On Guy Fieri and "Quiet Classism" in Restaurant Reviews
If you've been following the social media world today, you've most certainly caught some chatter about the Times' Pete Wells's review of Guy Fieri's new Times Square restaurant, Guy's American Kitchen and Bar. And if not, let's catch up.
Pete Wells published his review, which is full of all sorts of snarky questions like, "Were you struck by how very far from awesome the Awesome Pretzel Chicken Tenders are?" and "Hey, did you try that blue drink, the one that glows like nuclear waste?" After it ran, a bunch of people on the Internet laughed (and are still laughing). On top of that, it spawned posts across the food blogosphere, like our round-up of the best lines from reviews of Guy's and Grub Street's collection of Twitter reactions.
Willy Staley, a freelance journalist and former waiter, penned a post on his personal blog today that had a different take on the matter. Rather than focusing on the Guy Fieri review, Staley recalled the time he spent waiting tables at Graydon Carter's Monkey Bar back in 2009 to make ends meet. While working one evening, he ended up serving Frank Bruni and three other people. Bruni had asked him a question about the origin of one of the desserts, and Staley joked around about where the name of the dessert maybe came from. Staley later found that his banter had unfortunately provided Bruni with the kicker for his review in The New York Times. Bruni wrote that the restaurant's insider-y feeling was problematic and that the menu had a...
chummy insiders' nomenclature that carried over to such dessert options as "Babe's chocolate cake" -- a reference, it turns out, to the slugger Ruth, not the socialite Paley -- and "Mrs. Carter's butter tart."
Our server wasn't sure whether the tart (excellent, by the way) paid tribute to Mr. Carter's mother or grandmother or some other family matriarch, but whatever the case, its name suggested an invitation to an inner circle, a moment of contact fabulousness. Some diners won't care. Plenty of others can't wait.
In his essay, Staley admits that Bruni has a point with his critique, and too writes of the "silliness of these faux-clubby restaurants," but also reveals that he was reprimanded for his joking with Bruni, and almost lost his job. In the heart of his essay, Staley laments "that very dispensable service employees are outed for minor errors by critics whose audience consists of those who can afford to eat at these places."
To quote him further:
This, to me, is one of the stranger outcomes of restaurant reviews: that waiters are sometimes treated like they work in the public interest, or something. Stay with me. There's a fiction central to working as a restaurant reviewer, that you're anonymous to the service staff and are treated the same as anyone else might be, and therefore your reporting on the matter ought to reflect the reality of what any diner might experience. And yet, every kitchen I've ever seen the inside of had a picture of Frank Bruni, until it was Sam Sifton, and now we must assume that Pete Wells' mug hangs in their place. And restaurants shift to DEFCON 4 whenever a Times critic steps through the door: managers go apeshit running between kitchen and floor, chefs become incredibly agitated, and waiters are very closely monitored. If you're Pete Wells you don't just eat out at a restaurant; you turn it into a complete shitshow.