One of the reasons I was approached to start writing on Patch was to give an insider's view of the restaurant scene. I had/have a strong fear that my opinion of the "scene" would scare people off of possibly trying my business or worse, talking badly about my business. Therein lies the problem.
Too many things can cloud a diner’s judgment of a restaurant experience: pre-determined expectations, mood, food knowledge, dining companion, the weather, the firmness of the chair, the loud conversation of the couple behind you, or the cigarette breath of your server.
When I want to learn about the public's expectations, I read a lot of restaurant reviews. It amazes me how vitrolic and narrow-minded some reviewers can be. I'm not talking about the people that get paid to do the job, but the dining public.
There's a review of Knight's Bistro on this site, where the comments are far more telling then the review itself. No disrespect to the writer of the story, but the reaction of the public to the business and the story is the real story.
Let's start with Knight's Bistro itself. At no time during the construction period did I see or hear a quote from the owner that he was going to do a fine dining Italian restaurant or claim to do the most authentic pizza or the best Italian (South Jersey Red) around.
I know because I listened and asked around. The SJ Hot Chefs are always looking for new restaurants for the group. So how could people's expectations be so messed up?
I know—Mrs. Smith said she thought it would be nice to have an authentic New York-style pizzeria in town, and Mr. Jones heard Mrs. Smith say it would be a fancy authentic pizzeria, and Mr. and Mrs. Davis heard it would be the best and cheapest Italian food in town.
Then the comments:
One person suggested it was because people don’t know what bistro or cafe means. This is a good point because people who know that bistro is a French word for a small place that serves moderately priced, home-cooked food never confuse it with a trattoria, the Italian version of bistro.
Another person questions the idea of opening another "Italian" restaurant in Collingswood. This is a good point, but is it a reason not to like a business? The person asks "quality vs. quantity"—not of the food but of the number of businesses themselves. Still other commenters based their expectations upon their dislike of another business in town.
There are a few people with positive comments: "friendly owner and staff,” "good for a quick bite," and “made a terrific hoagie.”
These are the best comments about Knight’s Bistro because they tell you what you need to know about a restaurant:
- "friendly owner and staff" means “small business trying to do its best.”
- "good for a quick bite" means “nice place for a casual meal, dine-in or take-out.”
- "made a terrific hoagie" means “good for lunch or dinner” (everyone loves a good sandwich).
When you go out to eat as a consumer, you should do your part ahead of time.
- “What kind of food do they serve?”
Trust me, I've had more then one person make a reservation then ask what kind of food that we serve!!
- “What's the price point? Can I afford it?”
To the person that said “I can't afford any of those places (Nunzio, That's Amore, Sapore, Bistro de Marino, Il Fiore, Cafe Antonios, Zeppoli's, Villa Barone, Kitchen Consigliere...)”: if you can't afford any of those places you really should worry about other things than eating out.
- “What's the atmosphere like?” Will I be over-/underdressed?”
If you're on a date and want a quiet place to sit and talk, a pizzeria may not be the best place.
Look, we all have the right to our opinions, but wouldn't it be better for everyone involved to voice more positive comments—and if we don't have anything nice to say, let that speak for itself?
And it wouldn't be right of me to not weigh in with some of my comments on places I have dined at:
- Zeppoli —very good rustic Italian for a casual evening
- Royal Tavern — my favorite brunch spot, good beer, good food, nice people
- a.kitchen — excellent food, a step above, great place for a special night out
- Wiljax — really good hoagies, my favorite meatball parm around
- Chili's — When I'm on the way home from work, just a nice place for a dollar beer—and better yet, it’s walking distance from my home!
- Redhouse Bagels — real friendly service and great bagels for a breakfast sandwich
Fred Kellermann is the owner and chef de cuisine at Elements Cafe in Haddon Heights. He is also the president of SJ Hot Chefs, and urges you to support your local restaurant with your dining-out dollars.