Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
The online world has ensured one thing.
That someone, somewhere will say something bad about you in public at least once a week.
Especially if you run a restaurant.
It's a hard business, in which one mistake can be dramatized online within the time it takes to swallow a Big Mac and large fries.
I worry, though, that La Porchetta restaurant in Sterling, Virginia didn't quite react wisely to Yesha Callahan's review.
For one thing, it was a 3-star Yelp review.
Who bothers reacting to being called slightly meh?
Her complaint on Yelp -- about her burger order via Grubhub -- was really not so terrible:
Ordered the cheese burger which was very dry and unseasoned. Also did not come with lettuce or tomato. The zeppoles barely had any powdered sugar on them & were soggy from the styrofoam container. I would suggest sending them to people in small paper bags. Maybe next time I'll try the pizza.
Who'd get worked up over that?
And Then An Unexpected Visitor.
As she wrote in the Root, where she's deputy managing editor, Callahan heard a knock on her door.
At 10 p.m.
"I live alone. People rarely visit without warning me first. So needless to say, I was startled," she said.
And, needless to say, she didn't answer.
Then she received a call that, needless to say, she let go to voicemail. It was apparently from the restaurant:
"Hello, this is [inaudible name], the manager of La Porchetta. I am outside your door. I want to speak to you about your Yelp review," is how Callahan described the voicemail.
At this point, you might wonder what on earth is going on.
Why would the manager of a restaurant turn up at a customer's door?
And who does that because of a Yelp review? A so-so Yelp review.
Callahan contacted Yelp and the police.
It Was a Mistake. A Big, Big Mistake.
I contacted La Porchetta to ask why, if it wanted to apologize and offer a replacement order, it hadn't simply tried to communicate that in some polite manner, rather than leave a voicemail that said its manager had turned up outside Callahan's door.
The restaurant manager, Yas Agaibey, told me he disputes that the voicemail mentioned the review:
He [the manager] just wanted to explain to her that it was a misunderstanding. Grubhub had the wrong description of just a Burger, and he wanted to explain to her and apologize.
Really? Agaibey did add:
We admit it was our mistake to take a replacement order and go to the customer not realizing its that late. That will not happen again.
Was it only the fact that it was late that was the problem? Why go to the customer's house -- uninvited -- at all?
Agaibey told me:
We just started 4 weeks ago now. We wanted to make sure all of our customers are happy with their orders. We wanted to build our clientele.
Well, yes. But you went to a customer's house at 10 p.m.
We made a mistake by going that late. I think our emotions just got the best of our business judgment. We should have waited for a better solution.
It was a mistake going at all. A big, big mistake.
Sir, you went to a woman's house at 10 p.m., ostensibly to talk to her about a burger. Does anything seem wrong with this picture?
The Results Were Predictable.
I contacted Grubhub for its view. Its corporate communications manager Katie Norris told me:
Our contracts expressly forbid any restaurant from using customer or order information outside of its intended purpose to complete a delivery. Even then, restaurants are provided the minimum amount needed (for a limited time) to deliver an order. This method makes our platform more secure than diners calling a restaurant to place orders directly. Upon learning about this situation, we immediately began an internal investigation and have terminated the restaurant's contract and ability to use our platform.
This was a three-star review, not an excoriation of the restaurant's offering. Callahan actually said that there might be a next time when she'd order a pizza.
Naturally, Yelp has been flooded with one-star reviews since Callahan revealed what happened. She herself has changed her review to a one-star.
And there's another curious element.
Agaibey's Yelp profile picture shows a black woman. Callahan isn't impressed.
As for Agaibey's explanation of the woman in his profile picture, he told me: "She works with us, and we work as a team. And we do not judge based on skin color."
I pause for everyone to find and collect cogent thoughts.
No, you're not going to like everything written about your business in a review, but La Porchetta seems to have reacted in one of the most thoughtless, most self-defeating ways possible.
If you get even a mediocre review, it's best to listen and, where appropriate, to react with good sense.
In this case, if La Porchetta had wanted to react at all, it could have simply left a polite response on Yelp with its supposed offer of a replacement meal.
And yes, it could have called the customer to apologize and make its offer.
But now, this.
This is, indeed, what can happen when your emotions get the better of your business judgment.