Pete Wells vs. Guy Fieri – Does it even matter?

Holy Guy Fieri! Can it be? A "POOR" New York Times restaurant review? Has there ever been such a scathing attack on a chef? Did Guy’s hair turn even more yellow when he read this? And what does this mean for the future of his restaurant?

Leaving Pete Wells’ rhetorical style aside, let’s examine this media standoff from a business perspective. First let’s consider the review itself. A New York Times review is only one person’s opinion, but it comes from an “expert” in the field. Ten years ago, the Times’ dining critic held the fate of a restaurant in his/her hands.

With the advent of the internet and social media (blogs, twitter, websites etc.) the importance of a single voice is somewhat lessened. Pete Wells is one voice in the chorus - maybe louder than others, but still one voice. 

In fact, the review in the New York Observer was just as bad, excepting that the Observer was more kindly to the burger that Wells blasted.  So the review may have a short-term, negative effect on locals who read it, but ultimately it will be forgotten  - like most headlines in today’s news.  Surely, there will be some (like me) who will go to Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar to see if it is really that bad. 

And Guy has armies of fans who will patronize it, no matter what.  (So long as no one dies from the “nuclear waste.”) Next, let’s look at the restaurant itself. It’s a 500-seat monster in the back-end of Times Square, with a well known TV celebrity on the banner.  The guests will largely be tourists visiting the area, people in town for trade shows, Guy fans, bus tour groups or families from the New York metro area – probably in that order. Most of these guests will be unaware of the review or simply disinterested. “Foodies” would more likely hit the Olive Garden on 23rd St than any celebrity 500-seater in Times Square.

Have they (or you) ever left Mars 2112, Hard Rock Cafe, Planet Hollywood or the Rain Forest Café craving more? Moreover, despite the less than stellar review, the place could still do well financially. We all know restaurants sell food, but - in reality - all restaurants sell four products – food, service, ambience and “sizzle” (what makes a place unique and special). In every restaurant the four products carry varying weight. We’ve all been to restaurants with excellent food but horrible service and shabby decor. Or a café that treats you special because you're a regular, but the food is only okay and the ambiance needs improvement. Not to mention the restaurants that succeed because of their view or convenient location.

Here at Guy’s, it’s not really  the food that people want to experience,it’s his world, the hustle of Times Square, the NYC celebrity sighting – it’s the fun! Maybe Fieri has blessed some of the food ideas, but eating is not the principal attraction. After all, it’s 500-Seats.  How good can a thousand meals a day be? All in all, what will probably happen now is that Guy will push for some changes to appease the restaurant critics. Maybe the local management team will add some training for the floor staff. And Guy himself may even be present in a very public way. But it’s still the “sizzle” that will save this restaurant. In three months Guy’s hair will still be that bizarre shade of yellow, and all will be well in his kingdom.

Stephen Zagor began teaching at the Institute of Culinary Education in 2001 and is now the Dean of Culinary Business and Industry Studies, overseeing the school’s highly regarded Culinary Management, Hospitality Management, and Entrepreneurial courses. Over the course of his career, Zagor has developed and owned a multi-concept restaurant group, served as the general manager of a $10 million New York City restaurant, and owned and operated an award-winning limited service restaurant. Zagor has appeared as an expert on The Food Network’s “Recipes For Success”, and he has been quoted in major publications such as Forbes, The New York Times, Crain’s New York Business, and The New York Post.

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