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Monday, August 1, 2011

Restaurant reviews also help the reviewed.

My wife and I are fans of the Top Chef television series, so I was thrilled when this year the one of the Top Chef Masters contestants was Celina Tio, proprietor of Julian here in Kansas City.

A Top Chef Masters selection represents a strong endorsement of a Chef’s work and, by extension, their restaurant. In the show, they showcased Celina's credentials as a Top Chef, which included Chef Magazine’s 2005 Chef of the Year and the 2007 James Beard Best Chef: Midwest region.

Impressive stuff, and my wife & I were excited to try her service experience.

But when we started looking at some reviews, we noticed that not everyone who had an encounter at Julian had come away impressed. OpenTable users rated it 4.2 out of 5, but had chared some negative comments about the service. Google reviewers were less kind, rating Julian 2.5 out of 5.

Among the comments on Google:

“Our server was also unattentive and our water glasses sat empty for most of the meal.”

“Food was excellent, however the service and atmosphere left much to be desired.”

“The servers were very unkept and unmotivated.”

Its tough to say - we may not have felt as good about the food had the reviewers’ comments not tempered our Top Chef-level expectations, but the meal was terrific all around.

The most notable thing about the service encounter: How unlike the reviews the service staff were.

Sure, they were dressed casually, but casual is the vibe of the place. Every person we interacted with went out of their way to thank us for coming, asked multiple times how the evening was going and if they could do anything to improve on it. As we left, service staff we passed but had never otherwise interacted with thanked us for coming. It's a small place, but by the time we hit the door, it felt as though every employee of the restaurant had helped us or thanked us.

Its possible that the service staff, who the comments largely reflected on, had read the negative comments and amended the service behavior themselves. If they didn’t, it is likely that Celina read them and conveyed their content to the staff, with some additional direction.

For anyone labeled a Top Chef Master, their name is their brand. Their reputation is on the line not just with every meal, but with every service encounter. The negative reviews didn’t just give prospective diners information about what they can expect, it also gave the service provider additional cues on what customers think they can improve on.

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