Anonymous online reviews affecting Twin Cities eateries

Heartland's Lenny Russo says some of it "borders on libel"

"No one wants to talk to anyone anymore. They want to hide behind a computer and say things."

Like it or not, social media and anonymous online chatter aren't going away. "We have to figure it out or we'll be left behind," Clayton says. "I'm not sure how we're going to communicate with twentysomethings otherwise. Young people depend more on each other than on a Target commercial to tell them where to shop."

Still, every restaurateur I spoke with wished that online commenters would first try to address their concerns in the moment. "That gives us the opportunity to make it better," says Goodwell. "We're human. We're going to make mistakes. But we really care that people have a good experience."

Mike Phillips, chef at the Craftsman, laments the tendency for dissatisfied customers to express their concerns online instead of in person. "No one wants to talk to anyone anymore," he says. "They want to hide behind a computer and say things." Phillips also encourages commenters to be aware of the power of their words—they can have an impact on a restaurant's bottom line. "A lot of people's jobs are at stake," he says.

Russo, too, says he can't understand why unsatisfied customers don't speak up. ("Maybe because I'm Italian and I'm from New Jersey," he says, "I'll tell anybody anything.") "I would have made an attempt to do a better job for you. I'm not going to charge you for something you didn't enjoy. Do they think the chef is going to come out and sock them in the eye?" Russo says he'll oblige a customer's wish, even if it goes against his recommendation. "Order steak well done?" he says. "That's wrong. But I'm doing it anyhow because that's the way you asked for it." Somewhat facetiously he adds, "You want me throw it on the ground and step on it?" (I dare somebody to hold him to that one.)

Like most new technologies, anonymous online comments can be both a blessing and a curse. Restaurant-goers may find them helpful in making dining decisions—as long as they know they're coming from a trustworthy source. And restaurateurs appreciate the increased feedback—with a few reservations. "It provides more publicity and more information for people," Klein acknowledges, "but it can be really frustrating to have people who don't know a whole lot about what we do evaluate us." He urges commenters to keep things in perspective. "There are also times that people can be downright mean and vicious, and you want to remind them, 'It's just dinner. Tomorrow it'll be shit—literally."

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