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YELPing Back — ‘Burn in hell,’ Says Notable Chef to One of His Customers

One of the more recent features YELP has implemented involves the ability for business owners to respond to their reviews, whether positive or negative. Obviously, this is opening the floodgates for extremely boring and politically-correct communication between consumer and producer…am I right? Right…..wrong. Let’s jump into this particular case:

Let me setup the battlefield: Negative Nancy Yelp Reviewer vs. Passionate Chef/Restaurateur.

As a prologue, on a recent visit to aggregate-review site Yelp.com, I was drawn to a particular back and forth argument occurring between some displeased customer and the owner of that very restaurant. Why should you care?

Well, the review seemingly reamed the restaurant at length, in fact the 1-star rating was over five paragraphs long, touching on everything from the forced 3% gratuity, refusal to cook Kobe Beef well done, chef’s family walking around “trying to be restauranteurs,” and soggy french fries, to name a few.

The owner’s response? Five paragraphs of his own, rounding out the entire piece with a real bruiser:

“Burn in hell.” — Jason Quinn

Popular food truck-chef-turned-restaurateur, Jason Quinn, has accomplished quite a bit in his short 25-years on the planet. His once-chef duties with The Lime Truck helped him secure a $100,000 prize on Food Network’s food truck show, and shortly after, he rode the wave of success to open up his own brick-and-mortar restaurant in Southern California — The Playground.

If you’re not familiar with Quinn from his appearance on The Great Food Truck Race, you’ll likely hear more about him through the reverberating halls of the foodie community. He’s a passionate fellow, quick to defend and boast about his craft, his people and the ultimate food art he produces.

A few of his competitors on The Great Food Truck Race were quick to pigeon hole him, and his team, as cocky and young — which frankly, isn’t too far fetched. They are young, but they’re winning, and the food is speaking for itself. Anyone who’s tasted a dish from The Lime Truck, or experienced a night of dining at The Playground can quickly attest to the quality of food they’re putting in their mouth.

Quinn is a skilled chef, and explains every dish he makes with the same enthusiasm one would use while describing their newborn baby’s first uttering of “momma” or “papa.” He’s a giddy chef — it’s refreshing. Just look at him busting at the seams in the video we shot of him a couple months back at a local food truck gathering [see below]:

Now let’s switch gears. We’ve established Jason Quinn’s passion, his built up anxiety for success, and now…we’ll explain how he does his darndest to stay active on Yelp. And by active, I mean he responds to a majority of his Yelp reviews, good or bad. To his credit, the majority of feedback he gets about his Santa Ana location is positive. Easy to deal with, for the most part.

With a running total of 84 reviews written of The Playground, the heavy majority of them fall in 5-star range, with the average rating standing at 4.5/5 stars. So what happens when a bad review comes in? Here’s a look at the full conversation, starting with the lengthy, negative review:

Full disclosure, I loved my visit to The Playground. Quinn was super hospitable when our friends had dinner, all the food was delicious, and everyone around was having a good time. The review above? Some could view it as narrow, and I definitely wouldn’t disagree, but playing devil’s advocate, there are far more disgruntled, naive and obscure reviews to be had on Yelp.

Trolls are a plenty on the Internet, and this person just doesn’t seem to understand the type of restaurant he/she walked into. Many a gastropub and chef-driven restaurant involves dealing with a certain heir…if you don’t like it, you don’t dine there. There are plenty of other establishments that will cater to your changing of their menu, your cooking suggestions, and more wallet-friendly dishes.

With that in mind, does that negative Yelper’s review warrant this response from chef Quinn? You decide:

One of the most interesting lines in Quinn’s response is his self questioning of his restaurant’s core drive, to be “chef-driven” or “hospitality-driven.” The option of being chef driven, while un-Orthodox, would at least give a semblance of a reason behind his passionate response.

In a chef-driven environment, the policies set forth by The Playground aren’t too out-of-bounds.But does that mean Quinn’s move to be so passionate and transparent (he openly expresses the $300,000 investment he made to open the restaurant) in his Yelp responses are a good business move?

It’s up for debate. Quinn hasn’t shied away from his response, he’s not chalking it up to a lapse of judgement, he’s kept his response up on the review website and even gone a step further, he’s opened up a “Dialog” section on his restaurant’s website. He discusses the incident at length. It’s actually a very interesting read, I’ve lifted some of their notes in response to the beef:

The artistic license we allow the kitchen touches on a sensitive tension between the chefs in the kitchen and the customers in the seats. The chefs design their dishes in the way they believe will highlight the quality of the ingredients, the culinary art involved and the customer’s experience. Every component of every dish is carefully considered and tailored to complement the other elements of the dish. Regardless whether you and I agree that they have created a masterpiece, they do their best to design the perfect dish.

