Social media gaffes from restaurants & how to make it worse

Egg cocotteThis weekend, there was an uproar in the Malaysian social media scene with regards to Les Deux Garcons, a little pattisserie in Bangsar.

It all started when Ee-lyn Law posted a comment to their Facebook page. They deleted it. The comment itself was merely a strong suggestion, from a regular customer: the staff are mediocre and a suggestion (constructive criticism) was to label their macaroons since staff weren’t interested in explaining what they contained.

At first they told her to go get her macaroons in Paris, rather rudely. Then they deleted the comment. Shortly thereafter she asks them why they deleted her comment with a screenshot. They reply with the money quote: “We have no time for bitches.”

About 1,450 people like this post, with over 2,618 shares at time of writing. Les Deux Garcons has since apologised on their Facebook page.

I have eaten macaroons in Paris. Not once, but many a time (I consider myself fortunate to eat where I want to when I want to). I’ve queued up to eat at Laduree (nothing like a New Year’s Day tea-time there on the Champs-Elysees – not much is open that day). I think Pierre Herme is truly the better macaroon maker, but I digress. 

People tend to have a negative view of Parisians. They claim they have attitude. Visit Paris today, and you’ll find many speak Mandarin (long gone are the days where the French parlez-vous francais). Pretty much every Parisian I’ve met has been excellent in terms of service, mainly because they are in the service industry. Just visit Paris in the thick of winter, when tourists find it too cold to go up the Eiffel Tower (or worse, its temporarily shut due to adverse weather). The French generally do understand service.

However, this isn’t about Les Deux Garcons. They have had a social media gaffe and people will thump their chests for some time, but I expect it will die down in no time and people will go back to eating their macaroons (full disclosure: I have never been there, never heard of them till this incident, and find it highly unlikely that I will eat there – I will take their advice and eat in Paris instead).

This is about the response from Chef Isadora Chai (owner of bistro a Table), in The Malaysian Insider titled: The customer is not always right. I first heard of her from the WSJ Weekend article on her by @joonian sometime last year. I put it on my to-visit list. I live a block away from her restaurant, so I can get there on foot in under five minutes. Recently, @gabeygoh told me about her degustation night and how wonderful it was, so now with two sets of data points, it has since become a lot higher on my to-visit list. I was planning on a visit on my next trip to KL.

I am glad that Isadora Chai opened up because of her genuine passion to create good food. I trust the opinion of both Joon Ian & Gabey, so I am highly inclined to think her food is generally quite good.

I have also spoken to many top chefs. I dine at their places regularly. Last week in London, it was at a Heston Blumenthal. This week in Seoul, it was at an Edward Kwon. I like food, really. Chef’s naturally don’t do it for the money but for the love, but guess what – this is true for any profession? When you want to excel at something, you do it for the love of it, the money just comes. Don’t get me wrong, chef’s aren’t exactly poor either – good chefs command great salaries. Many top chefs move on to create their own places, ending up as partners, et al. I would argue that high quality food blogs have helped make a chef’s name (rewind back a decade ago and how many people paid close attention to top chefs in Malaysia? In more mature markets like the UK, you have more mature publications that brought this to light.)

Harsh criticism for anyone can feel like a personal attack. What Isadora Chai fails to understand is that she’s in the service industry. Take the criticism with a smile, then ask yourself if you’re having an off day. Reflect. Food is very personal and have a lot to do with local tastes, so if enough people don’t like your masterpiece, it might either be your masterpiece that is wrong or your clientele’s palate that is wrong. Either way, you don’t lash out at the customer. Just look at how successful Vatos Urban Tacos does in Seoul – they’ve melded Mexican with Korean cuisine. The fusion worked. 

“Of all industries, food and beverage is the most exposed industry to criticisms from professional food critics, journalists, customers and of course, food bloggers (to the bane of our existence).” She hasn’t heard of hotels? Airlines? It’s clear that this chef dislikes food bloggers, but this is the wave of the future – sources are going direct. I generally don’t write about food I eat, but I do take a photo on Instagram. I do leave tips on Foursquare if it warrants it. Everyone is a publisher today, so a food blooger isn’t any different from a journalist. Ethics might wane (and this has been my beef with bloggers in general – asking for free meals, etc.), but once they’re outed those trust metrics go away.

