Celebrity chef Guy Fieri is many things, but pretentious might not be one of them.
So when the food critic from the vaunted New York Times wrote a deliciously scathing review of Fieri’s Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar restaurant in Times Square last week, it caused an online firestorm of supporters and detractors that continues today.
The review by Times critic Pete Wells was written as a series of questions directed at Fieri. It opened with “GUY FIERI, have you eaten at your new restaurant in Times Square?”
And followed up with other questions such as “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? The watermelon margarita? Any idea why it tastes like some combination of radiator fluid and formaldehyde?”
The review was covered in journalism trade pubs, including Poynter.org, which interviewed other food critics to see if they thought it was fair. Most agreed it was.
For his part, Fieri seemed to make the right tactical response by appearing on the “Today” show. He offered this response: “To me it’s impossible to come in and have a dining experience and have every single thing wrong unless you come in with a different agenda, and you want to sensationalize something and you want to blow it out of the water.”
“Today” host Savannah Guthrie, not letting him get away with passing off the review completely, noted that 56 reviews on Yelp give Fieri’s Times Square restaurant an average of 2.5 stars out of five.
Fieri knows about bad reviews, and he has taken on other food critics who have blasted his restaurants in reviews. In one interview, he said: “I know what I make, I know how I cook. You can’t have eight restaurants and be doing it wrong. Or that wrong.”
Fieri gets some credit for taking the Times head on, but did he go far enough? Times critic Wells said he visited the restaurant four times to be sure that the food and service was indeed that awful. Having accompanied food critics on restaurant reviews, I know for a fact that they take their reviews seriously, and negative ones even more seriously knowing that they can cause serious damage to a restaurant.
Apparently Fieri quietly took some more formal action other than complain and made some changes to the menu. When some writers from the New Yorker magazine went to the restaurant after the review to see for themselves if it was that bad, they found some of the items called out in the review were missing from the menu, and Fieri was in the restaurant that week to make some changes.
Why didn’t Fieri publically admit that he also made some changes instead of claiming bias or some sort of agenda on the Times‘ part? Given the traction the story has taken—SNL did a skit on the review featuring Bobby Moynihan as Fieri, which didn’t air on television but has a life online—the public may need more of a mea culpa from Fieri.
Maybe that unpretentious style is not as easy anymore with Fieri’s chain of restaurants and earnings last year of $8 million, according to Forbes.
Gil Rudawsky is a former reporter and editor. He heads up the crisis communication and issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. Read his blog or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.