Thoughts on… Criticism of an imperfect world


We all love applause a dammed lot more than we like criticism. But to paraphrase Kipling, if we can treat those two imposters just the same…

The thing is, while applause is great it’s often criticism which is more useful… as long as it’s focused on the problem. But I think I speak for just about everyone in a creative business when I say it’s the over-egged criticism that provokes acute frustration.

If just one person blogs or tweets that they really, really hated the experience in your restaurant, you instantly forget the twenty who loved it and stay awake all night worrying that the business is going to fail because of that bad review. I completely understand why actors take to drink.

And it’s not that we don’t want people to say what they think; it’s just that we want real, honest feedback focused on the point of our failure, rather than something confusing and beefed up by adding 20 other minor or non-existent offences for good measure.

I have obviously experienced this recently because why else would I be writing this.

Someone wrote this same criticism in several travel review sites: “Don’t be deceived by some of the reviews you may find about this place, my own experience at least was quite poor. I walked into this place with a friend just before 2pm mid week May and the whole place was shambolic. There was no help at the counter where just a few unappetising bits of food were left over. My mate had a soup and I ended up having a slice of cake as there was no savoury choice left, just a few sorry looking salad leaves. I had to shout at the surly baker to ask them what to do and was told to just grab what I wanted and to move on to one of the benches where one of the waitresses would have taken my drinks order. We sat down, among the abundant debris of other diners, finished our meagre repast and nobody materialised. The two waitresses were busier chatting away with some of the locals, but made no attempt at making eye contact so we walked out, paying close to £9 for one tomato soup and a slice of cake, consumed surrounded by dirty dishes. Frankly I don’t know how places can get away with such poor service. You are better off with a takeaway on a park bench, at least you know you are not being ripped off.”

However, what then tends to happen is that a happy customer comes to our aid with counter explanation of the experience, such as this one: “We visited this bakery in May; we almost walk past as it’s slightly set back from the road. It is a working bakery, at the back is were you can see all the bread, cakes & savouries being prepared & cooked, the seating is simple & basic with 2 very long communal tables with long benches either side. It is basically self service, for breakfast you find a space (if you can it gets very busy) get your tea or coffee from the table on the side wall, the coffee is fresh made, then go over to the other side where there a huge selection of freshly baked bread, grab a loaf & start slicing, drop you bread into the toaster & away you go, butter, jam & peanut butter are in huge bowls on the tables, Toast was £2.95 for as much as you can eat. As the morning moves on towards lunchtime all the lunch food starts to come out, a very good choice of pizza, flans & all manor of savoury things all £5.95 for a big portion. If you have your heart set on something in particular you need to be quick as its goes very quickly.”

The problem is that all the extra criticisms of the complainer get in the way of the things we can actually fix. For example when the complainer spoke of “sitting down, among the abundant debris of other diners” we recognised this as an issue and have now focused our energies on clearing away as soon as people leave the table, or before.

If you actually complain to us while you are in our restaurants we can do something to rectify the problem then and there. Hopefully you’d go away happy and be more likely to come back, and we wouldn’t stay up all night wishing you’d said something when you were there, instead of torturing us with a rambling online grump.

So next time you’re in one of our restaurants and you think all is not well, please please tell us. We can take it. And we can probably fix it too.

6 Responses to “Thoughts on… Criticism of an imperfect world”

  1. We never have any problem when we come to your bakery to eat, love the whole communal dining and friendly atmosphere
    Remember though that every is different with different tastes and agendas, but as you say if there’s a problem they should say something and not just take the easy way of writing about it
    Keep doing what you’re doing, some of us love what you do!
    Marcus & family

  2. Great blog – just have to remember you can’t please everyone, no matter how hard you try!

  3. 3 claire

    I don’t live near enough to you to visit, but from reading that blog I must say some of your ways of doing things sound fantastic -never mind the price, toast that you know will be how you like it, and crucially fresh and HOT, because you do it yourself? My ideal…and who can’t love a place that supplies peanut butter as standard? 😉 seriously, although there are no doubt justified areas to improve on in order to give a better service, I can only approve of your back to basics, hands-on approach. It seems likely to foster a more engaged, mutual relationship with regular customers. Really enjoyed the insightful, thoughtful response to your critics and the post got me thinking about these issues. Maybe you just need to find a way to warn ‘newbies’that your style subverts the norm…and is proud to do so. All the best for future business!

  4. 4 Allan

    Customer service at Lyme Regis needs some attention. Having got seats on Sat 23 July we left our bags and joined the food queue, only to see that a male member of staff was moving our bags to seat someone else where we had been. When I asked where he was moving us to he was very abrupt, simply telling me to ‘chill’. So I did and when we returned with our food we found that my wife was unable to sit down because of the table support, which was in the way. The male staff member was dismissive of our complaint so we left – he seemed completely unmoved by the loss of custom and poor customer service and no other member of staff seemed to be concerned either. We had visited on a recommendation – our recommendation will now be ‘don’t bother’.

  5. hi there,
    we passed your bakery when we visited the area (you were closed at the time, it was a late winters day). We own a restaurant and i think your comments on this blog ref reviews are absolutely spot on and i applaud you for them. 1 bad review, despite goodness knows how many good ones, literally leaves us tossing and turning all night, either in despair that we have not given someone 100% the best possible experience – or in pure anger if the review is, as you say, ‘beefed up’ with utter tosh.
    We hope to return to the area one day and if so we hope to visit. all the best.

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