When large egos meets instant criticism, sparks tend to fly in real time.
So it proved in a Houston restaurant the other night when the management took exception to a customer's socially networked opinion.
The Houston Press was the first to digest what happened. It seems that Allison Hiromi was having drinks at a place called Down House--perhaps not the cheeriest name for a restaurant.
She overheard a conversation in which a bartender said something none too flattering about another Houston bar-owner.
The culinary world in Houston--with which I have some small familiarity--is at least as touchy as it is touchy-feely. Hiromi reportedly was not enamored of the words she'd heard. So, as many a a diner does these days, she tweeted that the derogatory speaker--a Down House barman--was a twerp.
She also added the slightly off-color hashtag #jackoff. Whether she meant to refer to the great Croatian composer Jakov Gotovac is unclear.
What is clear is that the restaurant was graced with a phone call from its general manager, the rakishly named Forrest DeSpain. He wanted a chinwag with Hiromi.
You will be tempted to tip your chin into your consomme when I tell you that there now exist slightly different versions of this chinwag. Or at least different versions of its tone. The substance was clear. Hiromi was asked to leave.
Naturally, she tweeted: "Left @DownHouseHTX in tears after GM called up & asked the bartender to hand me the phone. He proceeded to curse a me & ask me to leave. Wow."
In what some might see as a heinous reprisal, the restaurant reportedly unfollowed Hiromi on Twitter and even blocked her. You might imagine that there is a personal element here. Hiromi, indeed, has received a Houston Web award for her tweets (Best Late Night Twitterer), so she can't be described as an ordinary customer.
The restaurant business, though, is surely one where criticism is entirely first nature. For many customers, a restaurant only has one chance to get it right. Many restaurants are incapable of doing that on a regular basis. In just the last few weeks, I have been served a cadaver-cold $28 steak, a $10 salad that had been swimming in an indeterminate solution for at least 24 hours, and a $13 glass of cabernet that was more hairnet.
And yet, if you own an establishment and one of your customers is rudely downing your Down House, surely your first instinct would be to toss them. Indeed, as Down House's owner, Chris Cusack, told Houston's Channel 2: "Any business is allowed to set the tone of their establishment. If you go to someone's house and start calling them names, I wouldn't really expect to stay too much longer after that."
To imagine, though, that there aren't diners who will tweet from the table and offer their instant feelings is to imagine that there is no food so great as that in the Google cafeteria.
Indeed, wouldn't it be wonderful if more diners used Twitter in order to express their instant opinions? It would be so much more polite than having to use code to a server. ("Did you enjoy that?" "OH, YES!!")
How much fun it would be if the general manager would rush over to table after table offering: "You thought our veal escalope tasted like poached raccoon paw?" Or: "You really believe the beouf en croute tasted like sauteed slipper?"
DeSpain has surely set a trend. Here was a general manager so dedicated that, late at night, he monitored his restaurant's Twitter feed. Perhaps the next time you're in Houston--let's hope it's on business--you might go to Down House and tweet about the food. I wonder how many courses you'll last.