Why Peter Luger got that ONE STAR review and what that means for Broadway.

And we thought the theater critics were tough?

A few weeks ago, a NY Times restaurant critic wrote a searing “zero-star” review of the world-famous Peter Luger steak house in Brooklyn, saying he felt “scammed” after dining at what has been consistently referred to as one of the “top 10 meat joints in the world.”

There was a response from the restaurant, and even more responses from the readers (so many, that the Times did a follow up article on the comments themselves – most of which supported the critical smackdown!).

What got me about the review wasn’t the vitriol with which it was written.  I’ve gotten used to that at the Times . . . and from critics all over. (By the way, I don’t even blame the critics anymore.  See, this review proves it . . . critics get more “pageviews” when they write nastier reviews. More pageviews equals job protection for the critic . . . maybe even advancement. That means, it is in a critic’s own best interest to write more negative reviews than positive.  That means . . . well, you get it.)

But back to the steak . . .

What got me about this review was, well, NOT the steak.

If you read the review, you’ll see that Pete Wells, the reviewer, doesn’t even talk about the food until halfway through the review.  That’s right, a restaurant review that’s only half about what he ate.

Instead, he starts with the way he is greeted at the door or “processed.”  Then there’s the wait time to be seated, even if you had a reservation. Then there’s how you have to order food and drinks at the bar from two different servers.  Then there is the antiquated policy of no credit cards (!). Then there’s the gruff attitude from the servers that people used to justify by saying it was “part of the experience,” but now Mr. Wells just calls out as rude.

Eventually, he gets to the food.

And sure, he didn’t like that either.  But I’d bet the price of a porterhouse-for-four that had his experience been better before Mr. Wells put a bite in his mouth, this review never would have been the review-heard-round-the-world that it was.

Peter Luger, whatever your business is . . . and certainly, Broadway can’t get away with treating its customers like it used to.  We can’t expect people to show up just because our “meat and potatoes” is good, even if the conditions we serve it in is shit.  They just won’t take it anymore. Because they just don’t need to take it anymore. There are plenty of other options for everyone.

Broadway has gotten better.  No doubt. Shoot, there was a time when we wouldn’t even give people seat locations when they put down their credit cards.  (And it wasn’t too long ago we wouldn’t let them pay with credit cards at the TKTS booth.)

But if we think we can get away with uncomfortable seats and overflowing restrooms and hard-to-navigate ticket-buying websites for too much longer, we’re going to end up like Luger’s.

With everyone saying, “Remember when we liked going there?  What were we thinking . . . “

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We had a critics panel at our Super Conference a few weeks ago, talking about what they look for when critiquing a show in 2019.  Want to see what they said? Click here to get the archive of videos.

  • Lawrence Bloch says:

    Was it a “one star” as your headline states or “zero-star” review, as your article states in the second sentence?

  • Sgt Daniel McCaughan says:

    Peter Luger‘s received a one star review because that is precisely what they deserved. The truth of the matter is, it’s almost like the “Emperors New Clothes”. They have been riding on their reputation for so long that no one would dare question anything. Once the veneer was removed and the rude treatment forced the diner to take off his sunglasses and truly look at everything, he saw and tasted the difference between what it was and what it is now.
    Broadway is the same. I have personally attended some shows that other people have paid over $1000 for a ticket to see the same show, and if I were not such a gentleman I would’ve walked out during intermission because the show was that bad. And yes – some are major headliners still running today. If someone pays $1000 a ticket, they will force themselves to say they enjoyed the show and rave about it to their friends. They do not want to be embarrassed and tell everyone they spent $1000 only to discover the emperor was actually naked.

  • Sgt Daniel McCaughan says:

    P.S. – For the record, I will be dining at Sparks midtown this Saturday. Let’s see how that goes.

  • I have a complete theory on this topic, and it’s all about “Transition Boundaries”. Each experience has an emotional and intellectual component. Entering Lugers (a transition boundary) being greeted (TB), being seated, ordering drinks, etc etc. Each separate interaction provides a unique opportunity to have a meaningful emotional experience as well as the logical one. Most people are oblivious to this. Good for Ken to highlight the key point of needing to focus on the actual needs of the public.

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