April 9, 2012
Yelp revenge? A chef vents on Facebook

Yelp has an interesting business model. Goes like this:

Open your membership to everyone, even those with just enough brainpower to lightly brown a piece of toast.

Let the smart, not-so-smart and the downright ignorant remain anonymous, lest they have to explain themselves.

Allow these people to rate businesses, especially restaurants. Encourage people to take Yelp seriously. Hilarity ensues.

I'm not necessarily anti-Yelp. I have have friends on Yelp -- respectable people, nice people, foodies. I just dislike many things about it. Apparently, so do certain chefs -- like Aimal Formoli.

The owner/chef of Formoli's Bistro in East Sacramento reached the limit of his patience when he read a recent "review" on Yelp by "Chriuh C.," who graced the world with with his pithy observations about Formoli's Bistro. Appetizers? Entrees? None of them are any good. Even the water, infused with cucumber, stinks.

He (or she) certainly has a right to his opinion. He likes the Old Spaghetti Factory, and so do many others. He likes the pepperoni at Mountain Mikes. Of course he does.

Formoli the chef -- and an excellent, innovative chef he is -- thinks Formoli's the bistro might not be the right fit for the Chriuh. Via Facebook, Formoli opines:

"To Chriuh C. from the wonderful site yelp! please pay attention, every review you post involves dinner with mommy and daddy. Apparently, this is the only time you get to dine out, otherwise, you are at Old Spaghetti Factory and leave your palate there. Your parents should be ashamed you you were ever born and they have to take you out to dinner!!!!!!!"

OK, so it wasn't exactly subtle.

I caught up to Formoli by phone to ask him about his Yelp-related frustrations, a malady for which there is no known cure.

"I guess everybody has a breaking point," he said.

He said other chefs are frustrated, too. On Yelp, you don't have to have any benchmarks. You can give an opinion and it stands, no matter what.

"We all talk about it," Formoli said of his chef friends. "Most of us don't want to put a comment on there. Then you get trashed completely.

"I'm not saying I've never messed up. My point is with a lot of the Yelpers, if I have a horrible experience, I would say something right then and there and see what the restaurant does to try to fix it. Our business is hospitality. We want to make sure the whole experience is perfect."

The chef continues: "If you have an unpleasant experience, you need to voice your opinion and let them try to fix the mistakes. Then you can judge how they did.

"We (chefs) all talk. Sometimes you can't help but take (criticism) personally. It has my last name on the bill. You can't help but take that home with you."

Formoli says that the only way to avoid Yelp frustrations is to avoid Yelp altogether. In fact, his wife Suzanne has put him on a no-Yelp-for-you diet.

"I'm just going to put my head down and keep going. This is my city, I have some ideas and I'm not going to let Yelp stop me," Formoli said.

Unfortunately, somewhere out there, "Chriuh C." is probably saying the same thing.

Blair Anthony Robertson is The Bee's restaurant critic. Follow him on Twitter, @blarob.

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