The tables are turning on dining reviews: How you rate as a diner?

The tables are turning on dining reviews: How you rate as a diner? Photo: Rob Homer

It’s been a long, long time coming, but restaurateurs are finally taking revenge.

Ever since the Palaeolithic Era, when the first caveman ever to dine out at a neighbouring fire turned to his companion and whispered stagily “Is it just me, or is this mammoth carpaccio a little … fibrous?”, the warfare between professional host and professional diner has been profoundly asymmetric.

Diners reserve the right to blab far and wide about bad service, while tipping only parsimoniously for the good.

We bark at waiters, or click or whistle at them for attention, or offer a lordly rebuke in the event that the soup is cold or the wine corked, while reserving the right to get highly indignant in the event of an infinitesimally sharp word in the other direction.

And in this digital age, we claim a further unilateral right to pen long and crushing reviews of any vaguely underperforming establishment on restaurant review websites that hang around indefinitely, forever immortalising the night where we were really a bit underwhelmed, to be honest, and to wait 20 minutes before anyone even offers a drink is a bit rich and the food, while okay, was just not quite as special as you would really expect it to be at that price and seriously, $19 for three scallops, are you joking, not to mention that the air-conditioning was practically sub-zero and next time we want a modern Italian we’ll probably just go to the place round the corner.

Until now, restaurateurs, chefs and waiters have been obliged to confine themselves to jungle warfare.

Cruel but satisfying mockery of guests in the vault of the kitchen. The table closest to the toilets. Service that’s just slow enough to send a message but not quite slow enough to warrant an intervention. Chilly politeness. Special extras in the salad dressing. “I’m afraid your credit card has been rejected, Sir.” These are the rudimentary weapons in the hospitality professional’s guerrilla arsenal.

But the tables, if you’ll excuse me, are turning.

Shared online reservations websites like dimmi.com.au, which allow restaurants to coordinate their bookings through a central site, now allow restaurants to compare notes on diners.

Stevan Premutico, chief executive officer of dimmi.com.au, told Good Food last week that it was increasingly common for restaurants to research their diners.

“What they look like, their job, their title, where they live, their social connections, any special celebrations and whether they are an avid foodie are all key things,” he says.

This is a compellingly creepy development.

I am still getting over hotel rooms where the TV knows your name. I don’t think I am anywhere near ready for a night out that starts with the words “Ms Crabb! I notice from your Twitter feed that you had a disappointing sandwich for lunch. I do hope we can fix that!”

But the really crucial intelligence on these networks is all about how you rate as a diner. Are you a tightwad tipper? Do you hang around forever ordering further cups of peppermint tea? Are you a nasty drunk? Do you have a weird, honking laugh? Do you often turn up late, or not at all? Do you always order the second-cheapest bottle of wine? If so, it might be time to start booking under a pseudonym.

Every time Big Data snuggles its octopus tentacles a little further around the human experience, I get a little more freaked out. But I can’t help but feel that this particular field is overdue for a little tit-for-tat, and I won’t mind too much, I suppose, when the following review appears:

“Served Annabel Crabb last night. I was really, really looking forward to it as my colleagues and I have read some very enthusiastic reviews of her and she is generally reported to be a polite diner and a generous tipper. Plus, it was her birthday so we were hoping for a special night. Well. I don’t know who those other places were serving, but I’m not sure it’s the same lady. First, she was late. Then, tap water please. Then constantly checking her phone, and could we do the pancetta entrée without pancetta, and then – oh! A friend turns up. Could we squeeze in another chair? And after all that, a crappy tip*. Next time, Ms Crabb, we’re fully booked.”

Annabel Crabb is the host of ABC’s Kitchen Cabinet.

* I am not a crappy tipper. Please let me in your restaurant.

It’s been a long, long time coming, but restaurateurs are finally taking revenge.

Ever since the Palaeolithic Era, when the first caveman ever to dine out at a neighbouring fire turned to his companion and whispered stagily “Is it just me, or is this mammoth carpaccio a little … fibrous?”, the warfare between professional host and professional diner has been profoundly asymmetric.

Diners reserve the right to blab far and wide about bad service, while tipping only parsimoniously for the good.

We bark at waiters, or click or whistle at them for attention, or offer a lordly rebuke in the event that the soup is cold or the wine corked, while reserving the right to get highly indignant in the event of an infinitesimally sharp word in the other direction.

And in this digital age, we claim a further unilateral right to pen long and crushing reviews of any vaguely underperforming establishment on restaurant review websites that hang around indefinitely, forever immortalising the night where we were really a bit underwhelmed, to be honest, and to wait twenty minutes before anyone even offers a drink is a bit rich and the food, while okay, was just not quite as special as you would really expect it to be at that price and seriously, nineteen dollars for three scallops, are you joking, not to mention that the air conditioning was practically sub-zero and next time we want a modern Italian we’ll probably just go to the place round the corner.

Until now, restaurateurs, chefs and waiters have been obliged to confine themselves to jungle warfare.

Cruel but satisfying mockery of guests in the vault of the kitchen. The table closest to the toilets. Service that’s just slow enough to send a message but not quite slow enough to warrant an intervention. Chilly politeness. Special extras in the salad dressing. “I’m afraid your credit card has been rejected, Sir.” These are the rudimentary weapons in the hospitality professional’s guerrilla arsenal.

Formal legal recourse against angry diners is a slow process; the owners of the Sydney restaurant Coco Roco this week only just finally gouged $600,000 out of Fairfax in damages for the stinking review the Sydney Morning Herald published of their doomed establishment in 2003.

Eleven years! That’s three times as long as it used to take to get a coffee there! (I AM JOKING. THIS IS A JOKE. PLEASE DO NOT SUE ME)

But the tables, if you’ll excuse me, are turning.

Shared online reservations websites like dimmi.com.au, which allow restaurants to coordinate their bookings through a central site, now allow restaurants to compare notes on diners.

Stevan Premutico, chief executive officer of dimmi.com.au, told Good Food last week that it was increasingly common for restaurants to research their diners.

“What they look like, their job, their title, where they live, their social connections, any special celebrations and whether they are an avid foodie are all key things,” he says.

This is a compellingly creepy development.

I am still getting over hotel rooms where the TV knows your name. I don’t think I am anywhere near ready for a night out that starts with the words “Ms Crabb! I notice from your Twitter feed that you had a disappointing sandwich for lunch. I do hope we can fix that!”

But the really crucial intelligence on these networks is all about how you rate as a diner. Are you a tightwad tipper? Do you hang around forever ordering further cups of peppermint tea? Are you a nasty drunk? Do you have a weird, honking laugh? Do you often turn up late, or not at all? Do you always order the second-cheapest bottle of wine? If so, it might be time to start booking under a pseudonym.

Every time Big Data snuggles its octopus tentacles a little further around the human experience, I get a little more freaked out. But I can’t help but feel that this particular field is overdue for a little tit-for-tat, and I won’t mind too much, I suppose, when the following review appears:

“Served Annabel Crabb last night. I was really, really looking forward to it as my colleagues and I have read some very enthusiastic reviews of her and she is generally reported to be a polite diner and a generous tipper. Plus, it was her birthday so we were hoping for a special night. Well. I don’t know who those other places were serving, but I’m not sure it’s the same lady. First, she was late. Then, tap water please. Then constantly checking her phone, and could we do the pancetta entrée without pancetta, and then – oh! A friend turns up. Could we squeeze in another chair? And after all that, a crappy tip*. Next time, Ms Crabb, we’re fully booked.”

Annabel Crabb is the host of ABC’s Kitchen Cabinet.

* I am not a crappy tipper. Please let me in your restaurant.