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Handling Restaurant Criticism from Professionals and the Public

What's your opinion of other people's opinions? Chef Fred Kellermann takes a look at the groundswell of chatter around Knight's Bistro from the perspective of a restaurateur.

One of the reasons I was approached to start writing on Patch was to give an insider's view of the restaurant scene. I had/have a strong fear that my opinion of the "scene" would scare people off of possibly trying my business or worse, talking badly about my business. Therein lies the problem. 

Too many things can cloud a diner’s judgment of a restaurant experience: pre-determined expectations, mood, food knowledge, dining companion, the weather, the firmness of the chair, the loud conversation of the couple behind you, or the cigarette breath of your server. 

When I want to learn about the public's expectations, I read a lot of restaurant reviews. It amazes me how vitrolic and narrow-minded some reviewers can be. I'm not talking about the people that get paid to do the job, but the dining public. 

There's , where the comments are far more telling then the review itself. No disrespect to the writer of the story, . 

Let's start with itself. At no time during the construction period did I see or hear a quote from the owner that he was going to do a fine dining Italian restaurant or claim to do the most authentic pizza or the best Italian () around.

I know because I listened and asked around. The SJ Hot Chefs are always looking for new restaurants for the group. So how could people's expectations be so messed up?

I know—Mrs. Smith said she thought it would be nice to have an authentic New York-style pizzeria in town, and Mr. Jones heard Mrs. Smith say it would be a fancy authentic pizzeria, and Mr. and Mrs. Davis heard it would be the best and cheapest Italian food in town.

Then the comments:

One person suggested it was because people don’t know what bistro or cafe means. This is a good point because people who know that bistro is a French word for a small place that serves moderately priced, home-cooked food never confuse it with a trattoria, the Italian version of bistro.

Another person questions the idea of opening another "Italian" restaurant in Collingswood. This is a good point, but is it a reason not to like a business? The person asks "quality vs. quantity"—not of the food but of the number of businesses themselves. Still other commenters based their expectations upon their dislike of another business in town.

There are a few people with positive comments: "friendly owner and staff,” "good for a quick bite," and “made a terrific hoagie.”

These are the best comments about Knight’s Bistro because they tell you what you need to know about a restaurant:

  • "friendly owner and staff" means “small business trying to do its best.”
  • "good for a quick bite" means “nice place for a casual meal, dine-in or take-out.”
  • "made a terrific hoagie" means “good for lunch or dinner” (everyone loves a good sandwich). 

When you go out to eat as a consumer, you should do your part ahead of time.

  • “What kind of food do they serve?”

Trust me, I've had more then one person make a reservation then ask what kind of food that we serve!!

  • “What's the price point? Can I afford it?”

To the person that said “I can't afford any of those places (Nunzio, That's Amore, Sapore, Bistro de Marino, Il Fiore, Cafe Antonios, Zeppoli's, Villa Barone, Kitchen Consigliere...)”: if you can't afford any of those places you really should worry about other things than eating out.

  • “What's the atmosphere like?” Will I be over-/underdressed?”

If you're on a date and want a quiet place to sit and talk, a pizzeria may not be the best place.

Look, we all have the right to our opinions, but wouldn't it be better for everyone involved to voice more positive comments—and if we don't have anything nice to say, let that speak for itself?

And it wouldn't be right of me to not weigh in with some of my comments on places I have dined at:

  • —very good rustic Italian for a casual evening
  • Royal Tavern — my favorite brunch spot, good beer, good food, nice people
  • a.kitchen — excellent food, a step above, great place for a special night out
  • Wiljax — really good hoagies, my favorite meatball parm around
  • Chili's — When I'm on the way home from work, just a nice place for a dollar beer—and better yet, it’s walking distance from my home!
  • Redhouse Bagels — real friendly service and great bagels for a breakfast sandwich

