A Taste of Reality

By | May 30th, 2017

Joe Barks, Editor, Club & Resort Business

Unfortunately, in this case the barrage of brutal food criticisms was not just delivered to a club or resort manager, but to the million or so people who read The Washington Post each day.

Imagine if you opened your e-mail in-box one day, or found a letter on your desk, and someone had written this to you about the food at your property:

“Your snack of clam hush puppies appears to be part of a black-pepper promotion. My encounter with a chewy clam found me saying ‘no, thanks’ to the rest of the appetizer. There’s so much breading in the crab cake, it ought to be billed as a crouton. The black bean soup has the consistency of a dip. The kale and butternut salad had only trace amounts of the squash. The barbecued pulled pork is too sweet, the trout is leathery, the veal is bland, and the pork chop is dry.”

Upon receiving and reading something like this, you would no doubt want to hastily arrange a meeting between the writer, yourself and your chef, to try to address, smooth over and remedy such dangerous objections and perceptions, before they could be spread any further among your membership or clientele.

Unfortunately, in this case the barrage of brutal food criticisms was not just delivered to a club or resort manager, but to the million or so people who read The Washington Post each day, in print and online. The writer was food critic Tom Sietsema, and his caustic comments came in a review that had an even more damning headline: “At The Greenbrier, ‘Everything is Possible’—Except a Great Dinner.”

That’s right—Sietsema directed his culinary condemnations at the historic resort that has been associated through the years with renowned chefs like the late Peter Timmins and Rich Rosendale, as well as many others who trained under them and are now running the kitchens of top club and resort properties throughout the U.S.

Sietsema—who wrote his review after an anonymous three-day stay at the property in March, during which he ate at a half-dozen of the property’s 20 food-and-beverage options—did sample some dishes that he found worthy of complimenting in the article. But that must have been of little consolation to current management, especially with his conclusion that his visit led him to discover “the need for some TLC in The Greenbrier’s kitchens.”

To be sure, food critics can be snarky and snobby, and it’s an open question just how many people might decide not to go to The Greenbrier, or to not eat there once on the property, because of some writer’s objection to a chewy clam. The scathing review will probably prove to be just another bump in the crazy roller-coaster ride The Greenbrier’s been on recently, with the property experiencing devastating floods last year and its owner, Jim Justice, then being elected Governor of West Virginia. It’s a property that’s survived a lot worse in its rich history, and it’s always been managed by talented professionals who know how to address even the most uncomfortable situations and turn them into teaching moments.

Still, Sietsema’s review can also serve as a reality check for any property that might think it can ride on its reputation or is immune to anything but praise for its products and service. Probably the most valuable part of his article was the reminder that comes from the middle of its headline: Everything is Possible.

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