Can restaurants thwart bad reviews by refusing to charge critics? One group of Dallas restaurants is at least trying.
About 10 Dallas restaurants collectively decided to not charge Leslie Brenner, a well-known dining critic for the Dallas Morning News. The restaurant owners feel that Brenner’s reviews—which includes ascribing a one-to-five-star rating to each restaurant she writes about—are unfair and hurt their business. They particularly didn’t like a policy Brenner had to not reveal her identity when showing up at a restaurant.
By refusing to charge her, the restaurants put Brenner in a tough spot because she’s required by the Morning News’ ethics policy to pay for her meals at restaurants she reviews. Brenner recently dined Dallas restaurant Proof + Pantry with her husband and two others, according to an account by the local D Magazine. At the end of the meal, the waiter delivered a comped meal receipt for $450. Brenner ended up leaving $500 on the table, which the restaurant refused to keep and tried returning to the newspaper the next day.
Proof + Pantry owners Michael Martensen and Sal Jafar II told D Magazine that Brenner was “visibly disturbed” by their refusal to charge her and demanded that they charge her. But they refused because they don’t want to play ball with her review.
“Sal and I decided from the beginning that we didn’t want any review tied to a rating system,” Martensen told D. “It pinholes us. We want people to form their own opinions of us. We don’t want a numerical rating, especially from someone who we feel is inconsistent and not anonymous.”
In early November, after Brenner’s meal at Proof + Pantry, several other restaurants joined the cause and decided not to charge the critic. They’ve attracted more restaurants to the campaign; but other local restaurants have distanced themselves from the no-review movement.
Since the restaurants’ protest against the reviewer started, Brenner has dropped her policy of dining at restaurants anonymously. She still plans to book tables under pseudonyms—so chefs can’t prepare for her visit—but she will reveal herself on arrival. “After several years of engaging with increasing frequency in the ridiculous ritual of pretending not to be recognized by chefs and restaurateurs who are pretending not to recognize me, I’m dropping the ritual,” she wrote in a recent column. “It’s dated. And it’s a distraction.”
The ruckus over Brenner’s reviews are not exactly a new phenomenon. Other restaurants in other cities have tried to band together against local reviewers who they feel write unfair reviews that hurt public perception. But many such attempts have failed.
“It’s not that I’m terribly supportive of any critic,” Stephan Pyles, co-owner of Dallas restaurant Smoke, told the Post about the restaurant’s decision to not participate in the movement to stop Brenner’s reviews. “It’s just that it’s not my place to question, publicly, anything that they have to say. That’s not to say that I haven’t done it, but again, I’ve learned my lessons. I’ve learned that you never get the last word with the press.”
Read more articles on advertising and PR.