Background on this. An Itaewon restaurant wanted a local magazine to review it. After eating there, the reviewer sent this email in reply. I was given permission to re-post this. Names have been redacted.
Hi XXXX, how are you?
I’m writing concerning the status of the article about your restaurant. Let me preface it by saying thank you for the samples you provided and for your time.
Essentially, I’ve come to the conclusion that I will not be able to write a review of your establishment for the magazine. Well, to be clear, I could write it, but you would not like what I have to say, as it would include more negatives than positives, and that’s not beneficial for your business.
While I enjoyed the chicken and the pasta, they weren’t inherently special in anyway to differentiate themselves from the broad array of options n Itaewon. I thought this about the whole menu as well, especially at what I feel are inflated prices, there should be something really to make it stand out from the crowd.
I feel that is a good way to sum up my feelings about the establishment in general. I went in there thinking it was a rustic establishment catering to whiskey fans. That would’ve been something worth writing about. Besides your lack of knowledge about whiskies/bourbons/and Scotch in general, we were quickly informed it used to be mostly wines….then whiskies, but now you feel craft beers are big so you want to introduce those. Likewise for the menu, you said it was Americana, then specifically steak, but bringing in pastas and Asian influences. Also there was talk of becoming more of a brunch place, and having outdoor cooking, and some buffets, where people paid per dish – once they had purchased X amount of alcohol.
In essence, there was no focus or main thrust whatsoever. I feel you want people to come spend money at the restaurant, but have no cohesive vision of what your restaurant should be. The interior and atmosphere you were very clear about, wanting everything to be “high-end and high-class, in a completely casual atmosphere,” which to me sounds confused and contradictory as well.
You even mentioned that trends change in Korea very quickly, and you’re trying to keep up. That, in my opinion, is what is wrong with many of the new establishments in Itaewon, most of which will be gone in a couple of years once the public has moved onto the newest thing.
Most of the real successful long-term business popular among expats have a very clear and defined sense of identity, with unique menu options, and those are what most of our readership prefer and expect to be honestly informed about. I could not in good conscience recommend XXXXX to any of my friends, and so most certainly could not put my reputation as a writer on the line doing so to the broader public.
I have copied the general content editor and the food editor at Groove on this, as I want it to be in the open why I am declining this piece. I should mention that there are advertisements and advertorials available in our magazine and other English language publications as well, for a price of course, and the content would be completely up to you to decide.
However, I feel something more drastic will have to be done to give your restaurant the kind of repeat, long-term customer base all food establishments need to thrive.
I hope you understand, I am just trying to be perfectly honest. I wish you, and XXXXX, the best of luck.
– Ian Henderson
UPDATE: By request, the magazine’s name and author’s name have been un-redacted.
Penning bad reviews are a waste of a writer’s and a publications energy –unless trying to stir up more traffic. Find the good spots and highlight those. Nice work Ian.
Good work. This makes me trust groove magazine more. Too many magazines post fake positive reviews to avoid offending. I think it was better to not publish the negative review in the magazine and to give the restaurant some honest, constructive criticism.
I think it is awesome that a writer has integrity and won’t give a good review when it is undeserving. As Marcus wrote, it makes me trust the magazine and the writer even more. I wish I could see more of these kind of letters from reviewers. Kudos to the writer.