If a customer orders risotto, he would never dream of telling the chefs that they should use a different white wine in its preparation; if the customer could detect and disapprove of the white wine being used, he would either not order the dish or say that it did not suit his taste. In that case, we would take it off his check and offer to substitute something more to his liking. (Much as we did for the infamous one-star reviewer.)

So what’s the next move? An open discussion.

Even if a chef can win an argument, should it be had in the first place? In an age of transparency, social media and direct customer interaction, there are indeed new liabilities that should be accounted for.

For many restaurateurs, they fear that one “unhappy” customer may spread those negative sentiments to his immediate network, and subsequently, his network’s extended network.

That itching task of trying to please every customer, which undoubtedly led to the phrase “The customer is always right,” keeps many chefs/owners up at night wondering if they did all they could do. It’s fair to say Quinn has that itch, he’s attentive to customers, he’s responsive on social networks and Yelp and does all he can to correct inconsistencies in service and quality.

Being an accessible, open and outgoing entrepreneur can have potential drawbacks though.

Possible case #1, telling a customer, publicly, to Burn in Hell.

By Elie Ayrouth

Elie is a product of Orange County, CA. In early 2012, his dentist diagnosed him with 8 different cavities, three of which on the same tooth, as a result of his 23-year Sour Patch Kid addiction.

49 replies on “YELPing Back — ‘Burn in hell,’ Says Notable Chef to One of His Customers”

Fact#1 Yelp are a bunch of animals. Fact#2 If your that affected by a yelp review your taking yourself too seriously. Finally, if your such a badass then why don’t you just charge more for your food to more easily hide the fact that you don’t pay the stupid asses in your kitchen that work “17 hours a day” a decent wage. If thats the case they should be making more on overtime rates anyway. Oh yeah, don’t go with the current trand of trying to “educate” the customer. If i like my Kobe w/d and i’ll pay for it then let me have it. I guess the huffing the gas fumes from a food truck got to this guy…

To be fair, I stand by my decision to write back. I work too hard to have some dumb fuck comment on the subtleties of my business. That being said, had they only criticized me I would have been much more civil. They attacked my parents, and no one will ever get away with that. If this discourse offended you. You will not like my restaurant, and as another yelper said, you will have less deliciousness in your life. To those of you who think I am wrong, please give me a call, 949 292 6282 or email me jason@playgrounddtsa.com, let me show you where I’m coming from. I hide nothing in my business. Maybe that’s a downfall, but I sleep like a baby every night next to my lovely fiancée and i go to work everyday to a job that I fucking love. What else does a person need? A 70 inch tv? A Porsche? I think not.

Jason Robert Quinn.

This article was written with multiple objectives, first of which was to adress the transparency in running a business, through social media, becoming more and more evident every day. It was part of The Lime Truck’s success, and has been a great tool (from an outsider’s perspective) for the current notoriety The Playground has amassed.
Jason isn’t the first person to respond to his Yelpers, but his level of transparency with his business, emotions, and criticisms definitely made for an interesting article and subsequent discussion.

The discussion he’s raised by defending his family is both noble and powerful, and he’s shown that his response-to-the-review wasn’t just a quick burst of emotion that he regrets. He has folded in the response and discussion into a new page of his restaurant’s website, and ultimately  stands as a beacon for future chef-driven restaurants.

Kudos to Jason on the boldness. 

Oh are you kidding me? If you talk to me like that either in the restaurant or in the review you deserve to have No one come back to your restaurant. Not only is that disrespectful, but its business suicide. Why would i go there if I am afraid the chef is gonna go nuts during my visit. Critiscm is what makes you better. The server should have spoken with the customer regarding the temp and then if they still wanted it cooked that way so be it. Having worked with some fairly successful chefs and restaurant companies i would say that was a bad move on Jasons part. But its his place and he can do as he pleases. With maturity comes wisdom, We shall see what happens. Good luck Jason

Key miss –> “Chef-Driven”

I think what the article is pointing out is that in these types of restaurants, the chef has created things the way he feels will taste the best. If he feels that overcooking the meat will tarnish the tastes he’s set forth in the menu, why would he do it?

If you created a burger you felt achieved the exact flavors you wanted, and many, many people agreed through taste and time…would you still overcook it and risk changing the experience for someone?

Read the rest of our yelp reviews, I always write back very politely. And I learn from their criticism. While the customer is always right, these customers were wrong. Everyone who has dealt with the service industry knows that some people are just awful. These people were just that I’m sure that if you came you would thoroughly enjoy your experience and you would feel no threat of being reprimanded by some douchey chef. This is all blown way out of proportion.

Bravo Chef! After working in restaurants for over 20 years, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to tell this type of “guest” to get out and never come back. You can’t please these kind of people. Keep up the great work!

This just made my day! I own a small coffee shop near Seattle (SO many coffee snobs here) and I understand the frustrations, but also the love, of Yelp. This reminds me of the Murky Coffee debacle. Jason you are my hero. Your passion is clear. Good luck in your business!

