Insult to Injury: Users Give Negative Reviews Based on Hurt Feelings

Ten Bells Tavern fish and chips in a to-go box; when the pandemic first hit, they struggled to adapt to takeout but labored through the changes to stay afloat.
Ten Bells Tavern fish and chips in a to-go box; when the pandemic first hit, they struggled to adapt to takeout but labored through the changes to stay afloat. Lauren Drewes Daniels
“Awful treatment. We walked in at 3 pm on a Friday, the doors were open so we assumed it was open. The gentlemen who appeared to be a server with long hair came in and very rudely told us that it was closed and continued to wave at us out the door like we had committed some sort of crime. Lock your doors if you're closed.”  Jordan S., Yelp Review for Ten Bells Tavern, 11/6/2020

We all have good days and bad days, times when we're not at our gleeful best, either as an individual or a business. The worst are misinterpreted moments that lead to hurt feelings. Incidentally, restaurants and bars have the unique luxury of having all these moments, good and bad, memorialized through online reviews.

But the results of these reviews are real: A Harvard study found that for independent restaurants, every one-star increase in rating leads to a 5% to 9% increase in revenue.

Last March when restaurants were ordered to close because of the coronavirus, it had a devastating effect. The slow and measured reopening for restaurants and bars has been tough. A flurry of adjustments and reorganizations have allowed some to make it through, or at least stay afloat. And while vaccines make way for hope that we may be back to “normal” by fall, January and February are shaping up to be some of our darkest times.

Most bars and restaurants hope to stay open long enough to see the other side. At this point, a negative review based on not much more than hurt feelings just adds insult to injury.

Noble Coyote Coffee Roasters got a bitter taste of this recently. A customer left the family-owned and operated Dallas roaster a three-star (of five) review because “you gotta wear 19 masks and a hazmat suit, and sanitize your whole body all while placing your order out in the street because they won’t let you in.”

The comment and review have since been deleted, but the most stunning part of the review was the opening line: "Coffee was great …"

Marta Sprague opened Noble Coyote (the Observer's Best Local Coffee Roaster) with husband Kevin in 2011. Kevin started roasting coffee beans at home, and this hobby has since turned into a 1,000-pounds-of-beans-a-week business.

Noble Coyote has become a staple across North Texas with more than 70 wholesale accounts. A few years ago they expanded to a large space in Expo Park of South Dallas (819 Exposition Ave.), where they have a crew that helps roast and package beans. At the front of the space is a small cafe where customers can get a cup of coffee or buy a bag to go.

“We all have family members who are at-risk, so we’re just trying to keep everyone safe.” – Marta Sprague

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But because of COVID-19, they’ve closed the indoor cafe because it’s part of the bigger space where their staff works. Instead, they take orders at the door or online and customers wait outside.

“We also have a curbside cafe with a QR code, and a lot of customers also use our website,” Marta says. “Our barista then takes a tray outside, all while socially distanced and safe.”

They’ve even placed bags of coffee on shelves facing the windows, making it easy for customers to select a coffee without going inside.

“We all take it very seriously,” Marta says. “We all have family members who are at-risk, so we’re just trying to keep everyone safe.”

Overall, she considers herself lucky because business is only down about 10 to 15% over last year.

Ten Bells Tavern, the English-style pub in the Bishop Arts District, has struggled to keep its lights on and even hosted a fundraiser this summer to stay open. After substantial operational changes, the bar with a chef-driven kitchen has found its stride. But, owner Meri Dahlke attributes their ability to remain open this past year to loyal customers.

Regardless of all that, a Yelper bemoaned the spot for not having beans to go along with their English breakfast.

“Look at this pathetic attempt at an 'English Breakfast'.
These people have never even SEEN one apparently.
NO BEANS!!! Some sort of shit sausage, SLICED cold tomatoes?
CANADIAN bacon????
What in the serious f????”

No beans on the English breakfast earned Ten Bells Tavern a one-star review from a reviewer who regularly doles out negative comments, including insulting a Taco Bueno drive-thru crew member for their linguistics (another one-star review). And we could argue at length about what English beans really have to offer anyway.

The restaurant industry certainly isn't for the thinned-skinned. Complaints come with the territory. But, the complaint at the top of this article about being shooed away when they either were or weren't open, and the negative review of Noble Coyote Coffee Roaster, were both instances of people not being allowed in a space: essentially, hurt feelings. That is a bitter pill to swallow for companies that have had to let go of employees, almost beg regulars for more business and watch neighbors shutter.

Fortunately, many places have loyal customers who will ultimately see them through to the other side.

Chef Kenny Mills has worked in kitchens for more than 45 years and owns The Original Chop House Burgers in Arlington. He shoots straight and isn't afraid to share an opinion.

"I’m sure the negative reviews will be there short of us closing down, so while I pay attention to them, I also look to see if we are doing best practices to ensure the safety of our guests and staff," he says.

In terms of staying afloat right now, to-go business is crazy, but overall business is down a bit for him. He got a negative review recently saying one of his staff didn't have a mask on.

"The only other option is to close our business, and my staff needs their jobs," Mills says. "That, coupled with what it would take to reopen if we did shut down, makes closing not a choice."

He, like others, is just trying to get to the other side of this, chin above the waterline. 
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Lauren Drewes Daniels is the Dallas Observer's food editor. She started writing about local restaurants, chefs, beer and kouign-amanns in 2011. She's driven through two dirt devils and is certain they were both some type of cosmic force.