I worked in the hospitality industry in various capacities when I was much younger and while I loved being in a kitchen, I quickly worked out that I didn’t quite have the patience or the quick thinking required to be successful when dealing with the public. Perhaps I was thinner skinned then or maybe I have a face that can’t lie but dealing with the demands and rudeness of some of our fellow citizens was beyond me.

I think I realised that fully when I was gestured to a table by an older gentleman clicking his fingers at me and staring with death ray eyes. He was utterly livid about a fruit salad I had served him. In my politest voice and with my can’t lie face in check as much as possible, I enquired what was the problem. “This fruit salad has apple in it,” he spat at me. I thought as quickly as I could and arrived at the same conclusion that his initial complaint had stirred, though my reply amplified his anger to a new and terrifying level. ‘Well sir, apple is a fruit, you ordered a fruit salad, if there was a tomato in there or a beetroot, then I would be on your side.” He told me in an unsavoury tone that he didn’t want to waste his time talking to an imbecile and to get the manager. I did and that was my last sojourn into the world of waiting on the public.

Hospitality is a hard gig, the hours are long and often antisocial and the public can be at their most demanding when they are served food and drink. People are particular about food, and that makes sense but there should be respect and patience for the people who feed us, unless of course, it is utterly wrong.

This brings me to a tale I read online recently about an eatery, the Smoking Barrel, in Motueka in the beautiful Abel Tasman area at the top of the South Island and a review left by a disgruntled punter when they were unable to get a table. It reminded me of two things. One, there are some real live ones amongst us, and two, replying to a challenging review is not only imperative – it is incredibly valuable for securing even more future customers – if done correctly.

The put out diner left a review on the restaurant’s Facebook page: ““The place was 75% empty!” Brian wrote on the restaurant’s Facebook page. “I guess maybe they are just very, very slow at cooking? Maybe if we spoke to someone else better at maths we might be enjoying a nice meal?” (Source: “‘You have no idea, my friend’: Restaurateur hits back at reviewer.” By 

The owner and chef Josiah Smits was initially shocked by the feedback and decided he needed to respond and his reply is not only fantastic, it garnered large public sympathy and ensured that his eatery will stay busy.

“I wouldn’t normally do this but I’ll back my team 100% any day here. The restaurant industry is an interesting one. Every time we open our doors, we also open ourselves up to criticism, personal preferences and reviews. These days, everyone likes to think that they are a food blogger or a masterchef judge. The past few weeks have seen us push harder than we ever have as a team here at The Smoking Barrel. My staff have pulled hours that most people would perceive as unimaginable. I take my hat off to every single one of them. They have done the extraordinary. They’ve sacrificed sleep, their families and relationships and personal enjoyment whilst everyone else at this time of the year is kicking back and enjoying the experience that we work so hard to create. (Source: The Smoking Barrel’s Facebook page)

“The post took off, with hundreds of people commenting, messaging and leaving reviews. As well as customers, the eatery received messages from cafe and restaurant owners around the country. Some told Smits his message had moved them to tears, he said. (Source: “‘You have no idea, my friend’: Restaurateur hits back at reviewer.” By 

I fully believe that the public can see right through an unreasonable review and Smit’s response, not only reminded the reviewer of the reality of what it takes to create great food and serve it but it registered with others as well. In the past 12 months the hospitality industry has suffered and it is so important to be supportive and perhaps a little more patient and understanding.