I have been in this business for over 25 years and I totally understand bad customers.  Is this an excuse to lower yourself?  I think not.  A word of advise; stop with the explitives.  It only shows your lack of self control and many people who read or hear it will automatically count you out.  Until you find a way to handle yourself in a more professional manner you will never know the big opportunites that are passing you by.  I am the Chief Operating Officer for a group with over 40 locations so I have seen it all.  Many great performers have gone by the wayside because they got caught up in bad situations and never recovered.  I would suggest you drop the 3% and build it into the price of the meals.  Put yourself in your customer’s shoes everyday and in everything you do.  Honestly, I would not consider bringing my family, friends or business associates anywhere I know the owner/operator is so volital.  Always best to take the high road….

Totally agree.  I have been in the biz for over 20 years.  The 3% and the immature chef are bad signs.  Chef driven restaurants can be amazing but all too often, these chefs act like they can reinvent the wheel.  I, for one, think a chef is far better utilized cooking and directing in the back.  Hire an FOH guy who knows whats up.  I’m appalled at his response which equates to restaurant suicide.  He has hurt his business and his future here because he is young and undisciplined.  He needs to channel all of that negative energy into his food and let his Maitre’ d handle all the customer service.  BTW, adding a tip for the kitchen is illegal in Texas.  Is it not in Cali?

Passion over profit, except for the 3%. 
Why not just charge an extra 3% on the menu price? Isn’t that how it works in other establishments, in effect? Minor detail in an otherwise entertaining exchange. 

Most people are smart enough to exclude the positive and negative yelp ‘outliers.’ 

The one word that keeps coming back to me without regard to justification is “immature.” A tactful response would have made the yelper seem that much more out of line. 

Unsolicited tip next time you feel heated: write what you are feeling, delete it, rewrite. It usually comes out a lot cooler.

Two problems I have with Yelp.  #1. Any business competitor can write whatever they like about you without the reader knowing their motives or who they really are.  #2. Haters love yelp and use it to make themselves feel better about their miserable lives.  These little creeps rather than expressing a problem to the management of the restaurant at the time of the problem, that could easily be fixed would rather stay quiet and go home and get on the computer and bitch about it. Passive aggressive behavior.  I know of a couple of business owners that have been ruined by Yelp and I wish there was a way that Yelp could keep this kind of thing from happening. If some crazy person is out to damage a business for whatever reason what is to stop him from creating multiple accounts and bashing them over and over again.(Yes it can be done)  You have to take what you read on Yelp with a grain of salt. This also goes for the positive reviews with people having opposite motives. With all that said, It was refreshing to read the Chef’s comments to the customer, and yes, he could have done without the burn in hell part.  I take my recommendations from friends and professional reviewers. 

Two problems I have with Yelp.  #1. Any business competitor can write whatever they like about you without the reader knowing their motives or who they really are.  #2. Haters love yelp and use it to make themselves feel better about their miserable lives.  These little creeps rather than expressing a problem to the management of the restaurant at the time of the problem, that could easily be fixed would rather stay quiet and go home and get on the computer and bitch about it. Passive aggressive behavior.  I know of a couple of business owners that have been ruined by Yelp and I wish there was a way that Yelp could keep this kind of thing from happening. If some crazy person is out to damage a business for whatever reason what is to stop him from creating multiple accounts and bashing them over and over again.(Yes it can be done)  You have to take what you read on Yelp with a grain of salt. This also goes for the positive reviews with people having opposite motives. With all that said, It was refreshing to read the Chef’s comments to the customer, and yes, he could have done without the burn in hell part.  I take my recommendations from friends and professional reviewers. 

You nailed it! As the owner of a 6 month old restaurant, I’ve had my fair share of problems with negative reviews. If a customer attempts to convey his dissatisfaction to management and management make no attempt to rectify the problem, then the restaurant is fair game. More often then not, a customer will remain silent until they are behind their computer screen compiling a scathing analysis of a restaurants failings. Don’t even get me started about the role Yelp themselves play in  this. Deleting good reviews ( not just filtering but outright deleting!) to manipulate how the public perceives restaurant who don’t pay the monthly extortion fee. Its maddening!

Everyone who uses Yelp understands that there is a small subset of people who are either looking to find something wrong with everything, will only love a place if it’s exactly perfect, or worst of all, lord their “power” over small business owners for free stuff. They’re toxic, but so are small business owners who have regular rat/roach infestations, serve frozen, rotten or badly made food, consistently screw up orders, overcharges, ignore people to pay attention to pretty girls/gossip. All of those owners have the same entitlement complex. Yelp is a clearinghouse to weed out the worst and let you know what to expect from the rest.