Of the two chefs she talks about who quite the food industry, none of them were outed by the bane of her existence.

Malaysians tolerate abuse by street vendors? I’m sorry, I’m Malaysian through & through and I will not eat at a place that hurls abuse at me. I vote with my wallet and it doesn’t matter if the meal costs RM5 or RM500. 

In the land of black pigs, Kwon Kisoo colors themWhy are there double standards? Economics dear Isadora. While I won’t tolerate abuse of any form, many equate how much less their wallet weighs after the transaction is complete. If I eat at Kampachi or Lafite, I’m paying top dollar for food, so I expect top dollar for service. In fact, on top of service charge (usually 10%), I leave a tip even (I know, bad habit I’ve learned from America). Last I checked, that tiny stall didn’t charge me a service charge either, did they? For what it’s worth, I don’t know where Isadora Chai eats, but I eat regularly at Chinese restaurants and I’ve not encountered this so called bad service that she’s pigeonholed them into providing. It’s not an us-versus-them scenario – its a tough business, all aspects of service need to be taken into account.

Why are customers not justified in their complaints? Do they complain your food costs too much? You can mitigate this by placing price tags at your menu. For me to find out how much items cost, I had to Google and find food bloggers telling me how much dishes at Bistro A Table costs.

Why are workers in F&B foreign? Its because owners look at profits. Hiring Malaysians for below minimum wage usually doesn’t work out. At the end of the day, the owner is wanting to drive his/her Mercedes, live in a nice house, and still run a profitable business. Chef’s not in it for the money is pure bullshit. Chefs are business people too and last I checked you ran operations for a profit, not a loss. Hiring foreign workers is just a way to get to profit faster. Yes, I have invested in restaurants before, so I know a thing or two about this.

Weak argument about going to Singapore due to getting treated better. Chefs go there because they get a higher salary. Plain & simple. Restaurateurs go there because Singaporeans have a higher propensity to spend on fine dining. It is no secret that Singapore is a millionaires playground.

Side note on foreign workers. Invest in training. Oh wait, training affects profits right?

On the topic of social media blackmail. Social media is two-way communication. When you put yourself up on Facebook or Twitter, you open yourself up to feedback. If you don’t want feedback, put an ad in a newspaper. I feel that Chef Isadora Chai is schooled in the way of the current ruling regime and doesn’t know how to take complaints (I’m surprised because she seems to have been educated in Sydney, where there is a foodie culture with reviewers; I’ll argue that Melbourne has it better though :-) ). While Isadora Chai leaves an email address, the garcons above leave no such contact details. Phone numbers usually end up with the same staff that are likely to hurl abuse at you or nothing changes anyway. Social media isn’t a form of blackmail: it helps others do a +1 and say, yes, I think this needs to happen too.

Its clear that Chef Isadora Chai has disdain towards bloggers, social media and the new media movement as a whole. Rather than fixing problems, she thinks its better to bring up a legal case of defamation. Wow. Guess she’ll be hating on Foursquare, Yelp, and other services that allow user-generated crowd-sourced content. For a young gun (she was 33 in 2012), I’m surprised she acts like a luddite. 

Isadora Chai ends with the money quote:

Here’s another industry secret ― most of us have black lists (in one form or another) and we really do have a choice to serve you or not. Also, if restaurants have refrained from kicking you out and chose to serve you despite having to tolerate your belligerent demeanour, the temptation of contaminating your food has crossed the minds of most chefs. Although I am professional enough to not practise this, I am quite sure many colleagues (or their juniors) have done so at one point in time.

She refuses to serve people? Seriously? Food contamination is suggested? I’m left speechless.

While I’m at the Park Hyatt Seoul now (a place where you get service bar none), I looked for an old piece of writing and believe this makes sense for Malaysian’s involved in the service industry:

It’s not easy to build a Zappos culture overnight, and frankly speaking, South-East Asian customer service is in the doldrums overall. Many businesses can take to learning from how 5-star hotels run their operations in Asia (see service at InterContinental Bangkok, InterContinental Singapore, Grand Hyatt Singapore, Hyatt Regency Kuantan Resort and the like). The culture of Delivering Happiness is generally non-existent.

