Update 6th August 2019: Some links in this blog may no longer work as Tripadvisor has removed the original review and suspended the account of the reviewer. Original post as follows:
I’ve written and spoken many times about Tripadvisor. And I’m sure that my thoughts are similar to any chefs you might speak to or follow on Twitter. But I never thought I’d have to respond to someone who works in my own industry, at least not publicly, online in a ‘Management Response’.
In the early days of our restaurant, I took bad reviews to heart, against the advice of more seasoned pros. In June 2018, I joined a twitter conversation where I made my views known that I consider Tripadvisor to be corrupt.
This year, I’ve taken a break from replying to negative reviews and I’ve felt better for that. I’ve focused on other, more important issues, and I’ve felt less insecure as positive feedback has accumulated. But I have decided to break my silence.
In April 2018, I did an interview with Angela Rippon on BBC’s ‘Rip Off Britain: Food’, around the time of Oobah Butler’s documentary about creating a fake restaurant that became the number 1 restaurant on Tripadvisor. She was investigating how a platform that was meant to give consumers guidance could be so easily manipulated.
I’ve flagged suspicious reviews in the past. If they don’t get taken down, I might post a Management Response to put our side of the story. I’ve always accepted that at least Tripadvisor is fair in giving the recipient of bad reviews the final word, unlike other social media platforms where disagreements can spiral into undignified spats, with third parties weighing in.
So why break my silence?
Sunday 9 June 2019
I receive an email from Tripadvisor stating that someone has rated my restaurant as ‘Terrible’ (1 bubble on TripAdvisor). Having just arrived back from a study trip to Iceland, I decide to ignore it so that it doesn’t affect me or my family whom I haven’t seen for a week.
Monday 10 June 2019
I finally read the review from ‘shoes1066’ and am disheartened. I look at the reviewer’s history. I find many reviews for large chains such as Wagamama and The Ivy and conclude that we were probably just not made for each other. Having been away for a week, there is plenty else to catch up on and I decide that replying is not a priority.
Several weeks later…
Tuesday 30 July 2019
I happen to speak to a ‘regular’ who passes on feedback that he heard. Someone who worked in management at Wagamama, but now works for The Ivy and lives in Somerset had a bad experience. “My front of house team was rude to them and made them feel unwelcome”.
The ‘regular’ agrees that it doesn’t sound like his experiences, but he worries that something went wrong while I was away. I do too. I speak to my Front of House Manager about it. Yes, there was a ‘difficult’ customer on Table 7 on Saturday 8th June.
I check the booking history. There was a booking for two people on Table 7 at 8pm from Sarah P who has used her work email address (@theivycollection.com) to confirm the booking.
I investigate further by speaking to the team. They confirm that a ‘difficult’ customer requested a different table on arrival. With it being 8pm on a Saturday night, and the fact that we only have 9 tables on the ground floor, all of which were already booked, we were unable to grant her wish.
None of us had clocked the customer’s email address at this stage, but we had seen their booking request which stated that it was a special occasion. We delivered some complimentary sake and nibbles, as we often do for special occasions, hoping that it would appease the customer. At the end of the meal the customer remarked that she would have to go somewhere else to eat because she wasn’t full. As she left, she delivered a lecture on the shortcomings of our service and our food.
Having spoken to my team, I jump to the conclusion that shoes1066’s review in June is consistent with what happened at Table 7 on Saturday 8th June.
After service, I report the review to Tripadvisor because I believe that it was posted by an employee of a competing business. They have used their work address to make the reservation. I provide them with her name and point them towards her Linkedin profile.
Wednesday 31st July
By the time I check my emails the following morning, Tripadvisor has responded (within 6 hours) saying that the review ‘complies with guidelines’ - the usual bog standard, half-hearted reply.
