This chef has no reservations about canceling diners.
California chef Michael Jones admitted to Googling guests before they arrive to screen for potential red flags — like a history of leaving negative reviews or being rude to restaurant workers. He then documented and blacklisted wannabe patrons at his establishment.
The Carmel Valley-based vineyard chef’s controversial habit emerged after a tweet by Adam Reiner of Restaurant Manifesto on March 30 that read: “Hospitality isn’t Googling your guests before they arrive.”
That’s when Jones admitted to revoking reservations if a guest doesn’t measure up to his standards.
“Disagree. We check TripAdvisor and [Yelp for] possible problems, then cancel,” Jones tweeted, defending his social media “background check,” adding, “[Facebook] sometimes gives clues to make their visit unique.”
The chef behind the now-closed countryside restaurant Cachagua General Store —described as “bottom of the barrel” and “awful” by some users on TripAdvisor — would apparently use the online directory Spokeo to discover patrons’ identities by plugging in their phone numbers, then troll sites like Yelp, TripAdvisor and Facebook. If they appeared to be serial bad reviewers or displayed rude manners, he would prevent them from eating his food by unceremoniously canceling their reservations, Bon Appétit reported.
The veteran chef — who has reportedly gone as far as spraying a patron with a fire extinguisher for smoking a cigar, according to local reports — defended his “Big Brother” approach, upholding his no-tolerance policy for what he views as bad behavior to prevent staffers from being subjected to mistreatment.
“You’re coming into my house … mine, the servers’, the cooks’, my wife’s, everybody who works here. And I don’t tolerate misbehaviors,” he told Bon Appétit of his restaurant rules. He said his habit stems from an incident in 2015 when a group of diners left “scathing negative reviews” he claimed were “false.”
Jones told Bon Appétit he’d lie and say the restaurant was closed if he didn’t think a diner fit the bill of his restaurant’s vibe.
“Sometimes we just knew there was no way; they were clearly not suitable for coming to our place,” he said. “They’re not going to drive an hour into the countryside and be comfortable sitting under paper curtains on a concrete floor with a possibility of a feral Chihuahua wandering through. So we’d call back and say ‘Hey, I’m sorry, the plumbing broke’ or something,” he said.
Jones went on to note he used to have a Google Doc he shared with “four or five other local restaurants” to document blacklisted guests.
“We only put people on there that were egregiously bad or amazingly wonderful. Most of the time people are great. But each restaurant can then decide if they want to deal with the tough customers or not,” Jones said.
At his catering company, A Moveable Feast, he reportedly documents diners he banned for misbehavior in his notes alongside customers’ wine preferences. Still, he told Bon Appétit, he knows most of his customers and doesn’t have to be as extreme as he once was.
“It’s very unlikely that anyone we don’t know would make a reservation here at A Moveable Feast. So no, we haven’t done it much lately. If there’s a catering gig, we’ll Google people and try and figure out who they are — not for negative purposes but for positive ones,” he told the food publication.
While doing a quick search on diners before they arrive has become common among some upscale restaurants, so that they can cater the experience to consumer preferences or dietary restrictions, blacklisting someone for leaving a negative review is less embraced, particularly at a time when businesses need all the customers they can get while the industry continues to rebound after COVID-related shutdowns. Table reservations were down 53.2% citywide since 2020, The Post reported in March.
Not everyone agrees with Jones’ rogue response to criticism, with some TripAdvisor users calling it “foul,” according to Bon Appétit.