Don’t Ask If You Don’t Want Me To Tell You

We recently ate at a pleasant Italian restaurant; a day or so later, having been contacted by OpenTable to post a review, I wrote something short and positive.

At least I thought it was positive: 4/5 stars for food/ambiance/value and 5/5 for service, which was terrific. After all, this wasn’t an undiscovered Michelin gem, just a perfectly nice little restaurant with an undistinguished décor and limited menu. I’ve eaten out enough to know what “outstanding” means – from Tour D’Argent in Paris in its heyday to our local pub, which has consistently excellent grub. And, hey, I’ve got the extra pounds to prove it!

Almost immediately, I received a very defensive reply from the chef-owner, wanting to know why I’d given him a “bad” review. (My comments about the “lovely little restaurant with delicious house-made pasta” apparently hadn’t been sufficient praise.) So this led to a series of back-and-forth e-mails in which I explained that one reason for my rating was that the bread was disappointing. As regular readers will know, I take my carbs seriously: flabby, squishy white bread is not ok – though I expressed this as, “I prefer a firmer crust and texture”, attempting to be diplomatic.

The point is, I wasn’t trying to be mean or snarky – but if you ask for feedback, you should expect feedback, not a gold star for trying. (This being the problem of an entire generation getting trophies merely for showing up.)

Which led me to think about other situations in which it might be unwise to ask questions if you don’t want to hear the answers. A classic is, “Where is our relationship going?” Now, if a woman is asking a man, chances are that if he were about to propose, she would know it. If he’s asking her where they stand, well, sorry dude but she’s not that into you, as they say.

I don’t know if gay etiquette is any different, but humans being humans I’ll go out on a limb here and say that, in any relationship, if you don’t know where you stand you can assume it’s on shaky ground.

It’s the same at work. A good manager will praise what’s going well and offer constructive criticism to make you better. Be honest: If you were 100% perfect you’d probably be the CEO, or have retired by age 40 to your yacht in the South Pacific.

In other words, be careful what you ask for.

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11 thoughts on “Don’t Ask If You Don’t Want Me To Tell You

  1. Laura Schulman

    I rarely provide requested feedback simply for this reason. If you write a 4 out of 5 rating, you get asked to explain. Unless the service provided was abysmal, in which case they hear about it in scorching detail, I just ignore.

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  2. terry

    I had a similar experience a few years ago with a new restaurant in our area. I commented on a few service-related issues we experienced during our visit. The owner responded by saying they were new, the staff (her children) was still in training & we should come back to try it again. The food wasn’t good enough to get me to go back & IMHO, a restaurant shouldn’t open until it’s ready (both food & service).

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  3. adguru101 Post author

    I agree! It’s not as though we don’t all have other options for dining out. And unfortunately, professional service is a lost art in most of the US.

    We had a similar experience with a new restaurant a few years ago. The server (wife of the chef) got defensive about the extremely slow service (there were only three occupied tables and after more than an hour, not so much as a breadstick had even appeared), explaining that it was “fine dining”. Um, no.

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  4. lady sarah in london

    Insightful & intelligent post as always! Year ago I wrote a bad review for afternoon tea at the Connaught. A swish hotel in Mayfair, where they charged £400 for afternoon tea for 4 people. (Including Champagne) the champagne was warm, the sandwiches average and the waiter had a huge stain on his shirt. The maitre was hovering around is in a super annoying way asking if we need anything, though when I asked for extra jam it never materialised. The manager contacted me to offer a complimtary tea after the review, but when I responded to the affirmative, it was never followed up. The place has closed since, which is why I think we should write reviews, if nothing else just to warn potential victims off.

    Liked by 1 person

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  5. adguru101 Post author

    Wow — I would not expect that at the Connaught. Good for you for calling them out! It’s uncomfortable to alert people to a bad experience but I agree that it’s our civic responsibility to spare them from wasting their money 🙂 Does Brown’s in Mayfair still serve afternoon tea? I remember it as being quite nice but it was years ago.

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