Fred Kellermann is the owner and chef de cuisine at Elements Cafe in Haddon Heights. He is also the president of SJ Hot Chefs, and urges you to support your local restaurant with your dining-out dollars.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Chef Fred July 04, 2012 at 02:30 PM
just in case any one is interested here's the link for a.kitchen--www.akitchenphilly.com
One road town July 05, 2012 at 01:35 PM
In the latest thumbing their nose at Collingswood, they have now taken to hanging used car dealer pennant flags draped on our corner lot. It's sadly, apropo.
Gary B July 05, 2012 at 06:24 PM
I saw this and went to the Borough to inquire about the 'used car dealer pennant flags'. They are indeed up sailing against town ordinance as Knight's Bistro applied for no permit. They are required to have a permit for the pennants. I was told the town looked the other way due to the 'grand opening' and that Knight's Bistro was allowed to get all the attention it could garner. My reply was that it indeed got attention,,,all the wrong kind. I relayed that the corner looked like a used car lot on Rt 130 and the ordinance clerk said she too would have choose a better way to advertise Knight's Bistro. ...btw, the town ordinance clerk is awesome on a footnote! :) All in all though, it looks like the town's people will need to do a boycott and make them change or go away, as Collingswood administrators will fully support (regrettably) this establishment. It really is a shame that most premier piece of real estate we have to offer is now occupied by a soul less restaurant. Our 'Restaurant Row' is sporting a black eye.
Chef Fred July 05, 2012 at 07:25 PM
I haven't seen the "used car pennants" you refer to but what in your opinion would be an appropriate way for any business to celebrate their arrival/opening?
Gary B July 05, 2012 at 07:38 PM
Make a show of it! :) Red carpet (I know it's a 'pizza joint') but just throwing something out there Helium balloons that are the restaurants colors (dark blue and silver) An easel picture board of specials outside on the sidewalk A hostess (or staff) giving away samples music
Chef Fred July 05, 2012 at 07:40 PM
Ok, that seems fair and perfectly reasonable. It's that you don't like how they did it not what they did.
Gary B July 05, 2012 at 07:49 PM
Exactly. I am all about town flair and people who have passion for their business. And I just feel that KB is just trying to pull a 'fast one' on us. Heated lamp food in my opinion is not cuisine and the frosted lettering of 'salads' etc on the front is below par. The 'picture board' above the counter should be taken down, asap, as well. KB is sitting on a gold mine and it's shelling out rocks, for a lack of a better comparison. .... I hope it changes and nobody is asking for them to serve caviar/lobster etc or have $100 Bobby Flay dishes....just put a little passion into what one is doing is all I ask :)
Gary B July 05, 2012 at 07:56 PM
I'm not going to beat a dead horse and go on and on. So I will just leave it at this. KB choose to do business in Collingswood and KB choose to anchor that corner. Those come inherently with great expectations. Again, this has nothing to do with price etc or with formal vs casual etc ...Just show me that you are unique, you got passion, you are different from everybody else...and above all make your food your statement. :) Just some food for thought from a 'foodie' ...bon appetit :)
Ken Marizo July 05, 2012 at 09:35 PM
Good post Gary B
Ken Marizo July 05, 2012 at 10:23 PM
I appreciate Chef Fred giving us a sampling of some of the places he has dined at. (I have eaten at all of them, including his restaurant). I am always up for new eats. We visit Royal Tavern about every other month or so. The North Third as well as Cafe Lift serve a nice brunch as well.
Ken Marizo July 05, 2012 at 10:25 PM
I have dined at every restaurant and pizza joint in Colingswood except Joe Pesce. I don't hide behind the semi anonymity of a computer/IP address; anything I post here on this thread I would say to someone in-person. No doubt, I wished that Knights Bistro was serving a different concept. That property is prime! Heck, another Patch commenter had mentioned what about a roof-top deck. (something that no nearby township has as far as I know......, maybe a deck concept similar in size to the Standard Tap). Anyway, I have no problem with another pizzeria style restaurant as long as the food is fresh & made with love. For me, it's the simple things. It's seeing a Jersey fresh bright red tomato versus a pale tomato with no flavor. It's using a Brioche bun for a burger versus a dry snow flake roll. It's the meat to bun ratio. It's sauteing fresh spinach with olive & garlic versus wet/thawed spinach with no seasoning. It's serving house made potato chips or skin-on french fries instead of a bag of Lays potato chips. I'm just tired of the same old crap. I mean, we just ate at Paesano's II (very casual) in the Italian market.... my god, those sandwiches were simple, creative and delish' (all in the $8.00 range). Give me some eggplant or zucchini fries. I'm just throwing ideas out there. Get creative. Scouts honor, I really want Knights Bistro to succeed. I know that the world does not evolve around my tastes but that is my two pence.
