One thing the internet does a bad job conveying is that restaurants are evolving, breathing organisms. Staff turnover is high, and a menu on Aug. 1 may look vastly different by Sept. 1. Good restaurants recalibrate and tweak, especially after a bad public lashing—if a critic pans, say, the lamb chops for being overcooked and oversalted, you better believe the chef is going to fix that dish right away.
Which is why when reading a restaurant review, be it on Yelp or from a newspaper critic, it’s best to view it merely as a snapshot in the life of a restaurant. What’s dangerous is if you read a negative review from 2014 and expect nothing’s changed in 2018.
This may explain why Oceana Grill, a restaurant in New Orleans’ French Quarter, had sued Gordon Ramsay and the producers of Kitchen Nightmares. According to the The New Orleans Advocate, the restaurant group behind Oceana Grill filed a suit in the Orleans Parish Civil District Court with claims of defamation and is seeking monetary damages.
Now, Kitchen Nightmares stopped airing new episodes on FOX four years ago. And the episode featuring Oceana Grill was broadcast back in 2011. So what changed?
At issue is a clip from Kitchen Nightmares that was posted on its Facebook page a few weeks ago (which has since been taken down, but only after it racked up 1.5 million-plus views). According to the Advocate, the clip featured Ramsay “vomiting after opening a bin of shrimp” as well as finding dead mice caught in the rat trap. The parent company of Oceana Grill said: “none of the above-described events were real, but were contrived and orchestrated by defendants to manufacture drama for their show.” The restaurant also claims that back when the episode aired in 2011, they reached an agreement with the show’s production company that restricted usage of clips in the future.
Clearly I’m no legal scholar. The show may claim it’s all “for entertainment purposes only,” and the restaurant signed away rights when it allowed itself to be filmed. But just as truth isn’t truth in some circles, any real-life businesses viewed through the lens of a reality show will likely be distorted. I loved the BBC America version of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares, but couldn’t stomach the American version—its use of melodramatic music, what I presume to be fictional dramatic licenses, and Ramsay’s hyperbolic reactions always felt over-the-top. If I didn’t know better, and scrolled through my Facebook timeline and saw Ramsay retching at shrimp, I sure as hell wouldn’t add Oceana Grill to my New Orleans dining itinerary. And therein lies the problem. Because restaurants evolve, and good restaurants learn from their mistakes—no matter how real or manufactured it was—and become better restaurants. You’re not getting context in a 7-year-old “fail” video.