I’m going to say it was about a year ago that I made the decision to stop posting on the Cleveland.com Food + Wine forum. While some of the topics, such as locating certain products around town, upcoming events, and reports of lesser known eateries, were helpful; I found that the overall tone of the forum was way too negative.
Personal attacks, childish banter, and the general belittlement of others who are not as well versed in all things food as others, are almost daily occurrences on this website. Those who eat at chain restaurants are treated like a card carrying member of al qaeda. Arguments prattle on line after line about something as simple as a restaurant having nitrates in their hot dogs. Believe me when I tell you – this is a nasty lot.
You would think something like this would be moderated by someone, wouldn’t you? Well, actually, it is (and it isn’t.) You see, Linda Griffith is technically the moderator, but she’s also an active participant in the disputes. Did you ever see referee Mills Lane team up with Mike Tyson to try and take out Evander Holyfield? That’s kind of what happens here – opinions are stated that seem to exacerbate the problem and then it becomes a no holds barred free-for-all.
On a couple of occasions I’ve actually heard out-of-towners stumble upon this forum and ask why the people on that forum are trying to tear down the image of their own city’s restaurant scene. What do you say to that? I don’t know; it really is embarrassing when you think about it. Our city, with all of its warts, can boast that it has a lot of good restaurants at many different price points. Why do so many on this forum feel so compelled to tear down the reputations of these restaurants and their chefs? I’m absolutely puzzled.
I think the single most damaging thing I’ve seen on that forum is people who go on there and complain about XYZ at such and such a restaurant and then give the play-by-play of everything that went wrong. So what’s the problem with that you might ask? Well, the problem is that you’re giving your own account of what happened. Right or wrong, you’re implicating the restaurant as a whole on a public forum and, intentionally or unintentionally, branding them as having poor service, unsanitary conditions, etc. Your hiding behind a screen name and making accusations that may, or may not, be true.
So the post goes up, what’s a restaurant owner supposed to do? Are they expected to apologize on the forum and make things right with the upset customer? Should they ignore the fact anything has been posted at all and just wait for the post to go to the next page? How do you prepare a rebuttal without drawing more attention to an already inflamed topic? The restaurant is in a no win situation. The fact is that the original poster is an asshole and shouldn’t be rewarded for their bad behavior. Often times you’ll see the owner or chef of the restaurant post a “call me, we want to make things right.” That’s total bullshit. If the food, service, or cleanliness was so bad, why didn’t they call over a manager right then and there and settle the issue?
So how would I improve what would/should be a really fun and interesting community?
Give the moderator the power to immediately delete material that violates posting etiquette. As it stands now, the moderator has no power to immediately delete anything, so it stays up for an inordinate period (measured in days) of time and perpetuates more nasty comments. One person says something snotty and then the snowball begins to roll.
The moderator should either moderate or be a contributor, but not both. They’re called moderators for a reason. I don’t see how someone who heads up the Slow Food Convivium here in Cleveland is going to see Joe Bag of Donut’s point of view on why Olive Garden is his favorite restaurant. There’s a fundamental conflict there – and it shows.
Adopt Chowhound's rules of etiquette. I can’t think of a more respectful place to read about food than at Chowhound. Their rules are pretty simple: Keep the site informative, friendly and hype-free. If a post violates any of these three expectations - it gets deleted. On the FF all of these expectations get violated routinely. I just don’t see the problem with someone having an opinion if it’s a positive one. So someone doesn’t buy organic vegetables, are you going to pay their grocery bill? Too often I see people marginalized because the vocal minority tells them about how wrong they are. Shut up and cook your own goddamn food, and let them cook theirs.
Delete the accounts of repeat etiquette offenders. It’s pretty simple. I know some would say that they’ll just re-register. Yeah. So? Do you not spray for roaches because they’ll just keep coming back? If their comments are being deleted in an appropriate time period it becomes too much of a hassle after a while. Maybe if they’re treated with respect in the first place they won’t make such nasty comments.
I think this forum could be a lot of fun, but in its current form it’s an absolute joke. There’s a good reason novice home cooks, restaurant owners, and chefs don’t contribute to this site – they get beat on. Until the negativity halts this problem is going to persist.