Dining with Dara: Dealing with social media critics

Social media and restaurateurs
Everyone's a critic. The advent of the Internet is opening restaurateurs to the every day voice of blogs, social media and user-driven review sites.

Everyone's a critic. Since the advent of the Internet, blogs, social media like Facebook and Twitter, and user-driven review sites such as Yelp, Amazon, TripAdvisor, and so forth are giving voice to everyday critics.

Our food and dining critic, Minnesota Monthly's Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, is here to talk about this brave new world that small businesses face — and what they can do about it. And I understand you have a case in point?

DMG: Rye, the new Jewish delicatessen that opened in Minneapolis in November. It happens to be on one of the busiest street corners in Minneapolis, right on Hennepin and Franklin, and so it was an object of intense speculation on social media: today the dumpster moved, today I could see them carrying in stoves, that sort of thing.

By the time they actually opened, all Minneapolis foodies were in a state of high froth.

Tom Crann: Including yourself?

DMG: Of course. Guilty as charged. I was there the first week, along with a thousand people a day — far more than they knew how to deal with.

Tom Crann: And that's when things got ugly.

DMG: Yes, Andrew Zimmern, the local food-world celebrity and international food-world celebrity, with his television show Bizarre Foods, wrote a blog trashing it.

Tom Crann: I believe he mentioned that he thought the soup tasted like something from "a school cafeteria" and mention was made of "overcooked tomato-cabbage sludge."

DMG: Yes, and that was true of the first two weeks. They made some terrible mistakes, rushing to make food to meet the demand instead of taking the time they needed to take to do it right.

Tom Crann: So you're not saying that Zimmern was wrong?

DMG: No, he was totally accurate. But perhaps not measured. In the old, pre-Internet days, the restaurant critic code of conduct basically stated that you gave a restaurant six weeks after opening until you walked in the door — plenty of time to work out the kinks in the system.

Tom Crann: But social media and user-driven reviews ended this?

DMG: Absolutely. Now everyone is in a rush to be first. I do it myself, with something I call "Too Early Reviews." But it's either review too early, or someone else will.

Tom Crann: But in the end you liked Rye.

DMG: Absolutely! I went many times, through the bad period and into the good, and again just yesterday and the chicken soup was just right, the matzoh balls fluffy, the "smoked meat", their version of pastrami, was solid, savory, smoky, salty — everything it should be. And their roast turkey is excellent, the turkey gravy sandwich is finally the worthy successor to the Uptown Diner's one.

Tom Crann: Do you think a small business owner can recover from early, bad reviews?

DMG: I do. I think if you take care of the core nuts and bolts of your business, and then get every single person you know to write a positive review, you'll be fine.

Tom Crann: Taking care of the core nuts and bolts of the business augmented by friends and family support? That doesn't sound very 2012. It sounds like the basics of running a business that people have been familiar with for a hundred years.

DMG: It is. I'd say the brave new world is a lot like the bad old world, except you have to be able to do everything you used to do, and also devote a couple hundred hours to your computer.

Read Dara's Minnnesota Monthly review of Rye Deli

Dara's Top 5 Twin Cities Delicatessens

1) Mort's Deli
Perfectly New York: They get their bagels from H&H and their pastrami and corned beef from the Carnegie Deli. Not a lot of heart, but it's so New York it gets me every time.

2) Brother's Deli
Best pastrami in town, buried in an office building and they shut down at 2. If you care about the pickles, the old-school vibe, and the food in a pure way, this is your place. If you lead life outside the Minneapolis skyways you'll never get there.

3) Rye Deli
Solidly good smoked meat (the Montreal version of pastrami), flavorful chicken matzah ball soup, fantastic turkey in various guises, and all the extras — super kids meals, wine, beer, cocktails, fantastic fries and a really good poutine make this a perfect neighborhood diner, and a good deli too.

4) Be'Wiched
Locavore, chef-driven, yum! I can't leave this new-wave sandwich place out, even though their tuna salad is the star.

5) Cecil's
This classic St. Paul deli is hard to describe if you've never been there; it's a little like a perfect 1971 suburban kitchen, trapped in amber, happily. No one ever has to describe it because every single person in St. Paul has been there. Right? Tip: The cold beet borscht is great on a hot day.

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