There is no such thing as a small business owner who has been driven out of business by Yelp. That’s pure hyperbole, because thousands of mediocre or just plain badly reviewed businesses keep right on going. If a place relies on nothing but Yelp to drive customers, they’ve made a terrible business decision; advertising is still a cost of business. And if they’ve made legit bad business decisions or don’t know how to run a business, a few bad reviews are just a convenient scapegoat, especially in a sea of good ones. Nearly 90% of Yelp reviews are 3, 4, or 5 star, and anyplace that’s all negative usually also has negative or lukewarm word-of-mouth and professional reviews as well.

Of course, when business owners cross over into generating fake or paid-for 5-star reviews, they’re now into “deserve to go out of business” territory. Sadly, as many business owners have no ethics or tact as customers.

Reminds me of my first visit to K-Paul’s back in the ’80’s, after waiting ove an hour in line to get in, some idiot sitting near us walked out because Chef Paul’s policy on blackened meat was not passed medium and he wanted it well done. With many years in the business I sometimes don’t understand guests who are so rigid, if they can’t or won’t do it the way you want, order something else. Caveat emptor.

Jason’s Dad here, you know, the guy “endlessly walking around trying to be [a] restauranteur [sic].”  I’ll just add two brief things to this discussion.  First, these guests worked desperately to become and stay unhappy, and when your goal is to be miserable, it’s not hard to achieve it.  Second, I know from a conversation with Jason that the vitriol in his response came from the reviewer’s attack on Jason’s mom and me.  The reviewer made it personal and Jason responded personally.  Truthfully, I didn’t feel any need to defend myself and if I had I wouldn’t have done so in the same way Jason defended me, but I am honored that Jason took up my defense and I love him all the more for it.

For me the big lesson here is that we not only can’t make everyone happy, but we shouldn’t try.  If we try to make everyone happy we will become some watered down version of ourselves probably not distinguishable from fifty or so other restaurants within ten miles.  Be we try to be true to Jason’s vision, without compromise.  Some people simply shouldn’t come to our restaurant.  It is different from any restaurant in Orange County.  Many people will and already do love it.  It is for them that we have made it and for them our chefs work tirelessly to create exciting new dishes day in and day out. 

One final thought, if you’ll forgive me.  The 3% kitchen gratuity obviously isn’t a large amount and anyone who is troubled by it could easily reduce any gratuity they might be leaving for the front of the house staff or simply ask that it be removed from their bill.  The last thing we’ll do is ask anyone to pay for anything that they didn’t value.  Our 3% kitchen gratuity policy is our statement that a quality kitchen – defined as a kitchen where everyone preparing the food takes a personal stake in the output and adds love and passion to everything that leaves their hands – that quality kitchen deserves more than the servers (who, in most restaurants earn substantially much more than their kitchen colleagues after tips are factored in).  We believe the tradition of tipping only the front of house represents a fundamental inequity in financial reward for both skill and the ultimate satisfaction of the diner.  We’re not the first to adopt a similar policy and I’m sure you’ll see more of it in the future.

I enjoyed your comments and the obvious experience and maturity that goes along with them, especially the unique approach to wait staffing. I would caution, however, that to regular people who use Yelp as a tool to get a quick idea of a place, seeing lots of 4/5 star reviews and one 1-star speaks for itself. Everyone knows you can’t please everyone. However, a chef/owner flying off the handle at someone will make nearly everyone who sees that tirade think twice about the place, the owner, and go to a competing place instead. For each of the few who think right on, I’m going to a place that will kick that guy to the curb, 10 or 20 people will wonder if they’ll make a mistake while eating out and be on the receiving end of it, in person or online, if they happen to need a substitution or have a less than stellar plate. The numerous good reviews will reassure them, but thanks to the internet, to them the tirade is as fresh as if it had just happened and they might get their own if they don’t have a perfect date. Especially since you actually want people to tell you right then, so you can make it right; not be timid and wait until they’re online later.

It isn’t entirely rational, but neither was the response. If you didn’t have a business to support, _I_ would say right on, you get to treat people how you want and they don’t have to come. But you seem like such awesome guys making awesome food that it would be a damn shame to get an undeserved reputation of blowing up at customers, even though it’s never happened in person.

I would also recommend striking the 3% gratuity and replacing it with a pay-as-you-wish system. 3% is an uncomfortable number: It’s low enough that it won’t break anyone, but it will feel like an extra tax, heaped on top of the wait staff grat and sales tax. When they see it before the meal starts, it sets the tone to a degree, like you’ll nickel and dime people like a phone company for every bit of profit, even though that isn’t your intention.

If nearly everyone pays 3%, and it’s important to you for people to know why they pay, then just add that to your prices and state that a portion of every dish’s price goes directly to your chef. If you want grateful people to be able to show further gratuity, keep an extra optional tip line open for the chefs directly on the CC receipt.

(Personally, I just hand a $20 to the chef, or leave a note that it’s for the chef and separate from the tip, but I’ve had some refuse it. Money is awkward when you’re too passionate.)

