By Charley Michaels
God, I love and hate eating out in Portland. Would hate to run a restaurant even more. A Yelp review (names withheld):
Upon entering the ambience was warm welcoming, and lively, but once we were seated it was evident that the noise level was too loud for comfort. Next set back: service was slow. Finally we ordered our wine, and then sat for quite a while with it before food orders even taken or bread offered.The concept here is small plates meets bistro style meets localvore. Waiter recommended we order three plates each, but at +/- $12 per that’s pricey. We ordered four between the two of us. At long last food arrived. High concept composed large plates. Food is tasty, but portions are tiny. It seems money is being spent on extraneous items like the extra large plates (why wash so many per serving!!!) and cotton towels in the wc…… a hot air drier is cheaper and more sanitary! I’d rather pay for good food than pretentious extras. Hope they get it right.
Which got me to thinking. To succeed in the Portland restaurant world, you must meet at least these five requirements:
1. Place must be very quiet, no matter how many seats or customers in those seats. Otherwise, your place will be too noisy and, therefore, uncomfortable for the locals. You should be able to hear your neighbor’s conversation. Music is OK, but it should be bland enough to go unnoticed except by the occasional techno, jazz or easy listening devotee.
2. Serve lots of bread–and never charge for it. Bring out a big heaping basket as soon as your West Hills customers are seated.
Liberally refill. Charging for bread is considered gouging in Portland, never mind that you don’t get it for free yourself.
3. Service must be lightning fast. As soon as the bread is dropped, get drink orders, and dinner orders too if requested. Drinks should be served no more than 2.5 minutes later. First course should come out within 7.5 minutes thereafter. Entire meal–exclusive of dessert and coffee which most will not order anyway–should be served and cleared within 45 minutes. On the other hand, diners should never be rushed to depart, even if hanging around for an hour or more after finishing the last morsel of food or sip of coffee and even if there are lots of others waiting. If there’s one thing Portlanders hate, it’s being rushed. If there’s another thing, it’s waiting. Hmmm…
4. A full-course meal should never cost >$25 lest your restaurant be labeled “pricey” by the self-proclaimed “foodie” hordes and relegated to special occasions (i.e., when someone else is buying).
5. “Frills” of any sort are not permitted lest your restaurant be labeled “pretentious” by the self-proclaimed “foodie” hordes and shunned unless The Oregonian or your favorite blogger says the airs can safely be overlooked. Frills do not include comfortable chairs which are required to accommodate a leisurely evening of camping at your table.
Tim Roth says
Ha! I love how hard it is to please these people of the internet world. In the real world, I think it’s actually easier to please. Businesses generally are not made or destroyed by their Yelp ratings. If anything, a positive Yelp rating nets your business more tourists and that much more probability to fail to impress someone who expects something that you have unfortunately left up to your internet commenters to define. At any rate, I do love reading the insane shit that people complain about. My pipe dream is to someday own a business where I am brutally honest with every customer, especially the sensitive ones (assuming my dream of financial independence also comes true). Yelp reviews of any nature will be scorned publicly and mercilessly—perhaps I would print and post on the wall somewhere every single review with my marginalia. Twitter @ mentions would go unanswered. The Facebook business page would exist only for further brutal honesty. You see where I’m going with this. The customer is often annoying.
Every time I read one of these pieces on “how to please customers” (and how hard it is to do from the business side), I can’t help thinking that there’s one Portland restaurant operation that shows exactly how to succeed financially in the current economy:
They’ve grown from one location to eight in the last few years despite the challenging business climate. They serve popular food at very modest prices (and do it without free unlimited bread!). They have adapted to accommodate special-needs customers (offering gluten-free options). And their service is generally very quick, though this can slip somewhat when they’re at their busiest.
I’ve never claimed, and won’t claim now, that they offer the best food or even the best pasta in Portland. But it seems to me that they offer solid value for the prices they charge, that they have attracted a large and loyal customer base, and that they have clearly done a superior job of building a successful business (else they wouldn’t be growing as they have). Were I giving advice to someone looking to start their own restaurant, it would definitely include taking a long, careful look at Pastini’s approach to see what they’ve done right.
