- Jose Andrés is a celebrity chef who helped popularise tapas in the United States. He has 26 restaurants and two Michelin stars.
- Andrés says he reads Yelp every morning and takes the criticism seriously — even when it hurts.
- This strategy is in line with one expert’s advice to place a high value on unsolicited feedback.
Restaurant critics have always been a fearsome bunch. But the advent of Yelp, and the handing over of the reins to everyday people who can hide behind a username, has made the situation much, much scarier for chefs.
Jose Andrés doesn’t see it that way. At least, not exactly.
On an episode of Business Insider’s podcast, “Success! How I Did It!” Andrés told Business Insider US editor-in-chief Alyson Shontell that he’s developed a thick skin against criticism of his restaurants by reading Yelp every single morning.
Andrés is known for helping to popularise tapas — or Spanish small plates — in the United States. He has 26 restaurants and has won awards including two Michelin stars and the 2015 National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama.
Andrés gave Shontell an example of the kind of criticism he might receive:
“Someone comes to my restaurant, Jaleo Paella, and because the press and everybody expects the paella to look like Mount Everest with rice to the top, they expect to be full of things like chorizo — no, no, no — scallops and shrimp and lobster and the bigger mountain keeps growing. And the rice needs to be very yellow.
“And so somebody comes to my restaurant where I try to make a rice that is very thin, crunchy in the bottom, soft in the top, with very big flavour in the rice and only a few pieces of chicken or rabbit or artichokes or lobster, depends on the one but we don’t put 50 things and so they will complain, ‘Your rice was not yellow, your rice was very thin, your rice was crispy on the bottom.’ I’m, like, ‘Really? That’s all the things we were trying to achieve.'”
To be sure, reviewers’ words can sting. But Andrés explained how he tries to depersonalize the criticism:
“Thicker skin is something like, José the person, José the chef, inside me, I’m, like, ‘What the heck do those people think? Who are they? I don’t want them in my restaurant anymore,’ which is good to have, but it’s good that you do that internally.
“And then he’s José the businessman, who says, ‘Man, this is free advice that I should thank the person for, taking the time, and this we will use to communicate.’ Every day on my phone, I receive reports of every restaurant, social media, comments in-house by the guests. We use them. We don’t use them every day, but sometimes maybe something needs immediate attention and other things is information you put together and then three, six months later, you say, ‘Listen, look at the pattern here.'”
Andrés’ insight calls to mind advice from executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, who recommends taking criticism from others — especially unsolicited criticism — seriously. In fact, Goldsmith goes so far as to suggest that the way other people see you is more important than the way you see yourself. In his 2007 book, “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There,” Goldsmith writes: “Less me. More them. Equals success.”
Andrés told Shontell how much he values even the harshest customer reviews on Yelp:
“You’re in partnership with them to a degree. They are your partners. When they invest money in your restaurant, they are your partner. So you want to believe that they have the best intentions when they tell you something. We cannot keep seeing the people coming to our business as the guests or the customers: They are our partners. They don’t know it, but we need to take them like they are the best partner we have out there.
“And then the business model changes completely because you don’t see what they say as bad criticism but you are trying to see if there’s a partner that is trying to make the business better. And then is wonderful the things you can accomplish.”
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