Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Michael Bauer 's Power in the City of Fog

An exclusive report from your local restaurant-industry Gossip Columnist!
Last week I was witness to a situation I never imagined I would encounter: A real-life chef actually being interviewed for a job at a well-know, established but perhaps slightly jaded, San Francisco restaurant. Like a fly on the wall, there I was, hearing every single word of the proceedings. I was a little embarassed to be privy to the situation, but the circumstances were beyond my control. I was simply sitting, minding my own business and quietly eating my lunch at one of the two outside tables available at Picco, a new Pizzeria in Larkspur, Marin. I sympathised with the chef, sitting to my right. Not only was his privacy denied, his flow was intermittently inturrupted by the potential employer whose cell phone oftentimes took precedence over the interview.

Although I now know about the salary on offer, the suggestions for the menu, the skill-set the chosen chef must have for managing, training and budgeting, these details are not things that will pique my readers' interest.

What may mildly interest you, however, is to hear that the one thing the Chef is expected to focus upon above all else, is getting Michael Bauer through the doors for a good review. The interviewer emphasized that this would be the absolute top priority for the Chef who lands the job.

It is funny, because until that moment I naively assumed that a good restaurant owner's #1 concern would be to satisfy their paying customers with consistently delicious, mouth-watering food and great service. Tsk, tsk, silly, gullible me and my naive ideals...

Archive Alert! On this day in 2004 Fred was enjoying his last day as a thirty-something at a simple party, in France, with close friends.

posted in and and and and and and and

Michael Bauer 's Power in the City of Fog


  • At 13/7/05 06:52, Blogger Joy said…

    Hmmm...perhaps us food bloggers should do a meme about reviewing only this restaurant and see if their priorities change:).


  • At 13/7/05 08:09, Blogger Amy Sherman said…

    Tony Bourdain once wrote that there is nothing WORSE than a good review. What happens is people want to *try* the restaurant which means they come once and never again.

    Meanwhile the people a restaurant depends upon, the regulars, get pushed out and give up. When the excitement dies down you are left with, well not much!

  • At 13/7/05 08:51, Blogger eat stuff said…

    Maybe they are misguided and think it is the same thing? ie food and service have to be good etc? doesnt sound like it though. It will be funnier though if he reads your blog... and never goes! anyone have his email address???

  • At 13/7/05 09:59, Blogger Dive said…

    Someone should re-read Bauer's reviews for the last 2 years and for each bad review, they should call up the business and see where they were financially after the review and then where they are now.

    This may do a lot to prove or disprove his power to make or break restaurants.

    I, for one, would be happy to learn that it's all just hype.


  • At 13/7/05 10:06, Blogger Jennifer Maiser said…

    Really interesting. I remember talking with a chef last summer and the look in his eyes completely changed when he talked about how Bauer was supposed to be up at their restaurant in the next couple months. It was a look of fear and worry more than anything. He had previously been at a restaurant in the city that had been slaughtered by Bauer. He knew the game, and knew that he had to play it. Lucky for him, Bauer came and they received a really good review.

    The San Francisco Magazine article about Bauer from a couple of years ago (I think it won an award) was really enlightening. I think the thing that I really learned from it was how Bauer's tastes affect what we eat in SF. For instance, seared ahi I think was one of them. Once Bauer started liking seared ahi, most restaurants in town put it on their menu to appease him. We have him to thank for crappy renditions all over the Bay Area ;)

    I think it's easy for us, who are obsessed with food, to look to other sources for our reviews and information. But someone like Bauer has a real impact with the people who have a passing interest in food ... annoying.

  • At 13/7/05 10:53, Blogger cookiecrumb said…

    What a tragedy. Did you recognize the chef as anybody we might have heard about?
    BTW, Bauer is at but I doubt he even reads his e-mail.
    Good story!

  • At 13/7/05 11:19, Blogger Ced said…

    Sam: nice scoop. It is assumed Bauer has this kind of influence, but great to see it explicitely. The most telling part is that: they let you overhear it. This means they have no qualms nor shame about it. It's just a matter of fact.

    Fatemeh, I don't think you should resent either. Bauer is in this position only because the Chron distributes half-a-mil copies every day. No other medium in the Bay has this exposure. Compare with: Bay Guardian or SFWeekly: half-a-mil copies in a month! Blogs like SFist: half-a-mil views in 10 weeks; this highly successfull food blog here: should reach half-a-mil in 20 weeks? It's the numbers who create angst, not the man.

    The restaurateurs, much as they love their craft, they have partners and investors, who would like a return. If that means whoring to Bauer, they have little choice (this applies to higher profile restaurants, who need to drag people to their place, not neighborhood restaurants).

    One might dislike Bauer as a writer, but as an editor, I like his food section. I enjoy Amanda Berne's review, and they cover everything, every cuisine, everywhere.

  • At 13/7/05 12:05, Blogger NS said…

    I agree with ced's point that the restaurant critic of a widely-circulated newspaper is necessarily going to wield a great deal of influence. What disturbs me, however, is the manner in which Bauer abuses that power.