I LOVE THIS RESTAURANT, THE STAFF, THE FOOD AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN. WHEN OUR TEAM CAME THROUGH WE WERE TREATED AMAZINGLY…IVE BEEN BACK A HANDFUL OF TIMES AND EVEN STEPPED OFF MY VEGETARIAN DIET TO TRY ONE OF OF THE SIGNATURE PLAYGROUND BURGERS…IT WAS AMAZING. I THINK JASONS ATTENTION TO DETAIL FOR HIS FOOD IS ON POINT. THIS SPOT ISNT SOME CHAIN JOINT TO GRAB A BULLSHIT BURGER FROM, YOU COME HERE TO ENTRUST YOUR PALETTE WITH HIS TEAM, YOU DONT COMMISSION A PAINTER TO PAINT A PORTRAIT FOR YOU AND THEN TRY TO TELL HIM HOW TO PAINT. YOU DONT TAKE YOUR CAR TO A MECHANIC TO FIX A PROBLEM, AND THEN TELL HIM HOW HE SHOULD FIX IT. SOME PROFESSIONS ARE BEST LEFT OT THOSE KNOW ARE IN THE KNOW OF THING. SOME FOOD SHOULD BE PREPARED A CERTAIN WAY, IF YOU WANT TO DEEP FRY YOUR BURGER AND BURN IT ALL TO SHIT, GO TO BURGER KING…THEIR MOTTO IS CLEARLY “YOUR WAY RIGHT AWAY” BECAUSE THEY DONT CARE ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE ON A SPECIFIC LEVEL. I AM VERY PASSIONATE ABOUT MY CAREERS AND ART AND ID HAVE RESPONDED TO SOME ONE TRYING TO FLAME MY WORK IN PUBLIC IN A WAY MORE HOSTILE MANNER…ITS PASSION THAT MAKES US DO THINGS SOMETIMES. I BACK THIS MAN, HIS FOOD, HIS RESTAURANT, AND HES WARRANTED REPLY TO WHO COULD BE AN ANGRY JEALOUS RESTAURANT OWNER TRYING TO STRIKE A NERVE.

PHILLIP

PS YES IN ALL CAPS LOCK….WHY ARE ALL OF YOU WHISPERING?

Living right up the street from the Playground, I can honestly say that it’s one of the best new restaurants in town.

Jason, Brandon, Frank, Jarred, and Papa Quinn have always gone out of their way to make me and my wife feel like we’re sitting down for dinner at one of their homes.

Sorry angry Yelper but you can’t always have it your way when you order a burger. Have you ever been to Haven Gastropub or Chapter One? Same rules apply.

I find it sad that some people seem to forget when they write their “reviews” on Yelp that these folks who run restaurants day and night pour their blood, sweat, and tears into the establishment–only to be kicked in the back publicly (online) instead of directly addressing the issue.

Yelpers: If you really have a problem with an establishment, talk with the manager–don’t troll on Yelp.

Well, Mr. Quinn and son, I have some solid info and advice for you.  I’m gonna tell you some stuff you already know and perhaps make some innacurate assumptions but that should not detract from my points being made here. I hope you will take what I say to heart because it is all the truth and based on experiences gained from working in a number of chef driven houses over the years.  This is not addressed to either of you specifically but I hope you will both read it with and open mind.  

