MIAMI BEACH, FLA. -- Judging by a panel discussion on "the next generation of diners" at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival on Friday, chefs fall into two camps when it comes to Yelpers: the solicitous and the dismissive.
The leader of the dismissive camp was Marc Murphy, of New York's Landmarc restaurants. He called online reviews -- especially those on Yelp -- "a lot of noise."
"If I start worrying about that stuff, then that’s another $40,000 employee I have to hire to monitor it,” he explained. “I figure if you don’t respond to them, they’re just gonna go away."
Michelle Bernstein, of local hotspots Sra. Martinez and Michy's, seemed more willing to negotiate with online reviewers. "Ultimately, we’re in the service industry,” she said, "and I want to make people happy."
She admitted that she refuses to respond to the complaints of "crazies," including those who write negative Yelp reviews because of motives unrelated to their actual meal. But she also mentioned one review that criticized her for using canned corn in a recipe. "I responded directly to the review, and said I was sorry for using corn when it wasn’t quite in season in South Florida, when it wasn’t at its best -- but I emphasized that we never open cans of vegetables in our kitchen," she said.
The others at the panel, which was hosted by PR firm Bullfrog & Baum, fell somewhere between Bernstein and Murphy.
“If you’re a real diner, and you don’t like your food, say something to your server, say something to me," said Tony Maws, of Craigie on Main, in Cambridge, Mass.
Michael Solomonov, the chef and owner of Zahav and Federal Donuts, both in Philadelphia, noted that his kitchen has a code for diners who are photographing their food, which signals chefs to double-check the cleanliness of plates going to their table.
But he also said, "I try not to worry about it too much. Because really, people that spend a lot of time on food blogs don’t eat out that much."
John Kunkel, owner of Miami Beach's Yardbird, said he encourages diners who had good experiences at the restaurant to voice their enthusiasm on Twitter.
At the end, though, no one seemed to disagree with an uncharacteristically pro-Yelp comment from Murphy.
"It used to be that if you got a bad review in the New York Times, you had to close. It was like the theater. There was only one guy who decided everything," he said. "There are so many more people reviewing everything today. Nowadays, if you get a bad review in the Times, you can still make it.”
Sounds great for restaurateurs -- though it also means that we may have to add "Kept Ninja In Business" to our list of reasons to dislike Yelp.