Been a while. But I'm back as part of the Food Blog Revolution of Early Mid 2015!
You probably saw the thing from over the weekend where a pair of asshats barged into Alden & Harlow, seated selves at refused to leave, and threatened to go negative on Yelp. A&H proprietor Michael Scelfo took a picture of the offending pair, captioned:
"shout out to these two winners for seating themselves with no reservations, insulting and berating our staff, refusing to leave and all the while yelping away in front of us as a means of threat. #kbye#wedontnegotiatewithyelpers"
I shared on the Twitter, (Did you know I have a Twitter account, where sometimes I post stuff between posts here?) in a spirit of support. Then, a question from a friend we will call Not Maurice made me think on it a little bit, asking "How is Scelfo's post anything other than inviting the doxxing and harassment of those women? It's punching down, and troublesome to me."
It's a fair question. My initial response to the q was that while the patrons were two women, they were not being called out by Scelfo on that basis, and it seemed like a legit response to the threat of Yelp bullying.
Having slept on it, I am not quite as sure. The inherent threat in Yelp bullying is to make a private issue public, and thereby amplify it.* Basically, the Yelp Bully's proposition is "TREAT ME LIKE I AM HENRY KISSINGER AND THIS IS LE CIRQUE, OR I WILL GIVE YOU NO STARS AND TELL THE INTERNET I SAW RATS IN YOUR WALK-IN." Most people agree that this is bad, in that threats of public shaming to get better service, a better table, or an extra crab cake in your order is not OK.
However, Scelfo's response to the threat of public shaming is... ...public shaming. If I ran a restaurant in the Boston area, I would have my FOH on the lookout for these crackerjacks, but in posting their images on Instagram, does Scelfo cede the moral high ground?
The situation is probably more or less untenable for the restaurant. I can think of three unappealing options:
1) Let the asshats carry on. I admire Scelfo for having his staff's back. In Fessering, I don't deal with bartenders, servers or patrons, but I do deal with TAs, lecturers and students, and I begin from a presumption that my crew is doing the right thing, unless proven otherwise. Telling your staff, indefinitely, to put up with this kind of BS seems like good way to lose your staff. So, nah.
2) Call the cops. Nah. Probably, the situation could have escalated to where these women could have become guests of the CPD, but cops dragging patrons out of your joint is not the vibe you want in the 02138, and especially not in the former home of Casa-fuckin-Blanca. So, nah.
3) Plan C. In this case, light them up on Instagram, thereby sticking up for your staff, and providing a public service other innkeepers in the Boston area. So, yeah, maybe? I guess.
This is not the Cod's first rodeo with the ethics of public shaming this school year. At the day job, back in December, there was an incident involving a "Cripmas" themed party -- right after the Mike Brown and Eric Garner non-verdicts. It began with an Instagram of white kids dressed like their idea of "gangstas," and there was much discussion locally and nationally about the pros and cons of blurring the faces of these wannabe Crips for news reports. I am still of two minds about that, and also about the A&H incident. (The Cod happened to be in at A&H later that night, but missed this excitement.) In general, though, as a Bold Take, I'll suggest that the way social media can accelerate and intensify public shaming is not my favorite thing about it.
*Yelp is a fine tool for identifying and locating restaurants. It is a lousy tool for evaluating restaurants. Given the average restaurateur's penchant for a midi-saturated, PDF riddled webpage, being able to find a restaurant's location and hours is a very useful service Yelp provides. That said, it puzzles and saddens me that there are evidently people who still use the opinions of grudge-holding tale-bearing strangers to inform the choices they make about where to eat. The axiom of "don't read the comments" so frequently invoked elsewhere on the Web is essential advice if you want to get the most out of Yelp.