Ken Marizo July 05, 2012 at 11:22 PM
^ revolve
Longtime Colls Resident July 06, 2012 at 01:50 AM
I don't understand the contempt for KB. If you don't like it, don't eat there. That building sat empty for quite some time and people should be happy that there is an open business in there instead of the vacant building that once was.
Gary B July 06, 2012 at 02:55 AM
The 'contempt' as you put it, has nothing at all to due with eating there or not or whether the building was vacant. This has to due with dignity, pride and respect. :) American's are easily disrespected (we are not a very bright population) and for those who do appreciate cuisine, people will voice their valid opinions :) Collingswood has struck gold with our 'Restaurant Row', and we as a town need and should become more cultured :) .....There are many people, such as 'Chef Fred' and Ken M who probably would love to expand in depth about all this too :)
Gary B July 06, 2012 at 03:13 AM
Only helping :) ...if I can :) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aD1jfLMR_Jk&feature=related http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AyQvTefwP48 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JtmOTYmVNII I cannot explain it,,,use the links as best you can...this is about passion, not about heat lamp food :) .....Dine at Giumarello's..then Nunzio's...then Zeppoli...and then Knights Bistro...tell me how they stack up.....use not just 'high priced' and 'Italian' flairs, go to the Pop Shop as well (I love them and have never eaten a morsel there btw) ...but hopefully you will see the difference between fraud and passion :)
Chef Fred July 06, 2012 at 05:24 AM
Gary and Ken I agree in general with what you are saying and those ideas fit in with the way I try to run my business. But, as a business person I disagree with you on two points. 1st: Most south jersey diners are not like you!! It's easy to prove--pick your favorite interesting independent restaurant in south jersey and go there on a Wednesday night. You'll probably see a restaurant that is operating on half power doing somewhere around 20-30% of capacity for the night. I mean if that restaurant is capable of doing 100 covers on busy night, it will only do 25-35 on that Wednesday. Now go to a chain restaurant on the same night and it will be operating on half power but still do 50%-60% of it's ability. Most people like the basics. Giumarello's is probably one of the busier restaurants around and only seats about 150-175 people. Most chain restaurants won't open a restaurant unless they can seat 250-350 people!! And they're full!
Chef Fred July 06, 2012 at 05:24 AM
Part 2 2nd I don't think its fair even to mention Giumarello's, Nunzio's and Zeppoli in the same sentence with Kitchen Bistro. Your talking about 3 restaurants with a per/person check average of $35 to $50 per person and another with a check average of $10-12. Now I understand what your saying. Your comparing the perceived passion of Nunzio's to the perceived passion of Kitchen Bistro and I'll tell you straight out, the people at Kitchen Bistro have just as much passion, maybe not the same level of ability but defiantly the passion. They have too, if they don't then they'll be done very quickly, this business eats their own young. But if you want to compare their ability, and people do that every time they choose a restaurant to go to, then compare them to place's like Haddonfield's Corner Bistro, Haddon Townships Bruno's, Collingswood Cafe Antonio or Moorestown's La Vita's. Your money will decide!!
Porterincollingswood July 06, 2012 at 10:01 AM
Ken - I was wondering if North Third was still open, so thanks for that piece of info. Always loved it but saw a show on Food Network about Honey's - location looked almost the same and even the interior looked slightly like N3rd. Always loved that place when we lived in the city. Has anyone been to Honey's? Looked amazing.
Ken Marizo July 06, 2012 at 12:13 PM