Sunday 4th August
I decide not to take the usual nonchalant response from Tripadvisor lying down, but I’m worried that maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree, given the reviewer is anonymous. Perhaps shoes1066 was her dining partner? Perhaps shoes1066 is someone else in the restaurant who also happened to suffer a similar experience? What if I’m falsely accusing a fellow industry worker of posting a nasty review.
My front of house manager says that she has a public profile on Facebook which confirms that she works at The Ivy Collection and previously worked at Wagamama. Her Linkedin profile confirms the same.
We also find an anonymous Instagram profile with a similar profile name (shoes2102) using the same profile picture as on Facebook. Her Instagram posts mirror her Facebook posts and her recent Tripadvisor reviews, with recent trips to Barcelona and Bordeaux.
I feel confident that ‘shoes1066’ on Tripadvisor is the person we have dealt with and that she works for The Ivy Collection.
I don’t begrudge a fellow professional an opinion on their experiences in hospitality but surely reviewing your own company’s sites on 10 occasions is going too far? Especially when you specifically degrade competitors including ourselves, Cote Brasserie in Bath, Brasserie Blanc in Cheltenham, Rick Stein in Winchester, Tom Kerridge’s The Coach in Marlow. There is an Ivy in all of these towns.
I’m making my Management Response here on our own website because Tripadvisor does not allow links or attachments as part of the ‘other side’, The introduction to this response also serves as an open letter to email@example.com who said that the review complied with guidelines, even though I provided the customer’s name and pointed them towards her Linkedin page.
(shoes1066 feedback in bold italics)
“From the moment we went in we were not made to feel welcome”
You asked for a different table and I’m sorry we were unable to offer that to you. Unlike the restaurants you have worked for, we are a small restaurant with just 9 tables on the ground floor. At 8pm, when you arrived, 2 were already occupied, 3 were laid for a table of 6 at 8.15pm, 2 were laid for a table of 4 and the only other remaining table by the window had been requested at 8.30pm by a regular, The only table available was the one we had allocated you, which is a perfectly nice (and often requested) table for 2 by the wall, nearest the open kitchen.
“and also just left to wait for some time before ordering”
I’ve checked the order history (see below) and you arrived at 8pm. You made a fuss about your table but were eventually seated, you read the menu yourself without the assistance that you would have expected and you decided what to order. We placed your order at 8.12pm and you received your appetisers at 8.17pm. You received Grazing dishes at 8.32pm - that’s not too bad either given you’d have had your buns in between appetisers and grazing dishes. I’ve attached a screenshot of our booking history. We even bothered to serve both of you at the same time, which I know isn’t a priority for your previous employer, Wagamama.
It seems that you’d left by 9.11pm, which was a good outcome for both of us. You were obviously having a crap time and it meant you could get over to Wagamama before they closed the kitchen. For us, it meant we might get another table turn in, which you’d know all about.
“not interested in making our experience nice at all and it was obvious that it was aimed at us as we could hear how she was with other tables and it was quite different explaining the menu and just being friendly which we did not experience.”
You’re right, we are nice and friendly with most customers and take pains to ensure they receive help and advice when they need it. You were being a hard-to-please arse. I’m pleased to hear that we didn’t let your ‘difficult’ attitude affect the way we treated other customers.
“I was told the food was going to be amazing by a fried [sic] and I had read the reviews so was very much looking forward to it - it could not have been more different.”
Sorry to disappoint but I suspect that your experience was jaded by your mood and/or your hidden agenda. The reviews you read may have included over 500 Tripadvisor reviews, The Good Food Guide, The Michelin Guide, The Trencherman’s Guide, The Harden’s Guide, Tom Parker Bowles and Jay Rayner, plus a clutch of local awards. I’m not denying your right to a different opinion, or that we may have been understaffed or just got it wrong on the day, but given your experience in hospitality, it seems a little harsh to brand us ‘Terrible’ in the grand scheme of things.
“The food was very bland and small portions for the price.”
We often hear how refreshing it is to end a restaurant meal satisfied but not bloated. I love that feedback.
“Large buns bit [sic] very little filling and very dry.”
