Are You a One-Star Diner?

"I would rather pay $5 to chew on an old lady's chin mole than eat this ever again."

"I went home and danced in front of my mirror and got myself hotter than this dump."

One look at review sites like Yelp, and it’s pretty evident. We take the restaurant experience very, strangely personally. The above statements are from real Yelp reviews.

At the DMV, we’re forced to sit in hard plastic school chairs for three hours among the fermented scent of humanity only to be told rudely once it’s our turn that we don’t have the correct paperwork for it to be our turn. And yet we slough it off.  It’s an organization with a long history of epic failure, we rationalize. It has nothing to do with us.

Not in restaurants. Slowly delivered zinfandel is ****ing personal.

Why do we take it so personal? Maybe because service is part of the contract. We’re not paying $18 for a roasted chicken breast. We’re paying $18 to sit in a pretty room, have a (usually attractive, young) person bring us water and wine, guide our decision-making, fold our napkin when we depart to tinkle, clean up our mess as we make it so that we don’t have to sit in our own crumby filth, deliver us hot food, clean the dishes, converse with us if we so wish, pack any remaining food to go, and bid us a very good night as we walk out the door. Any service failures, in that view, would be a violation of contract.

Why’s it hurt so bad? Because restaurants are not restaurants. They are structural evidence of our good taste. Our dining companions—friends, family, coworkers, church fellows, people we’d like to bed—are usually important to us. Choosing a good restaurant is how we prove to them our cultural acumen, our refinement, our instinctual GPS system for the best things in life. When a restaurant fails, we internalize it as being an unimpressive person who shouldn’t be trusted with such decisions. Our condo probably has bad décor, too. And our cars are dirty. We suck.

Why does it feel like fingernails on the chalkboard of our psyche? Because we spend 90% of our lives serving others—our bosses, our creditors, our spouses, our children, even stop lights and silly signs that direct what we can and cannot do. We walk through Le Bistro’s doors expecting to flip the script. We’ve run a deficit of servitude, and being pampered is our way of balancing out. We’ve been let out from under society’s thumb for a couple hours and we’re pretty desperate to be treated like the most important person in the room. So if a server ignores us for too long, if our food is cold, if our drink forgotten at the bar—our turn at the filling station of servitude is disrupted. The pump is cut off. Our servitude tank is left half-empty and gurgling with anger.

Thankfully, there’s a cure for all of this. It’s called the Internet. Highly aware of our acute sense of inadequacy and injustice, the Internet has given us multiple platforms to rage against the tyranny of the restaurateur (or any small business owner, for that matter). Review sites are jam-packed with purgative screeds against bad restaurant behavior.

"How do I know this person who Yelp-mugged my favorite bistro isn’t just another hungry sociopath? A dog kicker?"

At this point the Internet is the psychologist’s office. Review sites are the couch upon which we lay and unleash our mental fury. We have created the greatest communication and information device on the planet—and mostly use it as a landfill for our psychic baggage.

The result? Restaurateurs have never been so thoroughly abused at any point in American history. Maybe it’s because mainstream media has an established tradition of criticizing restaurants. It’s public sport. Given the opportunity, why wouldn’t someone try their hand at this dark craft?

Indeed, some restaurateurs might be assholes. But here’s the thing: We’re all assholes. So why does the "He Or She Is An Asshole" info stream only travel one direction? Yelp is like a giant billboard lording over a city—reserved exclusively for us who don’t own businesses to broadcast our accusations against those who do.

How do we consumers get off scot-free? How come our behavior isn’t reviewed and catalogued with a simple search function and held against us on a public website? How do I know this person who Yelp-mugged my favorite bistro isn’t just another hungry sociopath? A seething pustule of unchecked moral depravity? A dog kicker?

I would say with 1,000 percent certainty, that diners are much, much larger assholes at a much higher frequency, than servers, bussers or restaurateurs. By and large, diners curate a much more pronounced brand of entitled, embittered vitriol. We act like spoiled, exiled royalty who have lost their iron-fist authority and yet still attempt to wield it on the common folk.

It’s time. There needs to be a review process for reviewers. For myself, for Good Sir Yelper, for Mr. Restaurant Tweeter and Instagram Food Assassin94. Does a certain reviewer have a reputation for showing up at 7PM on a Friday night without a reservation and berating hostesses when they refuse to accommodate their party of five? Does that other reviewer ask for 37 psychosomatic dietary adjustments to a dish and then tip 12 percent?

Right now, the "Review Site Info Flow" only goes one direction—a constant hailstorm of aggression toward small business owners. (Applebees doesn’t get too many reviews. It’s mostly new, creative businesses that attract the criticism). The public court of judgment needs to be balanced out.  

We need a forum where restaurants can review diners—just like the alt-taxi service Uber does with its riders. Currently, restaurateurs can "respond" to a Yelp review. But that’s merely an exercise in damage control. Very few restaurant owners are going to publicly give honest feedback to a Massive Dining Asshole, for fear of backlash. It violates basic customer service tenets, no matter how justified the feedback might be. We’ve trained small business owners that, when kicked unjustly, it’s best to smile and turn to face our attacker so they can continue kicking.

We need a website where restaurateurs can leave anonymous, real criticisms of diners. We should create Restaurant Diner Profiles for everyone, regardless of whether or not you post reviews to websites. Are you fond of ass-grabbing servers or using the term "Toots"? That should go in your permanent file. Is your child basically Mt. Saint Helens, spewing food everywhere within a ten-foot radius and yet you only tip 15 percent? Permanent file.

If you review restaurants (or any business for that matter) in a public forum, this website of the future should pull your profile and send it to the restaurateur. With integration into tools like OpenTable, it will help the restaurant identify who the reviewer is, what day and time they dined, where they sat, who their server was. Then the restaurant will be allowed to add notes/comments/perspective to the accusation. You as a diner get a star rating. 

This isn’t just to shame the diner for their antisocial behavior. It could be a valuable tool to identify whether or not a restaurant has a problem server. Or help them realize, yes, a line cook had gotten arrested the day PastasOvercooked69 posted their bad review, and maybe the restaurant should comp a return visit. Or it would help the restaurant remember that PastasOvercooked69 came in fighting with his wife and would have negatively reviewed puppy smiles and the rapture.

Because after all—what’s the point of reviews? To provide valuable information and enact positive change, right? Or is the Internet the toilet, Yelp the toothbrush, and we The Great and Loquacious Purgers?

We’re all assholes. It’s far past time the asshole accusation meter applied not only to small business owners—but to us assholes, too.

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