    As revealed in the SF Magazine story from a few years ago, Bauer makes only a show of trying to conceal his identity, he bestows inflated ratings on those with whom he has personal relationships, and he often bases his assessments on arbitrary and capricious factors. Assuming that Bauer's reviews really can make or break a place, the net result of these abuses is that the selection of successful restaurants presented to us is skewed away from that which would obtain if we were objectively measuring true excellence.

    That is why I personally find it so lamentable that Bauer has such power and that restaurants have to play along.

  • At 13/7/05 20:40, Blogger Sam said…

    In this instance my issue wasn't really with Michael Bauer so much as the restaurant. I have no ill feelings towards Bauer at all, in fact I quite admire his bullishness and the fact he has managed to retain his unique position for so long, regardless of whether I agree with what he writes or where he chooses to eat, or who he knows. If he sells papers and people lap his words up, then who are we to argue with his allure.

    It was the attitude of the restaurant I found more upsetting. It was a sharp reminder that these large restaurant groups are purely in business to make money. I have been recently reminded of this after making a few bad dining choices.

    As long as everyone else keeps reporting and writing online, and sharing their experiences, truthfully, honestly and transparently, the better the database of information we will all have access to, in order to double check reviews and opinions. The internet is a wonderful resource - thank all of you for being a voice in this arena, you are all a worthy balance to Michael Bauer and the likes.

  • At 15/7/05 10:41, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I predict the day when the real power of opinion will be in the hands of the bloggers and a review in a restaurant or magazine will be seen for what it usually is, PR.
    Wow, Sam, what a FAB SCOOP! And good for you for reporting it!

  • At 25/7/05 10:59, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Who needs Michael Bauer? I can tell you that I just ate at Picco Pizza last night and it sucked. Oh, my pizza was good. But the service was GOD AWFUL.

    The waiters were complete morons. The wine was served piss warm, the "warm" olives were burn-your-fingers hot. And my husband's pizza never arrived. When we inquired, we were told it was "put on hold." Um, huh? Too much sun today young waiter?

    Finally they served it up, but in a to go box. (?) We decided that was our clue to go. So my husband ate the pizza at home. Well, he TRIED to eat the pizza at home. Expect the SPIDER got there first. Clearly, Picco Pizza doesn't wash their greens. And probably not the employee hands, either.

    I don't need a Michael Bauer review. I've got my own. And this place blows. But don't you worry. Marin-ites will think it's oh-so-trendy and they'll eat it up like they do every trendy trend. Enjoy your spiders, warm wine and crappy wait staff...

    I'll sit this one out.

  • At 25/7/05 11:00, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    This place sucks. I was there last night. The service is awful, the wine is served hot. The wait staff are idiots. Who needs Michael Bauer. I lived the experience myself. Even the spider in the pizza. Nice touch. Good luck, Picco Pizza. You just lost me as a customer.

  • At 25/7/05 11:10, Blogger Sam said…

    stacy and spiderman - wow spounds like you two really had a bad time.
    I have been to Picco twice so far and I am going to give it one more chance before I review it on this site. (how professional is that - huh!)
    So far my experiences there have been mixed, but nothing so bad as you encountered.
    I don't undestand how they could give you your pizza to go if you were dining in the restaurant.
    Very peculiar indeed.

  • At 9/8/05 10:16, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    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.

  • At 13/11/05 16:21, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It wasn't far to drive, but we thought Picco Pizzeria would be worth it, as Michael Bauer had said. It was not. We were told the pizza would take only 5 minutes, and we waited outside on the railroad tie bench. We waited almost 15 minutes, no word about our pizza. When I went in and asked, the woman who took my order said, "oh, your pizzas have been ready." I asked her how long they'd been sitting, and she said she didn't know, but assured me that they were still hot. I then had to then remind her that we'd ordered two drinks. There were only 4 seats occupied inside at the time (about 2pm on Sunday)so it isn't like it was chaotic. When we opened up the boxes, our Specialized and our Colnago pizzas were limp. Yes, they were hot, but weren't the crusts supposed to be crispy? I really don't think Bruce Hill would have let this happen, had he been there. I feel like stopping by Bix and tell him he needs to keep a better watch over what's going on up there, people may be getting ripped off. I am upset we paid $32 for this. Another couple was told they needed to wait outside for a table, even though two tables were empty. So lame.

    Good pizza marred by the worst staff I've seen in a long time!

  • At 19/6/06 21:09, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    To Anonymous Restaurant Owner,

    Don't you realize that you contradicted yourself?

    "While I appreciate your sense of power to the people, blogs don't help or hurt my business in any way."

    and then:
    "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."

    Umm, I'm confused?

    As a professional in her late 20's, I can assure you that many of my friends (and myself) will most often trust reviews from bloggers than professional writers. Why, you ask? Bloggers are impartial, and provide an honest and realistic view of the dining experience. They aren't being catered to.

    So while a Chronicle review will show a more immediate result in the increase of customers, think about all the new faces you see on a regular basis. Those are probably coming on the advice of bloggers. Heck, I may be one of them.


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