Let’s get the first thing out of the way.
Don’t panic. Stay calm and professional and remember: Frank Bruni, the New York Times food critic since 2004, is a human being and not a mutant zombie from Planet Terror trying to rip your skull open and eat your brain.
These are the remaining points to consider when Frank Bruni drops in:
Few food writers have more power to inauspiciously sully our kitchens or miraculously vivify them with their words than Frank Bruni. Arguments can be made that one person does not (cannot, should not) have the power to sway a restaurant’s success or failure, especially in today’s high-speed landscape. But love him or hate him, what Frank Bruni says matters. A chef friend, whose anonymity I will honor, got one star from Bruni a few years ago. The poor guy was so upset, he stayed in his office for a week. Is this necessary? The short answer is, no…and yes. No, because you should never hang your success on the opinion of one person. Yes, because Bruni serves as a litmus test of where a restaurant hangs in the balance of the food-world hierarchy. Accepting this will put you at peace with the situation and allow you to play to your strengths.
Three: Rules, Rules, Rules
A friend who was a former GM at Morimoto was utterly flabbergasted when Bruni showed up to review the restaurant in 2006 and the hostess let him wait in the lounge for thirty-five minutes while his party had already been seated. “You always put partially seated in Open Table! I set that rule so we wouldn’t lose track of our guests! And obviously Frank Bruni had to show up on my day off.” Bruni’s infamous review of Morimoto included an extensive description of being left to wait, leaving no doubt that this affected his one-star rating. The point is not to lay blame, but to understand that rules are set by people with experience for a reason, and should be followed exhaustively. Remember to keep your staff ‘on point’ and ready for business. (Open table is an online computer system that tracks and makes all reservations via the internet to terminals inside a restaurant. They have touch screen floor plans that a host or hostess can use when a guest has arrived to click them into a table.)
Four: Stay true to who you are
Let’s take the Bruninator out of the equation and ask this: who are you as a restaurant? Restaurateurs like Keith McNally have staved off moderate reviews by remaining true to their vision. “I make the places I want to go to,” he was quoted saying. Staying confident and understanding who you are as a restaurant will ensure patronage. Bruni’s approval is merely an addition to the equation, not the entire formula and definitely not the end all be all!
Five: “You’re only as good as your next meal.”
I first heard this quote from Chef Julian Alonzo of Brasserie 8 1/2, and it brings me to my next point: always perform at your highest standards, i.e. every patron should be treated like Frank Bruni. Remember that his job is not to destroy a restaurant. His principal consideration is his readers, as your principal consideration should be your consumers. These two should work hand in hand. Setting high standards and surrounding yourself with like-minded staff, you will inevitably succeed.
Six: Don’t Pull a Jeffrey Chodorow
Okay so let’s say you received a bad review from Bruni. What should you do now? Close your doors? Scream to the heavens of injustice? Grab all 2000 samurai swords from the ceiling of your restaurant and hire an army of orcs to chase the man down and throw him into the molten pit of Mount Doom with Golum and hopefully Frodo? No, no, and while tempting, no either.
Not everyone is going to like what you do. That’s the nature of individuality, and of the business. Suck it up. Consider his review and determine with your team what makes sense and what doesn’t. Bruni is a highly educated writer but I don’t believe he was chosen by the high Lamas in Tibet as the reincarnation of “The Ocean Teacher.” Take what he writes at face value and learn what you can from it.
In case you’re wondering, Jeffrey Chodorow is the restaurateur responsible for places like the China Grill, Asia de Cuba, and most recently The Kobe Club, which got panned by Bruni in February 2007.
Many dislike Frank Bruni because he has never been a culinary professional. But as a writer, I must admit (please don’t chastise me) I admire his pieces; they are carefully considered, well written, and informative. And while I don’t agree with every review, I certainly enjoy reading them. That being said, I have worked in the restaurant industry and have many friends who are culinary professionals to whom I bear a professional allegiance. Therefore I will close with this:
(*you should really be worrying about One through Six, but if all else fails break the glass and use this):
Frank Bruni Current Intel:
Birthday- October 31, 1964, looks young.
Weight- around 200 pounds
Other Vitals- Tattoo with two stars on forearm
Hobbies-Exercises by running six miles around central park, likes professional football, illuminating candles, and the Scottish indie rock band, Travis…oh, and eats breakfast occasionally at Levain Bakery.
I hope this helps...
And no, I’m not stalking him.