I do read Yelp reviews but always with a grain of salt. I look at the overall general trend instead of the specific reviews, and ignore the ones that say “oh, I bought an appetizer (or a drink) here and it was (great/awful).” I always ignore the cheapo, “OMG, $10 for an entree??? 1 star!” or the “$10 did not fill me up!!!!” entries.
hee hee hee…. thank you for making my morning. all i can say is “I KNOW!!”
re: the ‘review’..i’m a terribly over-analytical person, but really – they are going to rip on the cloth towels and size of the dinner plates? did they ever venture into the actual food, itself, other than saying that it was tasty, but overpriced? i adore yelp and the local yelpers i’ve met are among the loveliest of people you could wish to know, but the reviews should be taken with a grain of salt, and not considered a substitute for an actual restaurant review by a food writer. i may be dating myself, but both are still relevant, as far as i’m concerned. ;)
Kathy Watson says
As a restaurant owner in a small town (Hood River) with a newspaper that wouldn’t touch restaurant reviews with a ten-foot pole, when TripAdvisor, Yelp, etc., began giving diners a voice, I thought, “Woohoo!” And we do get our share of great reviews from people who understand how to talk intelligently about the food, service, and ambiance.
However, my staff and I are generally stunned by the brainless, vapid comments that appear. At first, we took them really seriously. And then, I visited Yelp reviews for some of my favorite, most respected restaurants in Portland such as Paley’s Place, and I’ll be darned: they get as many wacky reviews as we do.
My hope is that diners can read between the lines and realize that complainers and posers eat, too. And unfortunately, they often make a beeline for Yelp. Satisfied customers (the 99%) just go home happy. And come back for more.
Jamie Pfeiffer says
I like Yelp reviews. I read and write them. I rarely look at the star reviews (or, frankly, whether they liked them or not) and look at what they substantively say. Even if I don’t agree with their “feelings,” it helps to know what to expect. If all the reviews say a place is loud and kid-friendly, I may not bring a sensitive business client, but I’ll put it on the list to go with my nephew.
For me so much is about expectations. I don’t really care if other people liked a place so much as I like to know that it’s chilly (bring a sweater), crowded (don’t bring nana and the walker), has a great beer selection (good for the friend who’s a beer snob), doesn’t have gluten-free (don’t bring the celiac friend), etc…..
I DO wish that more people would review what they like about a place, or review places that they thought were “fine,” and give more details rather than subjective opinion statements.
I would bet a million bucks that is a Yelp review of Noisette which is the new and entirely, utterly fantastic restaurant up on NW 23rd and Vaughn. I hope that person stays away. The place is small and it is going to become harder and harder to get a reservation there pretty soon.
Raymond Brigleb says
It takes about five seconds with Google to find the review…. :)
Food Dude says
We should have a contest: who can find the most idiotic comment on Yelp. Remember the one I mentioned last year? The person said “My creme brulee was so stale, it had a crust on it”.
That being said, when I’m traveling, I use Yelp. It isn’t difficult to read between the lines to see overall patterns, etc. Just don’t read the whole reviews, as you will find yourself screaming. Overall, though, it can be very handy.
None given says
I would guess that those restaurants with largely negative Yelp reviews (or negative reviews at the top) have refused to pay Yelp for advertising. I know of at least one local place that saw a wholesale change in its Yelp profile (bad reviews went straight to the top) after it discontinued paying Yelp.
Yelp reviews should be taken with a very, very large grain of salt. Frequently positive ones are from current employees (this applies o any business, I encourage my staff to post positive reviews for my current, non-hospitality employer) and negative ones are from disgruntled EX-employees.
It’s also really common to find a great many lies (back in my Catering Director days, I recall a bride to be who made up a fake scenario about us keeping her deposit, cancelling 2 weeks prior ot her wedding , etc—all because we didn’t have the room she wanted on the date she wanted, no agreeements of any kind had ever been made) and negative postings by really crazy people.
The same’s true of tripadvisor. One hopes most people recognize it.
This is the poster’s one other Yelp review of a restaurant (talk about providing context):
Pretty typical Mexican food, about what you would expect for a casual place and the $. Great chips and salsa and friendly and attentive staff.
Apparently the free suckers at the counter are only for kids. I was cut off mid-grab. Good suckers too. Not the cheap little Dumb-Dumbs you get at bank but full on blow pops!