@Porterincollingswood: Yep, North Third is still open. No, I have not dined at Honey's Sit 'n Eat yet. I guess it is all in the timing. Every time we tried to go, the parking was difficult (at lest for me). I keep driving around in circles, looking for a parking spot, I get frustrated. I then end up going to North Third, Memphis Taproom, Sabrinas Cafe or one of the other spots that are in our brunch rotation. I'll make my way to Honey's one of these days.
Ken Marizo July 06, 2012 at 12:42 PM
Chef Fred: I agree with you about a lot of south jersey diners and the basics. That is what frustrates me sometimes about eating in these neck of the woods. I used to have a boring palate until the PATCO train station brought me over to Philly & opened my eyes to a new world of food. Exploring the city on foot is the best. I have never been to Basque Country or Italy so my first experiences with Tapas was at your Elements Cafe! Each year my palate expands. Chef Garces has introduced me to Spanish tapas, charcuterie and even Peruvian Chinese (Peruvian Chinese? who would of known). I am starting to see some traditional 'red gravy' Italian restaurants offering cicchetti /stuzzichini small plate sharing....... I love it.
Ken Marizo July 06, 2012 at 01:52 PM
I will say this. I think the craft beer explosion is starting to influence a lot of "hole-n-the-wall" pubs/dive bars to experiment and turn out some eye opening gastropub style offerings at a decent price point. (Good Dog Bar, Royal Tavern, etc.) I believe this is starting to influence the palates of many South Jerseyans. Places such as the Pour House, Iron Hill Brewery, etc. are introducing people to Humus, fish tacos, Pomme Frites, lamb burgers, beer infused food, etc. I have a meat & potato friend of mine that is now a convert, I can't believe some of the food that he is now experimenting with. I am seeing some stubborn/old school Greek diners/restaurants having to change things up or go out of business. I never imagined a Greek diner ever going out of business. Hell, the gastropubs are forcing chain restaurants to diversify like TGIFridays Korean steak taco offering (I don't like TGIFridays)..... The local pizzerias better be on notice as well. I am seeing mobile trucks/food carts like Nomad Pizza Company of New Jersey (that now has a brick'n'mortar location in Philly) that are kicking out excellent pizza. (well, at least according to my palate). Sorry for going off on a tangent, I could talk about this stuff till I am blue. I am the type of person that while eating breakfast, I am thinking about what is for dinner.
Gary B July 06, 2012 at 02:24 PM
pt1 I agree that lumping Guimarello's etc in with KB is unfair (and admittedly, that doesn't help my point by bringing them up either) So I do thank you though for understanding the point I'm trying to convey. And Chef Fred, I agree with you again that most patrons are not like Ken M & myself, however the dining scene in Collingswood I believe there to be more of a concentration or like minded diners gathering here & this is where the ire comes into play with KB. And one of the first things that got people upset was that KB was going to be another 'casual' restaurant...the public was wanting more fine dining, not less. Knight's Bistro is a chameleon and they are to playing all sides against the middle, this is mostly I believe what has upset the patrons. On one hand it takes the name Knight, implying that the restaurant and it's owners/staff has English heritage here since the 17th century,,,then it takes the name Bistro, a French styled restaurant, so now we have the setting for a English/Irish history mixed with a French motif that serves neither English or Irish cuisine nor in a French setting, rather American-Italian in a modern setting....WHAT!? Just pick one, and do it well. Example, drop the name Knights 'Bistro' and insert 'Inn' ...serve corn bread, beer bread etc. things of that nature. (just a passing thought, that's all)
Gary B July 06, 2012 at 02:26 PM
pt2 A bistro serves 'earthy' dishes, home cooked meals,,,but KB keeps food heated that was frozen (this also explains the wild extremes of disparity of taste in the reviews). They also want to be a kid friendly restaurant that offers face painting (are the paying tribute to the Pop Shop I wonder...) But then they want to appeal to the hustle and bustle of the business men and women for the lunch hour. In just talking to myself, I just want KB to pick one thing, please. Do it well, love it and excel at it. KB wants to many things and is not doing any of them well. I wish them a long run here filled with success, but that will not happen with the current setting. ....Time will tell :)
Ric July 06, 2012 at 03:49 PM