Mr Quinn, your retort sounds like a pretty good defense except for the 3% thing. Let’s get some things out in the open about FOH and BOH. FOH people do make more than the back of the house. They don’t make that from what you pay them.  They make that by doing their job well and their skills being appreciated by a guest.  The guest pays the server what they want.  Usually around 18%.  They don’t always though.  Getting stiffed can mean that a server will make virtually nothing on some nights.  It has happened to me personally.  There is no guarantee of income and the seasonal nature of the business means that for tipped employees, many months out of the year will be slower and their income will suffer.  Not cooks, though.  A well run restaurant will pay a good cook what he is worth out of their own pockets.  Dipping into the tips to pay cooks is simply unacceptable in my book.  As I said, an FOH person usually makes more than the average line cook.  Not more than the Chef or a fairly paid Sous or any other fairly paid position of responsibility in the kitchen but certainly more than rookies, journey men and green horns.  You guys say your customers are cheap when they don’t want to pay the 3% vig but IMHO, you are the ones who come off as cheap.  It sounds to me like the age old hate from BOH to FOH is probably alive and well at the Playground.  It’s also likely that your FOH staff resents your policy and is less than loyal.  All assumptions but something tells me those are factors in this restaurant.  What is done in the front of any house is nothing less than admirable and worthy of respect from every cook there from Chef to Prep.  Team building is the only way for a small place to really excel.  That team consists of everyone.  What you guys are showing is that by being chef driven, you are gonna run an area of the restaurant that is 100% different than what you do and tell FOH professionals that you as BOH guys somehow know how to do their job better than they do and you are gonna take money out of their pockets.  Good luck getting and keeping quality FOH staff!  Try putting a few of your cooks out front and you will see the difficulty of what FOH personnel do.  On a professional level, it is just as challenging as cooking.  I have done them both at a very high level and I know from fighting battles every night on either side of the line that a great experience is produced by the entire team.  Not the FOH or BOH only.  From a career standpoint, the fact is that BOH chose their profession.  They chose to suffer for their art on paltry sums of money until, like every other artist, they either succeed and prosper or move on to something else.  On the other hand FOH people usually have other interests such as school or professional endeavors.  Many times (in many states it is way, way  worse than Cali) they are not happy about the stigma that surrounds servers and how in this country it is not a respected profession.  It is a bummer to many servers because they usually don’t have health insurance or any other benefit even a check out girl at Home Depot has.  It sucks to be under appreciated yet, they still show up every day smiling and trying to do a good job for their owners and managers as well as their customers and themselves.  It is a truly thankless job.  The server is the eternal whipping boy to both customers and management.  “Blame it on the waiter. They can’t do anything about it”.  I’ve seen chefs do that many, many times.  Servers earn their money by dealing with the people issues BOH should never even worry about.  Face to face customer service is scary sometimes.  That’s why most cooks will tell you that they could never do the job of a server because they couldn’t deal with talking to people.  Well, that’s what a waiter is usually better at than anyone else in the restaurant.  The really good FOH people are just as skilled in a whole different set of things than a line cook.  The professional FOH person can make a restaurant a lot of money and can be personally responsible for a customers enjoyment.  Ideally, it should be a combo but I have seen a good waiter make an inconsistent kitchen night into a plus.  FOH covers for BOH faults constantly.  That’s part of the job, too. Another downside to chef driven restaurants I have worked in is the militaristic kind of brow beating that goes on in the BOH getting doled out to the FOH employees too.  A truly blind and stupid move.  If you treat a customer service and sales specialist(basically a person that has to smile for a living) with aggressive, insulting behavior as their superior, you are gonna take them off their game and they will not be as effective and ultimately, that will affect the bottom line.  Learn to appreciate the pros on both sides of the line.  They are both equally important and in your case appears to be sorely out of balance.  Good luck.P.S.  The dead giveaway that you have a long way to go and a lot to learn about this business is illustrated by not serving wines by the glass.  How much cash did you cost yourself there?  Highest margin item in the house(since u don’t sell liquor) and you don’t even sell it in it’s most profitable form.

P.S.S.   Notice how I didn’t use any expletives in this post.  Just another FOH skill we use every day.  Restraint and tact.  Learn it.  Live it.  Peace.

Benny, I want to sincerely thank you for your thoughtful response.  I’d like to point out a couple of differences between what we’re doing at The Playground and the Playground you have expressly assumed.  I can tell you have considerable experience and some of it has been very bad.  But you have assumed that we’re doing some of the same things you experienced and hated.

First of all, we have no line cooks, only chefs.  Every one of our chefs is well trained, experienced and can’t imagine any other thing they’d rather do than work with food.  They come in every morning, create and prep a new menu and then they prepare the dishes they worked on all day for our dinner customers.  We pay them well, but probably no where near well enough for this kind of effort.  If it were simply a job to them, they would never accept what we or, for that matter, any restaurant can afford.  They work for the joy of being given the liberty to create great food from great ingredients and to experiment with new techniques.  They live for the joy they see in the customers’ faces and the empty plates that make their way past them on their way to the dish pit.  These are special people who add more to a diner’s experience than any cook I can think of in any restaurant you’ve ever worked in or been to.  We believe the 3% kitchen gratuity is an appropriate and symbolic way of honoring their effort.  If the Playground ultimately proves to be a successful restaurant, it will be (in part) the result of their collective genius and commitment.  They deserve to share in that success proportionally to its success.  Proportionality comes from receiving a percentage of the value of what they prepare.  We understand that some people will disagree with this approach.  That’s okay.  We’re committed to doing this in the way that makes the most sense to us.

Our FOH staff has been universally praised for its extraordinary attitude.  Read all of the Yelp reviews, you’ll see that even when they’re criticized for some technical error, their attitude is always acknowledged.  You will not find a service staff like ours anywhere.  We started by hiring no one who’d ever served in a restaurant before.  We hired them for their personality, their interest in food and beer, and their desire to make people happy.  They came to us with no preconceived notion of entitlement.  Training them has been tough, but a labor of love.  Imagine requiring them to learn not only the basics of restaurant service and a POS system, but we also expect them to be educated about all 75 beers that we have available on hand at any one time and a menu that changes every day.  And it’s not enough that they know the menu; they also need to understand the story behind each dish, the manner of preparation, the reasons behind certain choices that the chefs made, etc. I don’t know how we found such a wonderful group of people, but we did and now we’re like one big family.  And to all appearances, they’re very happy and in no way resent the chefs.  Team building is important and I have to say I think we’ve done a good job of it.