@djonn Pastini has shitty food and even worse service, but you can’t knock them considering how successful they are
@yelp I am a small business owner and have had 19 5 star reviews removed, the way they monitor reviews is a joke
@food dude great post, most Portlanders don’t have a clue about what it means to have an amazing meal. Look at Beast, people love that place and the food is average at best. If it was a grizzled dude behind the place, I doubt we would ever hear a work about that place.
P.S. your shot at people in the West Hills hurt my feelings, I’m not even a huge bread fan before a meal.
Food Dude says
Here is a good one for you. “I once was reading yelp reviews for Pok Pok and this woman was just railing on the wings and how they were prepared. Her final conclusion: if one really wanted to see what authentic fish sauce wings were, they should check out this recipe (she provides link). Click on the link and it takes you to a recipe on Food & Wines website for fish sauce wings, provided by… Andy Ricker.
Food Dude says
PS. I didn’t write that post. Just sayin’
I’ll be the contrarian. And I’m no fan of Yelp!, other than as a sort of adjunct to Google maps (the complaint about the hot-air dryer is ridiculous), but the complaints about noise level and sluggish service are hardly inconceivable in Portland restaurants. The major thing that keeps Portland from being a national-class restaurant city is the attitude too many restaurateurs have toward their patrons. For a town that prides itself on its self-perceived unpretentiousness, it’s awfully frigging snotty a lot of the time.
Like it or not, people who write on Yelp! are your customers. While a restaurateur shouldn’t jump through hoops based on something that’s written on the Internet, there might be some legitimate feedback in there. The sort of truculent, sarcastic response provided by Charlie would turn me off for good if it came from a restaurant owner or chef. And I truly don’t get the sarcasm about comfortable chairs and “camping” – who wouldn’t want their customers to have comfortable chairs? It’s not Burger King, where the seats are purposely designed for high turnover.
The Yelp! review seemed picayune and juvenile, but so did the response, and that’s by far the worse sin.
Frequent PDX visitor says
Kevin has it right. The reviewer is a customer…albeit, one customer. Not every restaurant is for every customer. If I owned a restaurant, I would read Yelp and other reviews and listen to what several customers are telling me.
In response to FD’s comment on having a contest, here’s one for everyones back pocket………. Funny how some of these people go to long lengths and drawn out soliloquy’s to rate fast food restaurants, even seen one where someone yelped “Winco”. True to the definition that Yelp reviews should be taken with not only a grain of salt but perhaps a salt lick similar to the one horses get for a treat!! Please read on……..worth a good laugh
Damn it Burger King! Why is it, every f$%king time I go here, no matter what I order, you tell me that it’s going to be 5-6 minutes and to pull around front? Last night was the last straw. I order a BK topper – your heralded ‘new’ burger. Immediately, you tell me it’s going to be 6 minutes. Why?? I ask. Is it the bacon? Or perhaps the burger? I know BURGER king must not get that many orders for BURGERS. So why the wait, I literally ask the drive thru guy. Nothing but silence. Hello? Whatever. I pay the guy and tell him I NEED FRY SAUCE, please don’t forget it. Ok, he says, pull around front. I wait 11 minutes and finally the girl comes out with my order.
“Did you get the fry sauce?” I ask all pissed off.
“If you told the guy in the drive thru, then it’s in there” she curtly responds.
“well hold on, let me check”, I start digging through the bag, she starts backing away towards the doors.
“wait!, there’s no fry sauce I say”…she just keep on going. “HEY!! Where’s my FRY SAUCE??” I yell…she just keeps on walking. “HEEEEYYYYYYYY!!!”
This wouldn’t be such an issue if it only happened once or twice, it happens every damn time. I’m somewhat handicapped right now and have to hobble into the store 15 minutes later to get my damn fry sauce. Drive thru manager guy just hands it to me, looks down. The girl wouldn’t look at me at all.
It’s amazing they got the rest of my order right.
I’ll be back just to get more pissed off and give them grief haha.
Jennifer Crary says
I believe that reviews by individuals whether on Porland Citysearch, Yelp or elsewhere fall into three categories.
The people who give the bottom rating seem to have a personal beef with the owner, one of the employees or the restaurant specifically From their view there is never anything good about the restaurant.
The people who give anything from a Okay rating to a great rating are real customers who have gone there to eat and have real comments.
The people who give the top, perfect rating you often have to wonder are they trying for a free meal, or are friends with the owner?