Most experts will agree: the sheer nature of a consumer review is one that should remain somewhat unprompted, if not completely anonymous. After all, what’s the point of blindly reviewing the latest gastropub’s self-proclaimed ‘melt-in-your-mouth filet’ if the kitchen staff has prepared arduously for your arrival?
Historically speaking, the first official restaurant review actually appeared in the New York Times circa 1859 and was so anonymous, in fact, that the byline wasn’t even a name, but signed with “A Strong-Minded Reporter of the Times.”
How times have changed.
Today, savvy restaurant owners often recognize top food critics, even if they come in unannounced. Of course, not all restaurant owners are savvy, so lucky for us the system is safe. For now, that is.
On a recent trip to France, entrepreneur Brad Newman had a poor dining experience at a local restaurant. After telling his waitress he was going to post a negative review of the establishment online, he was immediately treated to white glove service and a personal apology from the manager. Newman’s takeaway? Tell a restaurant you’re a critic and you’ll get impeccable, if not upgraded service. Upon his return to the U.S., Newman got busy creating ReviewerCard, a black business card available for purchase to self-proclaimed restaurant reviewers that reads simply, “I Write Reviews.” For a fee of $100, Newman sells the card to reviewers he deems worthy, with just over 100 cards sold since the business was launched in the fall of 2012. He’s also given away more than 400 cards to bloggers and other ‘food critics’ of his choosing. While Newman declines to share how much he’s turned in profit thus far, it’s clear ReviewerCard is selling steadily, but not exactly making too many friends.
Major media outlets including the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post and San Francisco Gate, are blasting the service as “a new low in online review threats,” “pure extortion” and “a place for moochers” (and those are some of the nicer ones). Bloggers are apoplectic; tweets aren’t kind and many professional reviewers are not on board.
“If you want to review a restaurant fairly, you specifically do not solicit VIP treatment,” said veteran food and dining writer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, John Kessler, who at first thought the card was a joke. “If a restaurant should be praised for delivering a good food and service experience, then it can deliver it consistently to all guests. If you choose to leverage your ability to broadcast your opinion for gain, that is not criticism, it’s business.”
But according to Newman, who’s now dealing with a tremendous backlash of negative feedback, the ReviewerCard (which he claims was designed primarily for international travel) should only be used if something’s going wrong and not as a threat.
But then again, “People are going to review a restaurant anyway, so why not get an upgrade?” he told TODAY.com. He also believes being a member of an elite club of reviewers is no different than belonging to any other status club such as AAA or the American Bar Association, known for giving upgrades at hotels and restaurants worldwide.
While professional reviewers scorn the card as fraudulent and completely unethical, some bloggers and Yelpers are benefiting from VIP service by flashing their ReviewerCards to waiters and restaurateurs worldwide, hoping to land a few extras.
So tell us, what do you think of the ReviewerCard -- is it savvy or unethical?
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