You seem also to have assumed that our FOH staff is subject to browbeating by BOH.  Not true.  Jason is the undisputed voice of authority at The Playground and he is demanding.   His name and reputation are on every plate that leaves his kitchen.  But this isn’t about his ego; it’s about the pursuit of excellence, if not perfection. His demands are consistent with the goal of serving the best food he knows how in a very precise manner.  Everyone at the restaurant shares that goal, but not because they’ve been browbeaten.   

When there is an issue with the food (there have been a few), our FOH staff aren’t asked to take the heat.  Jason will come out of the kitchen and deal with it himself.  He insists on seeing any plate that isn’t clean when it comes back to the kitchen and is likely to talk to the guest if it appears he/she may not have loved it.  It is our policy to take an item off the check if the guest isn’t fully satisfied, even if the dish was perfectly prepared.  We ask that our guests try the food the way we’ve designed and prepared it.  If they try it and don’t like it, that’s on us.

You have also assumed that our BOH has no sensitivity to the trials of the FOH.  In fact, most of our chefs have worked FOH and understand the position better than our current FOH staff.  Also, many of our FOH staff work in the kitchen as stages (unpaid apprentices).  They are essentially working their way through “culinary school” during the day under the tutelage of Jason and his staff and they earn their living working FOH.  Not only is this arrangement essential for them, but it helps the restaurant by putting committed foodies FOH.  Your server may well have worked all day long prepping the dish he’s selling you.  He many have cramps in his hands from chopping all of the ingredients to Jason’s exact specifications.  But he loves his food and he’s proud of what he’s putting on your table.

One last thought:  Some of the complaints of the one-star reviewer were legitimate.  Not serving wine by the glass being one of them.  Keep in mind that we’d been open only a week or so when that reviewer came to the restaurant.  We have evolved substantially since opening night.  We’ve learned lessons from the criticism we’ve received and we are getting close to working out the initial bugs in our systems.  We’re staying true to Jason’s vision and to Quinn family values.  But our systems are evolving so that we can make more people happy in a way that feels authentic to us.  We now offer several wines by the glass.

Benny, thanks again for your thoughtful advice.  I think you can see that most of it does not apply to who we are and how the Playground operates.  You made many assumptions about how we are run based on your own negative experiences.  But I think if you felt the warmth of our restaurant and were on the receiving end of our hospitality, you’d see that we’re different.  You might even be one of those who really appreciate the difference.  And if you don’t think the kitchen has earned the 3%, please don’t pay it.  I wouldn’t think of you as cheap, just as dissatisfied.  And we don’t want any money from a dissatisfied customer.

Burn in Hell Yelp Trolls.  Maybe we should come to your job, observe you, disagree with your methodology, then write a pathetic anonymous ‘review’. 

The Quinns have every right to respond in the manner that they did, business ownership on this level is personal.  People generally do not understand what it takes to finance and establish a restaurant, and in the age of social media and instantaneous communications, the blood sweat and tears is often never even considered.  Props to the family for publicly fighting for their ideals and supporting their son’s passion and creativity.

The Yelp Troll most likely watches too much Food Network and thought it was appropriate to gratify their own lack of social voice by posting that sort of review.  Although a customer is your most important asset in business, the fact is that you will never please every one all of the time for a variety of reasons.  Everything from a displacement of a stressful day to an inherent need to gratify their own inadequacies through posting on a website leads to issues.

Keep on doing what you are doing, as long as the intentions and motivations are sincere, product top notch, and service impeccable; success will come.  And I can tell you from first hand experience, the detractors will be all to hasty to line up for the restaurant.  But not for the food, rather to continue to massage their own ego on their own ten follower blog with the implications that they are food experts in recognizing a great restaurant.

Twenty years in the business, owner of a restaurant in a top metro area, and yes – five star yelp review.

I don’t like the chef’s language or insults, but damn is he right on sentiment. The reviewer was in the wrong. 100%. And the sooner we stop allowing this kind of condescending abuse to persist, the better. Also, Yelp is awful. I don’t know why anyone would trust it. I don’t like to listen to complainers in real life, and I certainly don’t see the point in gathering all the whiners in one spot so they can whine about the server’s attitude together. 

If what Quinn wrote in response is true and that person went home and wrote that review anyway, shame on them.

If they’re not going to disclose that they were the recipients of what seems to be a more than adequate attempt at satisfying them and simply want to dwell on the negatives, hell with ’em.

I’m a long time, avid Yelper and if I had that experience I would write the whole thing out and allow people to make their own decisions.

Also keep in mind, someone with two reviews, no profile pic and an axe to grind in a lengthy review has no place in my considerations when using Yelp to pick a place.

