This 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.
Why 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.