The Struggling Writer

The chronicles of a freelance writer as he tries to make a living.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Personal feelings and writing

I read a pretty startling restaurant review in the April issue of Phoenix Magazine. The reviewer had a bad experience during one of his visits. He ordered an appetizer of scallops. He complained that the scallops tasted old. The waiter took the plate into the kitchen then returned it to the table saying the chef had assured him that the scallops had been received fresh that morning. No apology and no attempt to fix the problem.

That was the wrong way to handle it. I don't care if the chef caught the scallops himself ten minutes ago. If the customer thinks they taste old, you apologize and take it off the bill. That much I agree with.

However the reviewer threw a tantrum about the incident devoting fully half the review to it. He called the chef a “sociopath” and said they obviously thought he was stupid. He chortled over the fact that he could get his vengeance by writing a bad review.

My first reaction was to dismiss the review as biased. I could even sympathize with the fact that he wrote the review in anger and sent it off before he changed his mind. That doesn’t forgive the fact that his behavior was childish and unprofessional, mind you. If you write in anger, then put it aside and reread it after you’ve cooled down.

But then I realized something. Some editor approved this article. Some calm, cool editor who hadn’t been to the restaurant and wasn’t disrespected by the staff. Some editor who should have known better. This article should have been returned to the author asking him to tone down the rhetoric.

Then again, maybe it was. Maybe this was the more mature and carefully written version. That’s a frightening thought.

The review didn’t have a byline. I assume that’s because restaurant reviewers have to remain anonymous. What that means, though, is I can’t filter out this person’s reviews in future. It completely undermines Phoenix Magazine’s restaurant reviews in my mind. The next time I read a bad review, I’m just going to figure it’s this guy getting his revenge for the waiter giving him a sour look.

I realize that reviews are, by definition, all about personal feelings. However there is personal and there is PERSONAL. That kind of juvenile whining has no place in a professional piece except maybe on an editorial page (which is why I don’t read editorials). I certainly hope that the Phoenix Magazine editorial staff shows more discretion in the future.

You can express your opinion, but don't whine. Don't call people names. Don't plot revenge. It doesn't hurt them, it hurts you.

OK, to be fair I called the guy a couple of names during the first draft of this. So I took my own advice and reworded the sentences and you know what? They sound better. See? I know what I'm talking pinhead ;)


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