restaurant.  We also discussed our other friends in the restaurant, tweeting and blogging away.

“I look at every single tweet” he told me.  “It is hard not to.  It is probably the worst thing to ever happen to the restaurant business.  That and amateur bloggers.”  I was somewhat thrilled that he did not think of me in the same light as what he referred to as “amateur bloggers” but then again, I don’t claim to be a restaurant critic.  If I like it, I tell the world.  If I don’t, I say nothing… I “Tw’eat with my mouth closed” if you will.  After hearing a few horror stories from my new chef friend, I paid my bill, thanked him, and headed back to my hotel.

A few weeks later, I was back in Toronto enjoying a coffee with some colleagues.  They were ranting about the industry and the twitter and blog scandals in our own backyard.  I learned of a restaurant that was forced to go under due to the opinions of a few misguided and inexperienced blogger “critics”.  The awful publicity events overrun by “tweeters” and how they themselves now refused to attend any media events if the “Twitter-atti” was going to be present.  The Twitter-crowd had taken over food and drink media and the whole thing was becoming a colossal mess – or so it appeared.  It got me thinking; would Twitter be the end to reliable stories about good food and drink?

Gremolata’s policy is pretty simple.  Restaurants are reported on, never critiqued.  It is not our mandate.  Whenever you see something on Gremolata related to food, wine or a restaurant - know that it is there because it was interesting, and we felt it was worth sharing.  It all comes down to the old saying “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”.  For years, newspapers and magazines have hired critics with the credentials to review restaurants and chefs.  It was their profession and the chefs worked hard to impress the critics.  That was, until the age of blogging and tweeting.

The truth about this industry is that very few can make a living from it.  I write because I have a passion for it but let’s face it – I will never retire from it.  I enjoy good food and drink and if I like something, I will share it with others on-line.  I am in no position to critique.  If I don’t like it, I don’t say anything, it is as simple as that.  For many of the amateur bloggers however, the ability to throw criticism and opinion comes with little understanding of the ramifications of their actions.  It also comes with little to no experience or street credibility to have an opinion.

Most are amateur and part-time tweeters or bloggers.  It is not their full time job.  They are junior accountants or marketing associates who like to share their opinions with the world.  In theory, that is not an issue.  Everyone is entitled to an opinion.  The question is…how would they feel if a chef came to their office and “tweeted” their performance?  Imagine if Jamie Kennedy tweeted that “Suzie just filed a T19 report and forgot to sign it, what a dumb ass” or Gordon Ramsay shared with the world “That was the worst sales presentation ever – Bob will never get promoted to regional territory rep”.  That would never happen.  And besides, that is what Suzie and Bob’s managers and human resources department is responsible for – assessing their performance using professional protocol and experience.

This is the issue with the world of Twitter and blogs.  People with no expertise providing criticism on things they have no background in.  As I type this I shiver thinking of the hate mail and nasty tweets I am going to receive but let me remind you…I am not a critic, never have been, never claimed to be one.  I share my experiences as they happen and I hope others will try to create their own experiences - if so inspired.  Essentially…if I like it, I hope to inspire others to try it and make their own assessments.

I leave the critique to the critics - the ones with the many years of experience and the expertise in the field.  If I wanted to hear chef critique from a computer programmer, I would hang out at Best Buy when the tech team is on lunch. Occasionally, when I see a restaurateur who has been bashed by those with little or no expertise, I come to their defense.  After all, if I enjoyed the experience, I will try my best to ensure that everyone else will give them a shot. 

So, why did I finish this piece after starting it several months back and abandoning it into my archives?  It all started the other day on Twitter when I read that Claudio Aprile, the chef and co-owner of Origin and Colborne Lane in Toronto had posted some rules on his blog:

A short message to all people that have or plan on coming to Origin with huge zoom lenses and flashes that induce seizure’s, the food critics and wanna be food critics who end up just being lonely bloggers in front of their mac at 3 am.

1. Do your research before you arrive. Have an open mind.

2. Understand the concept and accept the fact that Origin is not Colborne Lane.

3.  If you can do a better job than me and my staff then why aren’t you doing it?

It was manna from heaven for me.  It started when Toronto Life shared the post with an additional comment…“telling the restaurant that you are a critic-blogger in hopes of bypassing the lines or getting a free meal…had to stop.”  The twitter universe in Toronto went into an uproar.  Profanity was typed, opinions squashed, and demands for an apology by Claudio tweeted, re-tweeted, and re-tweeted again. 

What the “amateur blogger-critics” failed to realize was that he had every right to post this on his own blog for the restaurant.  After all, they would freely post a critique of his food without any expertise in the matter.  Why shouldn’t he be able to set the game rules in his own restaurant?  He owns it, he pays the bills, and if he can’t come to the blogger’s full-time workplace and have a private one-on-one with their colleagues regarding their performance…neither should they.  It was an eye-opener to see how the restaurant scene and media had changed – for the worse.

And so, I made it my mission to finish this piece as a plea to the bloggers and tweeters of the world to leave the critique to the critics.  If you cannot make an honest living as a full-time food and drink critic there is probably a reason for it – you don’t have the audience large enough to support you.  However, your audience is still large enough to have a negative impact on hard working people whose jobs you have no idea how to perform.   If you are like me and don’t get paid for your opinions, maybe you should keep them to yourself.  Try focusing on the nice, not the mean.  Tell a story, don’t kick the crap out of people.   You may not have anything to loose with your loose opinions, but the restaurateur and their employees do.  Oh, and I meant the part about coming to the defense of restaurants you slam for no reason if they happen to be ones I like.  I will hunt you down and tweet your ass to the next county – just watch me.



Comments


Can I get a witness...LOL! But seriously, yes, I agree with this and I am sure several other restauranteurs would agree. Bravo to Claudio for standing up to the plate and setting the rules.
Post Reply By lacy in VICTORIA on 4/27/2018 5:14:05 PM

Amen Brother!
Post Reply By Simon in VANCOUVER on 4/27/2018 2:42:25 PM

Excellent article....so true....and for the record, I don't tweet while I eat (barely tweet at all, I'm the 1% of the population without an IPhone).

I'm ordering my vintage coke "avec lime" the next time I'm out by the way...
Post Reply By Kathleen in TORONTO on 4/27/2018 1:39:08 PM

A long article, but worth the read. I still get my reviews of new restaurants from the Globe and Mail. Cannot believe some people would take the advice of a blogger or some random person on the internet. A friend is one thing. A random person, no thanks.
Post Reply By Elizabeth in COLLINGWOOD on 4/26/2018 10:51:46 PM

I tweet what I eat all the time and have to say that for the first few paragraphs, I was pretty annoyed by this piece. But I do see the point about criticism and the impact on the restaurant and people making a living. I think that these personal comments work on consumer food review sites because you know they are the opinions of those who eat there, not professional critics. Those claiming to be food experts or pretending to know what they are talking about with no credentials is something I agree is not helpful. Everyone needs to do their homework when it comes to the advice they get from others and the person dishing it out!
Post Reply By Alexander in TORONTO on 4/26/2018 4:48:48 PM

I can relate to the flash incident. Had a dinner ruined the other night by some guy taking one picture after another of everything at his table. It wasn't a very large camera either. I don't blame the chef for posting that on his blog. I would too if I was trying to run a business and employ people who worked hard. I complained to the owner about the photographer and certain I am not the only one who did.
Post Reply By Franco in RICHMOND HILL on 4/26/2018 4:36:46 PM

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I could type this all day after reading this! 100% agree with you!
Post Reply By Andrew in WINNIPEG on 4/26/2018 4:24:41 PM

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