As a 5 star hotel Concierge I have long been relied upon to suggest suitable restaurants to my guests, and of course, by association, friends and family as well.
I’m a big foodie. By that statement I mean I love great food, wine, restaurants and the ‘theatre’ that is involved in a fine dining experience. I certainly am not an expert, nor have I been professionally trained in wines, food preparation nor as a restaurant critic. But I am of the opinion that no matter who people are, they have opinions, and those opinions are allowed to be expressed in a private or public forum if needs be.
Recently I have noticed a distinct thinly veiled hostility towards the food/wine blogging community in Cape Town. I am certain that in other parts of the country and the world there is similar sentiment, but Cape Town is my home and the centre of my universe so I really couldn’t be bothered by anything outside my own community. What seems to be the main issue up for debate, or in some cases, abuse; is the plethora of bloggers posting reviews and/or comments on their experiences at restaurants, hotel, bars etc… without having the ‘required’ professional qualifications to do so.
As I’ve mentioned previously, I think it’s perfectly acceptable that people visit a restaurant, hotel or wine estate and provide feedback, either positive or negative. No one has anything to say when a positive review is posted, however when a negative review surfaces the knives, slander and bitchiness come out to play. It would be wrong to assume that this negativity originates only from people associated directly with the restaurant or hotel concerned. More and more it seems that people who happen to like that particular location for whatever reason are so closed off to the possibility that it might not actually be the best place on Earth, that they launch personal attacks on those writing reviews. Why people? Why?
If you run a perfect business, company, coffee shop, soup kitchen or household then you are above all criticism. The Concierge salutes your achievements of an impossible standard. Hmmm, did I overdo the criticism there just a tad? My bad.
Of course no one is perfect; (my future ex-wife, Adriana Lima is pretty damn close though) and businesses are even further away from perfect, since they are compromised of the same imperfect individuals that we all are.
So why is there the perceived impression that people who write or even talk about their experiences needing to be professionally qualified and experienced to do so? Most of the decent food websites in the country have reviews posted to them. And a brilliant idea it is for those people looking for honest, un-fancy and unfiltered feedback from ‘normal’ people about hotels and restaurants . As a professional Concierge I feel that I am a little more informed about food, wine, service and standards than the average person may be. This may or may not be true and of course that does not make me a critic. It also does not mean that I cannot express my opinions in any way I like. Freedom of expression and all that right?
I think everyone just needs to have a sit down, shoot some Cuervo and relax. What would the world be without people honest enough to give their opinion? A world of sheep and cowards that’s what; and to tell you the truth I wouldn’t want to live in that world. Take me out back, like old Bessy the cow, and shoot me dead. Please.
So, back on topic. I love restaurants. What’s not to love? Food, alcohol, location and service. In the correct combination and/or done well it’s just brilliant. But get just one of these ingredients wrong and it’s a big ‘ol mess. And it doesn’t even need to be the little family run cafe that have this problem. The big fancy corporate places can get it wrong just as often, sometimes more. The issue I like to focus on is the human element since it’s so close to my own industry and what I am more informed about.
The human element is what WILL make or break a restaurant, bar, club or business. You can make a lousy location work. Look at a restaurant like Bizerca Bistro for example. It’s a stunning space no doubt, and the food is brilliant. But tucked away in a side street that most Capetonians have never been on? It could/should have bombed big time. But it didn’t; and it hasn’t because they have gotten ticks in all the right boxes. Food, attitude, business model, service etc… It’s one of the countries best and it’s a good thing it’s almost hidden away. I’d hate to struggle to get a table if it becomes another location the ‘trendy pretty’ people go to be seen. Conversely, having a beautiful location doesn’t guarantee excellence either. I’m certainly not going to name names; but Camps Bay is a perfect example of this. So much rubbish in one stretch of prime real estate should be criminal! Of the plethora of restaurants and cafes I would certainly not rate more than 3 or 4 as decent. As that’s ‘Camps Bay decent’; not ‘town’ decent.’
One thing that I would like to impart on the world you all is something that I have come to realise. Great location = Obnoxious staff and average food. Average/Poor Location = Friendly staff and brilliant food. Think I got this ass backwards? I think not. Think about some of your favorite restaurants in Cape Town, South Africa and the world. Do they have great views or do they not? I’ve been to more restaurants than I care to remember and my top 10 favorites all do not have a decent view, or in some cases, have no views at all. Look at international restaurants like Le Gavroche, The Fat Duck and The French Laundry for example. Little or no views to speak of but they are among the best in the world. A coincidence? I like to think not.
Why is this? When your restaurant has a great view you are patronised by the wealthy, trendy, pretty people because your restaurant looks good and is ‘in.’ You will become lazy about providing the very best experience possible because you just don’t need to push at that level to stay popular or busy. You probably know that your location is bringing in the customers rather than your food or great customer service. Who cares then huh? And on the flip side; when your restaurant is on the ground floor of some CBD mall or in an old building with no sea/mountain views you HAVE to get every single thing right to ensure that you keep your customers coming back for more. You have to work that much harder to entice the ‘pretty people’ away from the trendy restaurants.
Personally I could care less for the ‘pretty’ restaurants. I don’t need a great view to enjoy my meal. That’s why I have a pretty girl to look at instead. I like to believe that when people come to me for a recommendation; or go out on their own for a meal, they actually want to eat brilliant food. They don’t want to ‘people watch’ and they don’t want to just ‘be seen’ at the seasons latest hot spot.
What do you think? Is there a middle ground? Can there be a great; and I mean great, not decent, restaurant with a spectacular view? Will regular people ever be able to give feedback on restaurants without being personally attacked? Will quagga’s ever be cloned? I’m looking forward to the answers to all of these questions
I Am Concierge