Handling Restaurant Criticism from Professionals and the Public

What's your opinion of other people's opinions? Chef Fred Kellermann takes a look at the groundswell of chatter around Knight's Bistro from the perspective of a restaurateur.

One of the reasons I was approached to start writing on Patch was to give an insider's view of the restaurant scene. I had/have a strong fear that my opinion of the "scene" would scare people off of possibly trying my business or worse, talking badly about my business. Therein lies the problem. 

Too many things can cloud a diner’s judgment of a restaurant experience: pre-determined expectations, mood, food knowledge, dining companion, the weather, the firmness of the chair, the loud conversation of the couple behind you, or the cigarette breath of your server. 

When I want to learn about the public's expectations, I read a lot of restaurant reviews. It amazes me how vitrolic and narrow-minded some reviewers can be. I'm not talking about the people that get paid to do the job, but the dining public. 

There's , where the comments are far more telling then the review itself. No disrespect to the writer of the story, . 

Let's start with itself. At no time during the construction period did I see or hear a quote from the owner that he was going to do a fine dining Italian restaurant or claim to do the most authentic pizza or the best Italian () around.

I know because I listened and asked around. The SJ Hot Chefs are always looking for new restaurants for the group. So how could people's expectations be so messed up?

I know—Mrs. Smith said she thought it would be nice to have an authentic New York-style pizzeria in town, and Mr. Jones heard Mrs. Smith say it would be a fancy authentic pizzeria, and Mr. and Mrs. Davis heard it would be the best and cheapest Italian food in town.

Then the comments:

One person suggested it was because people don’t know what bistro or cafe means. This is a good point because people who know that bistro is a French word for a small place that serves moderately priced, home-cooked food never confuse it with a trattoria, the Italian version of bistro.

Another person questions the idea of opening another "Italian" restaurant in Collingswood. This is a good point, but is it a reason not to like a business? The person asks "quality vs. quantity"—not of the food but of the number of businesses themselves. Still other commenters based their expectations upon their dislike of another business in town.

There are a few people with positive comments: "friendly owner and staff,” "good for a quick bite," and “made a terrific hoagie.”

These are the best comments about Knight’s Bistro because they tell you what you need to know about a restaurant:

  • "friendly owner and staff" means “small business trying to do its best.”
  • "good for a quick bite" means “nice place for a casual meal, dine-in or take-out.”
  • "made a terrific hoagie" means “good for lunch or dinner” (everyone loves a good sandwich). 

When you go out to eat as a consumer, you should do your part ahead of time.

  • “What kind of food do they serve?”

Trust me, I've had more then one person make a reservation then ask what kind of food that we serve!!

  • “What's the price point? Can I afford it?”

To the person that said “I can't afford any of those places (Nunzio, That's Amore, Sapore, Bistro de Marino, Il Fiore, Cafe Antonios, Zeppoli's, Villa Barone, Kitchen Consigliere...)”: if you can't afford any of those places you really should worry about other things than eating out.

  • “What's the atmosphere like?” Will I be over-/underdressed?”

If you're on a date and want a quiet place to sit and talk, a pizzeria may not be the best place.

Look, we all have the right to our opinions, but wouldn't it be better for everyone involved to voice more positive comments—and if we don't have anything nice to say, let that speak for itself?

And it wouldn't be right of me to not weigh in with some of my comments on places I have dined at:

  • —very good rustic Italian for a casual evening
  • Royal Tavern — my favorite brunch spot, good beer, good food, nice people
  • a.kitchen — excellent food, a step above, great place for a special night out
  • Wiljax — really good hoagies, my favorite meatball parm around
  • Chili's — When I'm on the way home from work, just a nice place for a dollar beer—and better yet, it’s walking distance from my home!
  • Redhouse Bagels — real friendly service and great bagels for a breakfast sandwich

Fred Kellermann is the owner and chef de cuisine at Elements Cafe in Haddon Heights. He is also the president of SJ Hot Chefs, and urges you to support your local restaurant with your dining-out dollars.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Gary B July 06, 2012 at 04:08 PM
Yes Ric, there is some truth to what you say. People in general no longer have respect. We patrons talk and text on cell phones while eating out, and basically everywhere else for that matter. We wear inappropriate attire in general and can no longer dress ourselves. All day long it's white sneakers, bellies hanging over pants, teen girls looking more like strippers or street hookers and young males with the pants around their arse and such goes the list. There use to be a dress code for eating out and that has vanished,,,in every aspect and for every venue. Eating out or eating in, is about the communion with friends and family, no doubt. And the people should step up some decency and class on their end. ...on my wish list, I'd like to see more managers in some of the finer establishments (at the dinner hour) ask a patron to take the phone call outside. Or at least have a sign somewhere clearly posted 'no phone calls in the dining area' ....I can't tell you how many times I've seen a group of 2, 3 or 5 at a table and nobody is saying a word or looking at one another, all you see are the tops of their heads because they are all on the phone texting etc.....We need to do better :)
Longtime Colls Resident July 06, 2012 at 06:42 PM
I see the used car signs are down today. Seriously I drive past this place 4 times a day on my way to and from work - I'ved live here almost 23 years and my dignity pride and respect have not been diminished due to the opening of the Knights Bistro. If I took my grandchildren, say to cruise night, I would not be dining with them at Nunzio's, this place might just fit the bill. Not everyone wants to do the "fine" dining that is so prevalent on the avenue. Why not either support the guy's effort to have a successful business or just not go there. BTW we ate at one of the Italian places on the Ave and a big ole brown german cockroach was walking on the molding behind my husbands head. Good thing there wasn't facebook at the time or a lynching may have taken place. Relax people
Porterincollingswood July 06, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Good points RIc. And while we're at it, BYOB does not mean that people can set up their own bar and occupy a table for 4 hours. Saw it last week, some sloppy drunk older women having "girls night out" came as close as they could to wrecking the evening of everyone in the place (new, small, expensive Italian joint). These slobs were already done eating when we entered at 7pm, having already consumed their meal and 2 bottles of wine. They sat and drank 2 more bottles, ordering no food. They got sloppier and louder over the course of the next 1.5 hours. One of them was talking about her issues with mother-in-law, husband, kids in a shouting voice. Have some respect for your fellow diners, the owner of the establishment, and (in the case of the table I saw) yourselves.
MacArthur July 06, 2012 at 08:44 PM
Might want to back of the hysterics lever there a little, Gary. Seriously, claiming the restaurant owners are trying to imply a connection to England because they threw "Knight" in the name? You might want to go after the high school yearbook next—looks like they might be trying to pull a fast one, too. Or, you know, you could make reasonable arguments, not lump a sandwich joint in with high-end Italian and otherwise dial it back down from 11.
Gary B July 06, 2012 at 09:01 PM
Back away from the internet MacArthur after reading some history on this ...if you're not seeing double already from you're Friday happy hour episode. It's not an implication on my behalf when the Abbate family sought Knight out and lifted it. Now stop trolling. http://collingswood.patch.com/articles/take-a-bite-out-of-this-dining-in-tradition


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