Commentary: Be kind — you don’t know what restaurants are going through

A writer suggests offering constructive criticism directly to the restaurateur, rather than snarky reviews online.

Times have drastically changed over the past three years, especially for restaurants.

When we critique our dining experiences online, it is not fair to apply our old standards for eating out without factoring in that new reality. Between staffing shortages and rising prices for ingredients — and the difficulty of passing those costs on to customers — some restaurants are barely staying open.

Having been an entrepreneur most of my life, I can tell you that starting and running a business is tough — and starting and running a restaurant is insanely hard.

First, restaurants are usually run on some of the lowest profit margins of any business, so everything has to be near perfect at all times in order to even make a profit.

Second — and this applies at any level of restaurant — the day-to-day remains somewhat the same, a non-stop changing process. New staff, new cooks, training kitchen and front-of-house employees, new recipes, new systems and adapting to the guests. Like a well-oiled machine, these areas all need to gel at the same time to fully function.

Restaurateurs these days are dealing with the constant necessity of finding good staff. Some live paycheck to paycheck and have other personal challenges, which can affect the day-to-day operations. Yes, that’s true in other sectors of business, but the restaurant and retail, brick-and-mortar businesses have higher costs when those factors arise. Without trained employees, ready to go during open hours, the restaurant may have to stay closed or give their customers an experience that’s below expectations.

We see the saying on social media, “Be kind; you never know what a person is going through.” Can we apply that to the restaurant industry, including the entire staff, especially emerging from tough times?

Let’s open our hearts and minds to the current reality when analyzing our experiences, writing reviews and social media posts on restaurants. Let’s promote growth, so more doors stay open for business. Let’s consider the human factor, before immediately jumping to Yelp to write a negative review or post on social media pages.

If your dining experience is really unpleasant, consider reaching out to the owners or managers first, to possibly get an explanation or solution. You may help educate the right person or people who can actually do something productive to improve or change.

If you immediately post about your negative experience, you’re costing the restaurant future customers, affecting staff morale and the bottom line. These actions may have a trickle-down effect: Margins being further tightened, business slowing down, people losing jobs — maybe, in the end, the restaurant being closed permanently.

Remember mom’s words — “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” — on an open, public platform without first going to the source (the owner or manager) and expressing your experience so they can work positively on fixing it.

You never know what someone is going through, so be kind. We are all human.

Jennifer Burns is a TV cooking host, food writer and author of “Cooking Delight.” She can be found on Instagram and TikTok at @jbcookinghost, or online at hostjenniferburns.com. This column originally appeared in the Utah Eats newsletter.