There’s No Business Like Show Business—Except Food Service

Fred Sampson

Does that sound strange? Take a look at these similarities. Have you ever stopped to consider that every day you open the doors of your operation, it is the equivalent of a Broadway show and you and your staff will be judged by your performance? Did you ever think that you could be or have already been written up by a food critic, either in some form of the media or a social network?

We, too, have our own well-known star performers, such as world-class culinary artists and even first-rate producers—better known as proprietors with creative minds. We also have many talented interior designers, who create outstanding surroundings, and casts of thousands of performers—better known as waitstaff—who must know their lines (menu descriptions) and act appropriately for the event to succeed.

Like in show business, we also have had many flops, unfortunately: individuals who either did not have the resources or experience to master the qualities necessary to develop and manage a successful operation.

When taken together, the words theater and dining create the perfect synergism; their combined action is greater in total effect than each of their effects alone.

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While it may seem like a stretch, we each operate in single-purpose buildings. A theater is a theater. If you want to use it for something else, you have to gut it; same with a food service facility. That makes many funding institutions squeamish when it comes to financing either one.

The disparities are also remarkable: for example, government intervention. I offer the following. No one tells them how many laughs there must be in comedy in order for it to be called a comedy. Or when to reveal the killer in a mystery. There are no inspectors visiting theaters to grade the level of acting, such as A, B, or C, in motion picture and live theater houses … and there shouldn’t be. In most cases with local health departments, you either pass or fail and have X amount of days to get your act together, or else. The theater can also have an “early bird” performance on Sunday if they wish—before noon.

For a more serious comparison, while critics in both industries can be tough, the difference for the legitimate theater and movie reviews is that they appear the next day and are written by a person very familiar with the field, and that’s it. However, a restaurant can be reviewed every day and everywhere by anybody.

Most all theater reviews are published by printed media or local TV and radio stations, and the reviewer identifies himself or herself; not so with social media. To the best of my knowledge, with the exception of the state of Virginia, most social media sites that permit reviews do not require you to identify yourself. That is not only unfair, but can be destructive. What is to stop a competitor or a former employee from writing a scathing review and not signing it? How does the restaurant owner in question answer it? Read on.

If your operation has been the recipient of negative comments, you’ll want to be extremely careful how you respond. Vivian Wagner, owner of V Creative Enterprises, LLC, has developed “5 Tips for Responding Positively to Negative Online Comments,” which I discussed in a column about 18 months ago.

I have summarized a portion that I felt was right on target.

“Respond appropriately. Reading negative comments about your business, your employees, or your product or services can make you want to justify yourself and claim the commenter is just wrong, misinformed, or simply off the mark. While these are natural reactions, they won’t help your social media presence. Whatever you do, don’t say the problem is a result of something the commenter has done—even if you think it is true. Never take a comment personally and write something emotional or accusatory in return. Instead, pay attention to what’s being said and then respond in a balanced, professional, and appropriate way.

“Probably the most important reason to respond to comments—both negative and positive—is that everyone else is reading them. Although many people won’t comment themselves, they’ll read the comments of others and pay close attention to how your business

“Responding to negative comments is a chance for you to demonstrate how caring, thoughtful, and engaged your business is and how it solves potential problems. If you show that your business listens to and responds to feedback in an appropriate manner, you’re creating a sense of trust which will go far beyond the particular comments you’re dealing with at any given moment.”

I have been and will continue to suggest that no matter the size of your operation, you should have a social media monitoring service. They are relatively inexpensive, and offer you a chance to address any harmful remarks aimed at your business. A Google search results in a long list of these firms.

As you know, the worst complaint is the silent complaint, so when an unhappy or disappointed guest takes the time to go online with their complaint, it is worthy of a response and offers you a chance to keep or win back your guest. You’ll never know unless you have someone surfing the Web.

And yes, there is another similarity. If you turn in a top performance, you can win a Tony for the legitimate theater group, an Oscar for the motion picture segment, and a James Beard Award for food service. Remember, you heard it here first!

Fred G. Sampson
Fred G. Sampson is the retired President Emeritus of the New York State Restaurant Association. He began working with NYSRA in 1961. Within the next four years the NYSRA more than tripled its membership and expanded from one regional chapter to eight. Sampson played roles in representing restaurants on issues including paid sick leave, minimum wage, liquor laws, a state-wide alcohol training program and insurance plans. Comments may be sent to