Serving a Dish Called Revenge

BRC, the gastropub with the naughty name that's been a sensation in Houston this summer, failed to impress Houston Chronicle critic Alison Cook. In her review this week, Cook declined to give Big Red Cock a single star.

But the restaurant's response was pretty classy by food-and-beverage standards: In a tweet this afternoon, BRC offered free pimento cheese to "anyone who brings in a copy of today's Chron review by Allison Cook!!!" (The original was written in all-caps, but you get the idea.)

Acknowledging a negative review - and addressing it with food - makes brilliant business sense. Not every eatery is so savvy. Here, a guide to three techniques for handling bad press that almost inevitably fail:

  1. 1. Taunting the reviewer. Our sister paper in Phoenix earlier this month picked up on the story of Amy Bouzaglo, who felt her restaurant had been unfairly savaged by a Yelp reviewer. That's not an uncommon situation, but Bouzaglo lost any shred of public sympathy with her rebuttal.

"As for you having the Patio all to yourself unless you have been living on another PLANET it is summertime in ARIZONA MORON!!! Only TRAMPS and LOSERS want to sit outside in 110 temperatures!!!!," she wrote on Yelp, helpfully adding that Joel L.'s palate was unsophisticated and his face was ugly.

Many fellow Yelpers vowed to never patronize Bouzaglo's restaurant again. Bouzaglo's said she doesn't care.

  1. 2. Going to court. The lawsuit Il Mulino brought against The Dallas Morning News back in 2004 was a notable exception to the long-established rule that litigation gets scorned restaurants nowhere. The New York Times in 2007 reviewed the history of restaurant suits and found a dozen rulings over three decades, all of which favored the reviewer. It's perfectly OK for critics to compare fish to old ski boots and advise prospective diners to bring a can of Raid to the restaurant. "Reviews, although they may be unkind, are not normally a breeding ground for successful libel actions," a federal appeals court decreed.
  1. 3. Running angry full-page ads. According to former New York Times critic Mimi Sheraton, this is a popular gambit in New York City. Most recently trotted out by restaurateur Jeffrey Chodorow in response to a 2007 no-star review of his Kobe Club, the strategy is incredibly costly -- Chodorow may have spent as much as $80,000 on his screed -- and usually results only in publicizing a negative review that many diners might not have noticed in the first place.

I've never eaten at BRC, so I have no idea whether or not the starless review was reserved. But I certainly applaud the restaurant for addressing a situation that's so frequently botched with good humor and confident cooking.

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