Restaurants. Reviews. Drama.

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.

Yes, yes. She is VERY distracting!

Yes, yes. She is VERY distracting!

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.’

Pretty, but most likely crap

Pretty, but most likely crap

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.

This looks a lot more my style

This looks a lot more my style

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

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24 responses to “Restaurants. Reviews. Drama.

  1. I agree with you on the location vs quality issue. Perhaps the restaurants “without a view” try a bit harder?

    I am always astounded when driving though Camps Bay’s Main Road on a nice day – seeing those bars/restaurants/coffee shops jam packed again and again. Must be the view (or the traffic fumes?)

  2. You’re asking the right questions – we live in a fickle city where food & service standards spike and dip regularly, regardless of an establishment’s location. Do we sit back & do nothing? Not at all, but I don’t think it’s necessary to release an onslaught of abuse (personal or otherwise) towards an establishment as a result of a bad experience.

    It’s up to the management of these establishments to remain level-headed, regardless of their location, & focus on what they’re there for: to provide an outstanding customer experience, which will result in return business.

  3. Great post! I agree with all you say Ryan and I think the relationship between view and quality seems particularly relevent to coastal establishments – think Hermanus, Camps Bay, SeaPoint, Mouille Point, Blouberg! – Paternoster at least has Gaatjie! However, the Winelands does buck the trend in being able to combine stunning views with quality food Jordan, Tokara, Overture to name just three.

    • Hi Michael. Of course you are correct. I did mean to cover the Winelands in this post but they fall in a completely different category that I shall be addressing soon. And yes, some of my favourites have brilliant views like Tokara, the new and much improved Delaire and many more.

      I appreciate your feedback. Thank you

  4. For the winelands examples you probably need to factor in distance – given that they are a little further away they need to make sure that they are very attractive in other areas like food. Moreover views are almost a default for wineland restaurants so that is not necessarily a point of difference. For Camps Bay restarants distance is not an issue as there are many suitable “punters” passing by.

    • Hi Greg. Thank you for your feedback. I definitely rate many of the Winelands restaurants as some of the best in the country/world. I didn’t really touch on them in this post; I wanted to focus more on the city restaurants and my point about location versus quality but I agree completely with you on all points. I had planned a blog on the Winelands anyway so perhaps I should cover that next. Again, thanks for your comments and thoughts. I’m still a beginner so appreciate all feedback.

    • I am glad that you found it interesting/informative. The post covers so many aspects of what I do on a daily basis as a Concierge so it’s important that I stay on top on everything. Thanks for your comments

  5. Great post, Ryan!
    I agree with you – we have seen it so many times in our little village… the places with the best views and locations are mostly arrogant, and believe the view and location make up for their bad food and service. I often get the impression they think we should be grateful that they allow us on their premises, and I cringe when I think what the tourists must make of this!
    There are a few little local secrets here (and no, I’m not telling) who have been around for 20+ years while the big and mighty on the beachfront, harbour and mountainsides seem to change owners, name, menu and decor on a very regular basis.
    I’m looking forward to your post on the winelands… also write about ways in which locals can feel like tourists in our beautiful city.. for eg. when last has any local done a open top bus tour? Yet we’d probably do it in foreign cities? 🙂
    Just an idea!
    R

    • Hi Retha, thanks for your feedback. This post could have become quite controversial but I’m not the type
      to slam places even if it’s warranted. I’ve actually already started my next blog post which covers wine estates. There are some awesome restaurants out there & it’s definitely worth getting into.

  6. I find myself coming back to your web-site only because you have lots of awesome insights and also you happen to be at this a while, which is very impressive and tells me you know your stuff.

  7. Not actually Retha but Pierre playing on her MacBook Air. WOW! Thanks for our shared experience at Beluga Restaurant last night. It was so nice to get such attention and special treatment. I know this was all due to your esteemed presence. The food was excellent, the liquid accompaniment even nicer and the social interaction great fun. Beluga seems to prove your theory well. They have no view to speak of. Although they are in a trendy and touristy part of town they sure are tucked away and do not have much passing trade. As per your theory the quality of service and food is exceptional.

  8. Pingback: If you could go only to one restaurant for the next five years, which would it be? « Haight68Ashbury

  9. Spot on Concierge! Exactly my dilemma on Friday morning, Camps Bay is shocking in terms of the quality of food and service. After having tweeted four tweets mentioning a certain restaurant, I don’t see the point why they set up social media platforms for themselves in the first place if they barely check their tweets. It’s quite sad because Camps Bay is such a beautiful location and often the type of place to take tourists for food with a view.

    • I couldn’t agree more. The failure of restaurants, bars, shops, hotel & all other companies in the sphere of social media is a disgrace. It becomes even more apparent when you look at companies like Vodacom who have an entire department dedicated to social media and how well it’s managed.

      Camps Bay has been a disappointment for years. It is, of course, a big shame since it’s one of the country’s biggest draw cards. It seems they take advantage of the high volume, low repeat business model that epitomises our summer season.

      At least there are many more quality options in the city and the Winelands.

      Life is too short to eat mediocre food!

      Thanks for your feedback 🙂

  10. Great post Ryan.
    Speaking of Camps Bay restaurants with views, what’s your take on Roundhouse? I’ve not yet been.

    • The Roundhouse is as brilliant as its been rated this year. Always been good ; but they’ve had some management/service issues in the past. Brilliant location for lunch/brunch or dinner. It’s definitely on my preferred list of restaurants my team recommend to guests! You really should give it a try.

      Brunch in summer there is an inbelievable experience 🙂

  11. Couldn’t of expressed these sentiments better myself!
    Unbelievable! Absolute worst is when visitors come from afar and they want to go to all the ‘in’ places…Ah the negotiating that ensues!!! You like what you like, there’s no good or bad-just preference, surely? and I suppose who’s opinion you value is to your own detriment…
    I loved… your opinion

    • Well I think half the problem is most people don’t eat out regularly enough & when they do it’s to the same places. It’s tough to stay informed on a large range of places; that’s why you should always use a Concierge. We know best :). It is certainly frustrating knowing visitors always want restaurants with views, but Cape Town lacks these in large measure.

      Thank you for your kind words and interest!

  12. Great post and more relevant than ever. Last year I had the experience of an international visitor taking us to the Codfather, a place I’d usually avoid because of its “tourist” vibe. I was pleasantly suprised, food was of a high standard. Don’t know about value for money though 🙂

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