What Isadora Chai needs to remember is that disposable incomes in Malaysia aren’t all that hot despite what lies come out about the GNI/GDP/etc. People don’t get to eat at fine dining restaurants everyday. They go there for special occasions. People get more demanding during special occasions. Those prices they pay state that they want a whole experience.

I respect Isadora Chai to have an opinion. It sucks when your competitor hates on you. I just wished she hadn’t come into help Les Deux Garcons who clearly made a mistake by calling customers bitches. I’m glad that they’ve apologised though.

All that aside, I still plan to eat at Bistro A Table. I hope that Chef Isadora Chai doesn’t refuse service. I will Instagram my food as I normally do. I hope I don’t leave sick.


  1. jahabar sadiq says:

    Good points. Brilliant writing.

  2. bongkersz says:

    Clinical. Well written on this issue. I am afraid Isadora Chai in trying to make a defence for Les Deux Garcons also made a boo boo herself re social media.

    • colincharles says:

      Thanks @3609448549ecd64387f0a69404fe728d:disqus – you’re right, she’s brought out the not-positive kind of traffic. And with her disdain for social media, when people search for her restaurant, they’re going to get all this crap via google juice… all in, not a win for her

  3. Bernice Low says:

    I respect her guts to publish the piece that she did and I think the problem here is that she’s not so much defending LDC as she is saying, Malaysian customers can be just as bad as Malaysian chefs. She’s trying to put the other side of the coin into play as well. I’ve eaten at Isadora’s restaurant and they make a good effort with the service. When was the last time you saw a customer offer private praise to the service staff or the restauranteur? When did we start to live in an age when only what which is shared in public is worthy of consumption?

    • colincharles says:

      Bernice Low good to see you here. I do think she’s entitled to her opinions and i respect that too.

      I’m not sure malaysian chefs are bad, per se. there are always nightmare customers in any industry, and it seems that isadora got quite a number in a very short period of time (hence her article, which sounds like the straw that broke the camel’s back)

      I’m glad that her restaurant has good service – I can’t wait to try this myself.

      Not only have I myself seen customers offering praise to staff or the restaurateur, I do it myself too. I can assure you that praise goes beyond just a tip. If a restaurateur rocks up and asks how things are, many customers offer positive feedback. Ask yourself this: when was the last time you saw a restaurateur show up and say hi to their customers? Rest assured when that happens, it makes me feel like a valued guest, and it makes me want to come back a heck lot more.

      I don’t get your last remark re: what is shared in public being worthy of consumption. Care to expand?

  4. David Wang says:

    The point about everyone being publishers now is exactly right. As much as she dislikes food bloggers, it’s economics like you say and that’s just the way the world works. Maybe this thing hit too close to home for her.

    Like you I’ve heard great things about Bistro a Table. I hope I’m not refused service too :P

  5. Ybrik Goh says:

    Food contamination is suggested? Holy f***.
    I’m a chef myself, a real creative one(at least to me, that is) and i totally understand the flow of a restaurant when “unwanted customers” come. They come and make a mess and go off, and if they come back, they bring back more mess. Correct?
    However, as a chef, the thought of CONTAMINATION A CUSTOMERS FOOD will NEVER EVER EVER EVER AND EVER cross my mind! Doing this can cause big trouble to your establishment and such.

    Isadora Chai, seriously i have lost faith on your name

    • colincharles says:

      Keep in mind that she says she doesn’t practice it, she refers to other establishments where this may happen

    • Jason Tan says:

      I have friends who work in those 5 Star hotels. Well, that’s what I’ve been told. Well, we can’t assume all restaurants to be the same. But just to be extra cautious. The next time you wanna complain about the food, do it right after you finish eating. Or probably say it in a good manner. =)

  6. Meng says:

    Thanks for the good article. I’ve written a reply myself but you’ve obviously done it much better. This issue definitely deserves more exposure not to spite anyone, but to raise awareness on how Malaysians should not take bad service lying down.