Wow, what an exchange.  In find myself siding with the reviewer.  If they want to waste a great piece of meat by overcooking it then why the hell not ?   If you cook it the way the want it they should repeat, should, like it so it’s a win-win scenario.  Second, the 3% surcharge for the chefs is ridiculous.  Personally I prefer the European method where there is no tipping at all but to add a surcharge labeled as a gratuity is absurd.  A mandatory gratuity is an oxymoron.  I also think calling this restaurant “chef-driven” is a misnomer.  Ego-driven would be closer to the mark.  Regardless, what I have read has served as a very good warning.  I will certainly never go to this restaurant.  There are thousands of alternatives with far better attitudes.  Here’s a tip that seems to have been lost : restaurants are part of what is called the “service industry” and the service provided should not be stroking your own ego.

The point of going to a restaurant is to have your food prepared in the best possible manner that emphasizes the ingredient quality and flavor.

And get the fuck out of here with the win-win scenario.  It is a restaurant, not a fast food joint, any moron who orders something against the suggestion of the chef because they simply cannot ‘submit’ will be the first asshole in line telling the manager it was not good.  Or they will just write an anonymous review.

The problem with Yelp is that 80 percent of the whiners who get online in an attempt to sabotage a restaurant have no clue the stress and hard work that goes into running your own place. Jason is somebody who grew up two houses down from me and I know he truly puts all of his passion into his work and legitimately cares about his customers needs. Call it what you want but what I see here in this argument is a young business owner standing up to people who think that the food industry is designed around them.  Having worked in the food industry before I started trading futures , know that the food industry brings its fair share of bitch customers who can never be “pleased” and this is one of those. Jason had every right to get on and defend his job and family …The Food Service Industry is much more stressful that one would think ( coming from a futures trader) so cut him some slack and just enjoy his GOOD food.  

This Naseem MORON has TWO…count them TWO Yelps under his belt! (at least at the time he wrote this one). Not a very impressive stat! After reading the reply to his yelp, I must cheer it and agree..Burn in hell, Naseem! I am a Yelper (108 reviews…not anywhere near the top, but certainly enough to legitimize myself). Regardless of how much I may hate a place, none of my Yelps will ever include poking at the family of an owner. A family that had nothing whatsoever to do with my dining experience. Naseem had an agenda or is just a bitter, disgruntled person who finds power in writing a negative review, likely because he has no other type of power or authority. Yelp is probably the only time he has ever had the nerve to, or been allowed to speak his mind! I hear a spineless loser behind that review of his!

writing many yelp reviews does not qualify you as a food/restaurant/anything critic. 108 reviews just makes you seem like a self important blowhard. BTW…your crazy overuse of Yelp makes it seem like this is the only time when your opinion “matters”. In calling out someone as a spineless loser, you sounded like a spineless loser. Congrats Yelp warrior.

 Has anyone ever taken the time to see and read YELP’s reviews?

The entire model is complete B.S. that allows anyone to bitch and complain and slander / defame any business they opt to review…it’s about as ridiculous as Dick Cheney having hijacked the U.S. Constitution – and alter what was once a fair playing field with nothing but bias and empowerment to the left (in this case a reviewer).  I am on board with the Chef…

Here is an idea – why not YELP positive notes and if you don’t have any don’t yelp anything at all.  Unless a restaurant is serving feces or are doing something that is a serious health code violation quit writing a novel on having 1 piece of hair in your food or not being able to drink La Crema wine if a restaurant doesn’t carry that brand. 

Contrary to what some on the left may believe, freedom of speech is not complete BS, and I resent you trying to deny anybody that freedom. Let me make one thing perfectly clear: I am 100% on the side of the chef on this one, and good for him for coming out swinging with such a strong response! But you’re in the wrong country if you want to shut the reviewers up! As for slander, there are laws against that. These are OPINIONS, not slander. The reviewer was given the freedom to voice his opinion, and in so doing, showed exactly the moron that he is. Freedom works, baby! So don’t go gettin’ all socialist on us!

Yes, I have taken the time to read many Yelp reviews. Most are very helpful. Some are pretty stupid. For the most part, a logical person can distinguish between the real ones, the fake ones, the whining and petty people, etc.

What point you are trying to make about Cheney totally escapes me, but what the heck he has to do with this conversation anyway is another issue!
People have opinions. This is a free country. If someone found a piece of hair in their food, that’s fair game to post, and I welcome the info. Just for the record, I am on board with this chef too, and applaud his response. If the reviewer is allowed the freedom to voice his opinion, the chef has the same exact right to not only respond, but to be as brutal as he wants to be! Freedom works both ways.

I like the Chefs response. As an unknown business (to me) it displaces it from the profile of a business that posts fake online reviews.

Had he sucked up to them and used clean language on the other hand, I would be none the wiser.

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