Sunday, August 14, 2005

Bauer - A Restaurateur's Perspective

A while back, a post of mine entitled Michael Bauer 's Power in the City of Fog, attracted a lot of comments, mainly from local food bloggers. Recently, an interesting new comment was added to the post which I thought some of my readers might be interested in...

"Interesting comments all about Bauer, but I thought you might like some inside scoop from the trenches. I work in the business (partner at a respected restaurant, I would rather not say which one) and truth be told, when Bauer reviewed us five years ago and raved, it brought folks in. When he reviewed us again, within the last year, he raved even more, and it barely did a thing for us. I also have friends who own restaurants that he has slaughtered and in recent years, even a bad review doesn't seem to affect things much one way or the other. That said, as a restaurant owner, I would be lying if I said that I didn't care about Michael Bauer coming in, or any other reviewer from a newspaper or magazine for that matter. A bit more bluntness, I sometimes read food blogs (I enjoy this one quite a bit) and I know a few other owners who read them ocassionally, but most chefs are computer illiterate - it's not part of their schooling, and many of them don't even know what a blog is. While I appreciate your sense of power to the people, blogs don't help or hurt my business in any way. A newspaper or magazine does. The only reason Bauer's reviews don't seem to make as much of an impact any more is that people see through his personal attacks - I've had many customers tell me that they take with a grain of salt his praise or his insults because they feel it is personally generated. As far as my personal opinion, as someone who has been in the restaurant industry for over 25 years, I think the Chronicle food section as a whole is the problem. Bauer is bored and boring, and some of the new staff are even more boring and already seem bored, writing generic reviews that seem to attempt to emulate their boss as if to try to please him. More and more customers are coming in after reading reviews in smaller or alternative publications and in many ways I think it is because the Chronicle is so bad they have been forced to turn elsewhere and have found more honest and frankly better written restaurant reviews outside of the great big politically driven corporate newspaper."

Archive Alert! On this day in 2004 I was discovering the joys of Citizen CupCake, Dolfin Chocolate and Piece Montee.

posted in and and and and and
Bauer - A Restaurateur's Perspective


  • At 14/8/05 10:48, Blogger NS said…

    Great comment from a real insider - thanks for drawing our attention to it, and thanks to the writer for posting it.

    I have no reason to dispute the assertion that the majority of chefs/restaurateurs are blog illiterate, and that they are generally more concerned with conventional reviews in newspapers and magazines. But after noting that "blogs don't help or hurt my business in any way," the author goes on to state that "more and more customers are coming in after reading reviews in smaller or alternative publications . . . because . . . they have been forced to turn elsewhere and have found more honest and frankly better written restaurant reviews outside of the great big politically driven corporate newspaper."

    To me, the second quote above undermines the first; after all, blogs are "smaller or alternative publications" that typically have more honest reviews than the Chronicle. And well-written, popular blogs like this one already have an impressive audience that is continuing to grow, making it difficult to argue - in my opinion - that blogs have no impact on a restaurant's business. Indeed, in a post here just a few days ago, the owner of Tabla was described as having commented that several customers have visited her establishment because of this blog.

    Finally, regardless of the power that blogs actually hold today, I believe it would be a real mistake for restaurateurs to write off at least the growing influence and potential impact of blogs. I say that not out of an interest in "validating" the work that we food bloggers do; I say it because a food blog is, at root, a vehicle for diners to share information - both good and bad - with each other. And anybody who simply dismisses that as irrelevant does so at his/her own peril.

  • At 14/8/05 12:19, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Great post - and GREAT blog. I was working in a new restaurant that Michael Bauer deigned to review, and I also waited on him. His power is still palpable, whether people want to admit it or not. While he may not single handedly ruin a restaurant, he can hurt the business with a bad review.

    One of his pet peeves is his doggy bag. He will ask to take food home, and he wants the bag out of sight until he is ready to leave. We knew this so we were ready. I read a review of his recently where he pounced on a server because they forgot to give him his doggy bag. Because he wants the bag in the back of house, this over sight can easily occur.

    If you go into any restaurant and see a roasted chicken on the menu, whether for one or for two, that is because Bauer loves roasted chicken - and if a chef knows how to prepare it, Bauer will like your restaurant.

    It has also been purported that if Mr. Bauer thinks your kitchen staff is attractive, you might get a good review. Michael Bauer is so well known, that he does not dine anonymously. His reservations are often made under the name of his partner, and everyone in the industry is well aware of that too.

    So what does this say about Mr. Bauer and the power of the Chronicle? You have to question the objectiveness of his reviews. And because he has been at this for so long, chefs in our city create menus to appeal to his taste.

    It is time for a change.

  • At 14/8/05 13:32, Blogger cookiecrumb said…

    Ditto to both of above comments. Especially ns, who said what I was going to say about alternative publications.

  • At 14/8/05 14:00, Blogger Jackson said…

    Wow, this is a great follow-up. I'd argue that a new breed of chef is computer literate -- seeing the kids in their Culinary Institute togs with their iPod earbuds means they've downloaded a few MP3's and traded Instant Messages at some point. They're not head chefs planning menus yet, but they will be.

    The bit about the roast chicken and the doggie bag are hilarious, though. Hilarious! I think the point about objectivity is very interesting, too. I can totally see a reviewer being corrupted by having so much influence for so long that he or she comes to expect a certain level of personal pampering.

  • At 14/8/05 19:20, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Last night I was in a restaurant that Bauer just reviewed. The servers who waited on his table recognized him each of the three times he was in the restaurant and the chef knew him each time also. How can anyone pretend that his reviews are valid when he is known by all of us in the business? It is clear that he receives favorable treatment and can't reliably tell the average reader what his experience will be like when he spends his hard earned money in a particular restaurant. This is a farce - pure and simple. He wields far too much power to behave this way. Shame on him and the Chronicle for allowing him to continue his reign over the Bay Area's restaurant community.

  • At 15/8/05 06:21, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I rely on great blogs like yours much more than reviews from hacks like Michael Bauer. It is obvious that he is recognized by the restauranteurs and it doesn't seem to bother him at all. That has to taint his reviews so I simply disregard them.

    The objectivity of a blogger whose tastes are similar to mine is much more helpful in determining where I want to go and what the strengths of that restaurant are. Your straightforward approach and sense of humor don't hurt either.

    By the way, I've heard that he doesn't ask the kitchen to hold his doggy bags any more. He has them brought to the table right away now.

  • At 15/8/05 07:27, Blogger Sam said…

    Everyone has made some great points, including the original poster. Personally, I think as the world in general becomes more and more computer savvy, people go online to check reviews one against the other, particularly if they have a specific restaurant in mind, so that they get a general overview of opinions. Why rely on one opinion when you can read many? That's what I do, anyway.
    People like Bauer have the effect of drawing attention to new restaurants in particular and causing diners to visit them on mass because it is a new thing on their radar.
    I think Jackson's point about the new breed of chefs is definitely something to think about.


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