    • colincharles says:

      yes she can @twitter-755357:disqus – interesting video. interesting writeup. surprised i missed out on it, despite regularly reading esquire malaysia

  7. Have to agree with the little tidbit at the end about the Hyatt Regency Kuantan. I’ve stayed there three times over the past 5 years, and the quality of service there has been impeccable – from the friendliness of the ENTIRE staff (not just at the check-in counter), to excellent service at the Italian restaurant, the friendly cooks behind the counter at the coffee house who smiled at my 3-year-old son waving at them, etc… and also to the guy who CARRIED a new mini-bar fridge to our room when we complained that ours wasn’t working.

    • colincharles says:

      its probably one of the best hotels in malaysia. and that’s saying a lot. try finding similar service in penang or malacca and you’ll be disappointed

  8. Wei Ling says:

    If you guys follow her on twitter, which has since gone into private mode, not to my surprise.. i managed to scroll thru her tweets yesterday after reading her article.. i for one do think she condones such replies from LDG and i believe she is capable of the act of ‘contaminating’ as she tweeted. i then took her article by a pinch of salt. and please.. dont give me the whole load of bull abt doing it for the love and not the money.. she also tweeted “she runs a business not a charity organisation.. if the latter she will be feeding the destitute and not some blogger with a fing SLR camera”. If really for the love and passion, at least charge at cost. and yeah, if you write an article and publish it, be open to criticism. disabling comments and making your twitter account private is such a coward act. the only thing i agree is that customer is not always right. but looks like everyone must love her food otherwise, she is not a happy camper.

    • colincharles says:

      I think if Twitter is her communication medium, she probably had no choice but to make it private – there’s a social media mob, and you’ve got to ride it out… not defending her, just thinking she clearly has her reasons.

      Also, to be clear, she says she’ll never contaminate food!

      • Wei Ling says:

        Yes that’s what she wrote in her article. But she once tweeted “everyone gets the same service at bat. Except if you’re an ex-anything. If so I reserve the right to spit in your food” something like that. Well may be said in jest. But if u can think it, u can do it? Such is why I think the reason she made her tweets private a day after the article went out. I hv nothing against her but the article left a bad taste in me

        • colincharles says:

          oh wow. thanks for the info @572c1470d6fe2aef6f23f1735370792b:disqus – kinda shocking, and yes, i can’t see the tweets now as they’re private

  9. Roxanne says:

    Well said. I am a hospitality student and when I came across Isadora’s article I find it rather hard to accept what she said despite the fact that we are in the same field, the service industry.
    It is true that passion can keep you going in this industry, however the mind set and the passion to serve is equally important as well. We were always taught that “customers are always right” & “customer is the king” but theory and practical are two different matters – memorizing all theories does not mean that you can do it well in practical, but it is the passion towards what you are doing that keeps you going and make you learn from mistakes.
    To me, hospitality means providing service to your guest from the bottom of your heart – it is a way for us to express our care and gratitude to our guests. Although we, the service provider may feel that the service provided (like providing a glass of warm water to a coughing guest) may be something not necessary unless the guest requested for it, but these are the little things that may brighten up guests’ day. :)

  10. Realist says:

    “Ask any top chef: We don’t do it for money, we do it for love. Cooking something that will directly enter your body is the very personal extension of our affection towards the people we feed.”

    This pretty much sums up her delusion in one quick phrase.

  11. Felix Wang says:

    I tip, compliment staffs and chefs of a good restaurant all the time. There’s client pressure in every industry. People get angry when they feel that they aren’t taken care of. It’s actually a relatively simple problem. Not a problem to resort to name calling or go into a media fight. Eat, pray, love…

  12. Mac says:

    the original article last sentence , ‘The customer is not always right and even if you were, you don’t have to act like a horrible person about it. ‘, was published with the words, ‘an asshole ‘instead of ‘ a horrible person’ …hmm…

  13. i would never go back to Isadora s restaurant no matter how good the food is (i didnt think it was). the only time i was there was when it was relatively new, with two old schoolmates, my cousin and another friend from Melbourne. the experience that nite made me wonder if she taught she were already some celebrity chef not unlike Chef Gordon Ramsay. no one i know in Msia screams at their staff in the kitchen, disrupting the experience of all the customers of the restaurant. now, if the meal was some RM50 one i wouldnt hv bothered, but we paid more than a thousand ringgit that nite to have our experiences marred by this less-than-civilised person!