By this stage, I’m hoping we did that just to spite you because that’s literally the opposite of what they actually are.
“The rice dish was Luke [sic] warm”.
Naughty Luke. Why didn’t you just ask us to get Mike to warm it up for you? You know Chef Mike? Mike Rowe Wave? He’s the one who’s at work 24/7, reheats things in seconds and even pings you at the end to let you know he’s done.
“The aubergine was not cooked all the way through and was tough in parts.”
Not tough, just tender, with a little bite. The way I like it. Otherwise it goes all mushy and we might as well turn it into the sauce we serve it with. Agree to disagree.
“The chicken was very bland I was surprised there was not any seasoning with it”
Now you really are trying it on. It’s marinated for several hours in a special seasoning, but if you thought it was underseasoned, did it not occur to you to ask for some soy sauce? You did after all work for 14 years for a major Asian brand that puts soy sauce on the tables in case the customer finds the food bland. That way, they don’t have to interrupt any staff who are busy scrawling numbers on placemats.
“Real shame as there was no check back during the meal to be able to give any feedback to make a difference.”
As a customer, I detest ill timed and insincere check backs, so we don’t do check backs unless we can see something’s wrong. Our small dining room means that can usually spot when something is wrong, at which point we go over. Clearly, your career has ingrained check backs into you, usually timed perfectly to interrupt a mouthful of noodles or a really funny story.
In your case, I hope we didn’t check back on you because we didn’t like dealing with you. We figured you were a lost cause and we wanted to focus our love and attention on our other customers.
“I would usually give a place a second chance but unless we can get the same experience that others seem to have had on reading the reviews I cannot see it worth it”
According to your Linkedin profile, you’ve worked in hospitality since 2002. Did you not think those other reviews might be worth something? Did it not occur to you that maybe it’s not us, it’s you? You won’t be getting the experience others get, I can guarantee you that.
“It might be that other expectations are not the same , don’t want to take that risk when it is not reasonably priced as you need to order a lot to fill up”
I am amazed that YO! is not amongst your previous reviews. That hasn’t stopped you criticising independents and chains alike (I note Brasserie Blanc comes in for frequent attack) especially in towns where there is an Ivy, such as Winchester, Cheltenham and Marlow.
For the record, I don’t hate Wagamama. Alan Yau is a legend and an inspiration, I think Wagamama is on to a good thing (no sushi is a good thing for Japanese cuisine in the UK) and I aspire to what the brand has achieved in terms of customer reach and value creation.
Your former colleagues will tell you that I often choose Wagamama for a fix of Japanese / Asian food, sometimes with my children or sometimes on my own. I've loved my interactions with almost every Wagamama employee I’ve ever met. It’s a company that clearly motivates and energises its staff and makes them happy and proud to work there. They don’t always get things right, but that’s fine by me. They’re humans working hard in a busy industry. But when it happens, I muster up the courage to have a quiet word with someone. We’re usually as embarrassed as each other but they pretty much always take the chance to put things right. What I don’t do is use an anonymous Tripadvisor account to record the failings of my ‘competitors’.
That’s enough about Wagamama. I can’t speak about The Ivy. I’ve never been to The Original Ivy, nor any of the roll outs and it’s not high up on my list. Clearly with your 209 reviews, you get out more than me, but when I do get a chance to eat out, I appreciate good cooking and I know that I can find much better value elsewhere. I see through your expensive interiors and I know just from looking at your vast menu of ‘brasserie’ items from around the world that a lot of it must be mass-produced off site, without any love or creativity. It is what it is. I expect it is above mediocre (but nowhere near ‘Terrible’). Even your avocados arrive frozen in a pouch.
We welcome reviews, good and bad. Positive feedback is lovely to hear and spurs us on. Negative feedback is important for us to grow and improve. Although I think Tripadvisor can do more to verify accounts, we invite you to quote your booking reference which at least verifies your booking to us and Tripadvisor visitors