A toothy entrepreneur in Manhattan Beach, California, caused a media ripple after LA Times business columnist David Lazarus expressed outrage over ReviewerCard. Pay company founder Brad Newman $100 and prove that you’re a “prolific” writer of online reviews, and Newman sends back a simple black card embossed with your name, along with a rather menacing simple statement in all caps: I WRITE REVIEWS.
You hand the card to your restaurant server before the meal starts, or to a hotel desk clerk before she assigns you a room, and you get treated better than if the establishment didn’t know you were merely an anonymous citizen who will not take to Yelp or TripAdvisor and tell the world that you had an experience that most definitely highly sucked.
That’s the idea, anyway, though Newman—whose main gig is marketing for dentists—tells Lazarus the idea is not extortion. “I'm going to review them anyway," Lazarus quotes Newman. “So why not let them know in advance? It's not hurting anyone."
Cue the outrage. Lazarus says this shows “how the culture of amateurism that was once one of the Internet's more endearing qualities has become a free-for-all unburdened by any thought of ethics or moral integrity.” Eater's headline was emphatic: “ReviewerCard Takes Extorting Restaurants to a New Level.” “Meet the schmuck of 2013 (and it’s only January),” the London food critic Jay Rayner tweeted about Newman. “What a toss-pot.”
Take it from me, a connoisseur of outrage: This particular shit storm is a very poor use of outrage. First, this is a douchey product that makes you pay $100 for a plastic card that’s essentially useless, except as something to whip out of your wallet at a potluck when conversation lags. (And anyway, couldn't you just make your own I WRITE REVIEWS card, without paying some guy in Manhattan Beach?)
Second—hello! 2013!—everybody writes amateur reviews these days. (Let me amend that: Everybody except people of my mom’s generation, and most of them just don’t post stuff online for fear that bad people will extort them.) Any server who thinks you’re not taking to Yelp or TripAdvisor or Chowhound after you pay the check (or even before you pay the check) is seriously stupid, or else suffers from a profound lack of experience.
(I should note that, unlike on Yelp, user discussions on Chowhound are moderated to weed out shills and others with agendas that have nothing to do with honestly describing an experience. So there.)
Besides, the servers I worked with back when I cooked in restaurants? They were masters of the sneer, of barely disguised contempt. They’d carry a ReviewerCard back to the kitchen and spend the rest of the evening verbally eviscerating the holder of it to the rest of the staff, if not actually hockering in your uni risotto.
The real story here is that Brad Newman got an LA Times columnist to take his dumbshit ReviewerCard seriously enough to hang moral outrage on. Really, Lazarus: You just now figuring out that the Internet is not a place where people are honest? Does the name Lennay Kekua mean anything to you? Maybe you should stop wasting time on ReviewerCard and hang the death of ethics on—I don’t know—Esquire food critic John Mariani, who allegedly has handed business cards to restaurateurs before sitting down. Now that's a toss-pot.