  14. And on the flip-side, look at what good and compassionate service (ie, treating customers like people) can do — Chili’s courtesy to autistic girl goes viral.–abc-news-topstories.html

  15. sgrmse. says:

    What she wrote about food contamination was completely harrowing and unnecessary. I have since paid a visit to her restaurant’s page and whilst it all looks lovely, I’m a little overcautious now. It’s as if her pretty food comes with the possibility of being laced with arsenic. Shame, that.

    You write flawlessly! Well done on a comeback :D

  16. Why would you still wanna go to Bistro, I am curious? As you said, I too vote with my wallet and I don’t vote for places where I have to feel honored that I’ve been let in and where the head chef pretty much dislikes her customers and underhandedly accuses her industry colleagues of having contaminated customers’ food at some point (did she talk about defamation? :) …Anyhow,I’ve had better food at 38, La Vie En Rose, Il Lido and so on, but food is personal…

    • colincharles says:

      hey @facebook-710385913:disqus . my main reason to eat there is because i’ve heard wonderful things about her food. i’m not sure the chef dislikes her customers, but the article might have been written by her in a bad moment?

      also, thanks for other suggestions to eat in kl – its something i have great problems doing because when i travel, i have guides that help me eat at nice places… in kl, i’m my own guide, and you know i end up at the clubs more than anything ;-)

  17. kkgirl says:

    As someone who also is a chef and runs my own restaurant, I feel isadora’s article is embarrassing and it is merely a platform for her to vent her displeasure with bloggers and pretty much anyone who has an opinion about food. Sorry to burst your bubble isadora but welcome to the world of social media and user generated content.

    If you are gonna charge an arm and a leg, you better make damn sure you wait staff is up to par.

    No. I have never thought of contaminating my customers food, that’s just plain unethical. And I am appalled that you’d even think of doing that.

    • colincharles says:

      thanks for your thoughts @a5145162134ed2d1dbe95818f004509d:disqus – keep up the good work at your restaurant. remember that she never thought of contaminating customers’ food — it was merely something she said others might have done.

      but social media is very real and here to stay and chefs are either going to embrace it, or its not going to be positive

  18. Tan Pek Leng says:

    Well if you read tripadvisor , in January Isadora dresses down a paying customer for asking for chilli sauce. So her article comes as no surprise.

  19. MonicaMay says:

    I’m in the service industry and sometimes I come across a really mean customer who demands the world and has more bad attitude than Naomi Campbell but not once have I given service without a smile. Some customers are so difficult and suck the energy and life out of me, but it comes with the territory – suppose that’s why it’s called ‘service’ industry? ;-)

    It really is all about the customer’s experience – the key word here is experience, which not only encompasses the food but also the ambience and how they are treated during their meal. This is especially true when it comes to high-end services, and correct me if I’m wrong but at RM400+ per person for a meal, I’d say that Bistro a Table should be providing high-end service to its customers. I’m afraid that the customer IS always right especially when they are parting with a lot of hard-earned moolah to enjoy a night out.

    I’ve dined at Bistro a Table before and I thought the service was good. The food was hit and miss, some things were really good and others a complete bomb (but that’s my personal taste), and if you’re going to charge your customers a king’s ransom you should at least ensure that what comes out of your kitchen won’t make your customers wish they’d opted for that Ramli burger instead.

    As for Chef Isadora, I found her horrendous screaming in the kitchen to be very demeaning to her staff and left diners feeling awkward. It certainly didn’t add anything to the ambience! We did get the chance to meet her and unfortunately discovered her to be very self-important and am not surprised she came out with her article. Anyhow, I wish her the best of luck and it’s great to see a young Malaysian doing well :-)