How do chefs want feedback? The old way, through verbal communication, where servers and diners can have a constructive discussion? Or the new way, such as through online reviews, where opinions are made public, but diners are a bit more forthcoming?
Either way, good feedback is not always easy to get, no matter how welcome it may be. Especially with the British public, who might have the worst meal at their lives, but will happily say while they’re paying their bill that, yes, everything was fine.
Then there’s the question of what feedback can be trusted. Is there ever a time when a diner says, ‘this dish is too salty’, for the chef to immediately adapt accordingly? Perhaps if the suggestion was put forward by Jay Rayner or Fay Maschler, but your average punter?
These are the sorts of questions I posited to the founder of a new app, Radishnow, that has a dual purpose – one, for diners to find the best dishes at a particular establishment based on the reviews of others, and two, for chefs to receive feedback on them. It’s the dish-by-dish aspect which is most distinguishing here – we know the market is saturated with public review platforms (TripAdvior being the biggie), but this is the first app to do things in this kind of detail.
‘Even with the technological structure of today, says founder Qing Mak, ‘there’s not a way to provide dish-by-dish feedback. ‘The whole point of Radishnow is to give diners a voice, while at the same time we do want to help restaurants. Specifically, neighbourhood eateries – that’s what we’re mostly excited about. With all the technological change we’ve seen, our own local restaurants come and go. We want to show them they don’t have to invest loads of money in a platform that might not give back.’
Even so, it’s difficult to not draw the comparison between other review platforms already out there. Perhaps this isn’t a bad thing, but with the reputation some of them get in the industry, why would restaurateurs and managers want to invest their interest in another one? Qing says one good reason is to do with the fact that, unlike competitors, they aren’t after your money. ‘Because we’re community driven, we’re not trying to sell a product to restaurants.’
One of the things turning restaurateurs off review platforms – even in some cases asking for their business to be de-listed from them – is the matter of unfair reviews. Moderation is not there yet with the app, but Qing says it has to happen. ‘One of the things we’re thinking about is verifying, but it needs a bit of innovation. The thing is, on Radishnow you have to post a picture with your review, so if people are able to just post worded reviews, then it’s easier for people to post negative reviews.’
And as to that earlier point, about restaurateurs wanting to remove their business from malicious or inaccurate reviews? It’s something platforms don’t often support, and requires brushing up on some legal lingo. So where does Radishnow stand on all this? ‘We’re not giving restaurants the option to say, okay, no, we don’t want reviews of our place,’ says Qing. ‘We want diners to have the freedom of giving feedback, but if the restaurant doesn’t want access to the data or the analytics, then that’s fine.’
After all, Qing does point out that their main ethos is ‘wanting to help people discover good restaurants’. Which, to be fair, can be difficult within today’s Instaculture. One issue flagged by savvy consumers, for example, is how content shared on social media might not be all it seems. Increasingly, social media users are recruited for their influence and/or follower counts to promote a restaurant. All the while, their followers don’t necessarily receive the full disclosure that this type of content is essentially an advert, and might not be a bona fide endorsement. Perhaps this is something Radishnow can address. ‘Based on our research, Qing says, people definitely look at pictures of dishes before they eat them. Sometimes the food looks good but doesn’t live up to expectations. And after that, they don’t go back. Either way, they’re not able to give feedback on the dish.’
Then again, maybe it’s something the app could, however unwittingly, exacerbate. As is the case with Instagram and TripAdvisor, who’s to know a PR hasn’t paid the reviewer for a positive write-up? Who can really trust an influencer, with cash in hand, who says something is the next big thing?
Radishnow caught my eye as a great platform. In theory, at the very least. Encouraging more than just three words of feedback, or any constructive criticism at all, can be difficult or unfruitful (one review of a fried chicken dish on the app merely says ‘very average dish’). This could be something chefs want to help with that, but like all these things, it will need to rely on the quality of its user generated in order to be useful.
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