I just like to make a general comment about dinning out with friends and family. The whole idea about going out is for everyone to have a good time; honestly, the food is secondary as long as it is good. Nothing can ruin an evening for a group faster than one person nitpicking because they know how to nitpick. Honestly, it does not take a genius to nitpick. And I do not want to spend my hard earned money on a meal listening to an idiot with diarrhea of the mouth. If you want to complain excessively at least have the common courtesy to pick up the check. It is embarrassing to watch a dinner companion make ridiculous demands of the wait/kitchen staff. The staff is not their mother. It is even more embarrassing to watch an adult who does not know how to boil water tell the restaurant staff how to improve their meal. Instead of making a scene folks, just do not go back to the restaurant. By all means folks keep your complaints to a minimum, and let your dinner companions enjoy the company of friends. Be reasonable and do not act like a spoiled child crying over din-din. Remember going out is supposed to be fun.
Gary B July 06, 2012 at 04:08 PM
Yes Ric, there is some truth to what you say. People in general no longer have respect. We patrons talk and text on cell phones while eating out, and basically everywhere else for that matter. We wear inappropriate attire in general and can no longer dress ourselves. All day long it's white sneakers, bellies hanging over pants, teen girls looking more like strippers or street hookers and young males with the pants around their arse and such goes the list. There use to be a dress code for eating out and that has vanished,,,in every aspect and for every venue. Eating out or eating in, is about the communion with friends and family, no doubt. And the people should step up some decency and class on their end. ...on my wish list, I'd like to see more managers in some of the finer establishments (at the dinner hour) ask a patron to take the phone call outside. Or at least have a sign somewhere clearly posted 'no phone calls in the dining area' ....I can't tell you how many times I've seen a group of 2, 3 or 5 at a table and nobody is saying a word or looking at one another, all you see are the tops of their heads because they are all on the phone texting etc.....We need to do better :)
Longtime Colls Resident July 06, 2012 at 06:42 PM
I see the used car signs are down today. Seriously I drive past this place 4 times a day on my way to and from work - I'ved live here almost 23 years and my dignity pride and respect have not been diminished due to the opening of the Knights Bistro. If I took my grandchildren, say to cruise night, I would not be dining with them at Nunzio's, this place might just fit the bill. Not everyone wants to do the "fine" dining that is so prevalent on the avenue. Why not either support the guy's effort to have a successful business or just not go there. BTW we ate at one of the Italian places on the Ave and a big ole brown german cockroach was walking on the molding behind my husbands head. Good thing there wasn't facebook at the time or a lynching may have taken place. Relax people
Porterincollingswood July 06, 2012 at 07:14 PM
Good points RIc. And while we're at it, BYOB does not mean that people can set up their own bar and occupy a table for 4 hours. Saw it last week, some sloppy drunk older women having "girls night out" came as close as they could to wrecking the evening of everyone in the place (new, small, expensive Italian joint). These slobs were already done eating when we entered at 7pm, having already consumed their meal and 2 bottles of wine. They sat and drank 2 more bottles, ordering no food. They got sloppier and louder over the course of the next 1.5 hours. One of them was talking about her issues with mother-in-law, husband, kids in a shouting voice. Have some respect for your fellow diners, the owner of the establishment, and (in the case of the table I saw) yourselves.
MacArthur July 06, 2012 at 08:44 PM
Might want to back of the hysterics lever there a little, Gary. Seriously, claiming the restaurant owners are trying to imply a connection to England because they threw "Knight" in the name? You might want to go after the high school yearbook next—looks like they might be trying to pull a fast one, too. Or, you know, you could make reasonable arguments, not lump a sandwich joint in with high-end Italian and otherwise dial it back down from 11.
Gary B July 06, 2012 at 09:01 PM
Back away from the internet MacArthur after reading some history on this ...if you're not seeing double already from you're Friday happy hour episode. It's not an implication on my behalf when the Abbate family sought Knight out and lifted it. Now stop trolling. http://collingswood.patch.com/articles/take-a-bite-out-of-this-dining-in-tradition


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