A View From the Kitchen – If You Don’t Have Anything Nice To Say …
“Kareem” apparently missed the memo.
It continually riles me to read pleading posts by my restaurant kin seeking understanding and patience as we struggle mightily, still, due to soaring costs and supply shortages — both in staffing and product — and the related tone deafness of many.
Right there on our brunch menu we provided the transparency to enlighten Kareem and anyone else. He gave us a one-star Google review anyway. Although such insult represents less than 2 percent of our online evaluations — nine in six years — they sting each time. “What a jerk” is my innate knee-jerk reaction preceding detailed contemplation of the circumstances and the auto-humble response. Generally.
From his perspective, he just stomped his spoiled feet at “Cobblestones,” the place of business. To us people who breathe restaurant (through masks for months), passionate about guest health and happiness, quality food and hospitality, it’s more personal. Kareem visited for our brunch relaunch after months of being closed. It’s possible he didn’t know that, or that the day before we were crushed by our busiest day in two years — a welcome-yet-harrowing Saturday of old, thanks to the return of downtown Lowell events and, oh by the way, hallelujah! The onslaught lasted day and night, depleting supply and staff — only three of whom have been with us more than a year, hence the commonplace: “We are rebuilding.” Do you have any idea how difficult this is? And at 50 percent of pre-pandemic sales? We barely hang on.
Kareem wouldn’t have known that due to a lack of drivers, our food delivery arrived too late for proper prep processes or that we considered postponing, but decided that offering a reduced menu was better than turning enthusiastic guests away. Once decided, the leadership team did a tired, late-night inventory to determine menu options, and early on Sunday we reformatted and reprinted just in time for opening. For all of that effort, we still got Kareemed!
Most people don’t know half of what we are bearing. I get that. And maybe Kareem had a rough morning, or life. Regardless, he gets no pass. He chose. I maintain that the vast majority of people who would submit such a review are suspect. Whether childish, bullies, the ignorant or without empathy, a nasty word exists for all of you free-speech posers who dole out “fair critiques” while hiding behind your screens, amplifying your stories. Walk a mile …
One more thing about Kareem: Did he experience smiling hospitality? Was his mimosa sparkling? We will never know, he didn’t say. What set Kareem off was limited options. Life is so unfair.
When I reported his discontent to our Stones Hospitality social media tribe (that’s right I did), they were supportive in their responses, as expected. They gave old keyboard Kareem the what-for! “Every straw poll has an outlier,” said one wise fan. Honestly, these days I seize every opportunity to share insight while seeking empathy and understanding for our industry.
Which brings me to Facebook.
Merrimack Valley Eats is a restaurant-review page started by a Haverhill- based foodie named Gerald Schiavoni and one that I frequent too often (in part due to Facebook’s biased algorithms). Early on, judging by the page’s great lean toward Haverhill-area restaurants, typical negative commentary and Gerald’s near-weekly good-natured appeal for folks to be respectful and proactive, I assumed that a majority of the snarky followers were his actual friends. I falsely figured that he was complicit while attempting to keep his homie hood-rats in check. After meeting him, I was embarrassed to see how wrong I was. He proved a warm and friendly brother-in-large — genuinely pained by the incessant trolling and ignorance. In fact, his page finally began selectively deleting and/or blocking those deemed offensive — to the annoyance of many a loudmouthed fan. I cannot tell you how much this tickles me. “Start your own page,” his administrators encouraged. “Join the Yelp community,” they mocked. Let the foul abuse and amuse each other elsewhere in their common “honest” misery and mean-spiritedness; this here page is intended for positivity and respect.
Here’s my thing: In one way or another, we have universally suffered this virus in the past year and a half, and it just bloody continues. One of our chefs lost both of his parents within 24 hours of each other while I was typing this column. Illness remains pervasive, evolving science and data frustrates and confuses, careers have been ruined, homelessness and inequity increases, our freedoms to do what we want, when we want, have been compromised — the list is endless. At all times, but especially at times like these, I believe we should be confident and courageous enough to reject further disorder, to seek greater understanding and societal healing, while lifting others up. It blows my mind that this is so hard for so many.
Scott Plath, along with his wife Kathleen, owns Cobblestones of Lowell, moonstones, in Chelmsford, Mass., and Stones Social in Nashua, New Hampshire. Scott possesses a deep well of humorous and insightful stories, which are available here. >>>