Tom Douglas uses radio show to Yelp a Capitol Hill restaurant

There is lots of talk these days about the dangers of social media. But it was decidedly old media that has put Tom Douglas’s foot in his Seattle all-star restauranteur mouth following his decision to use an awful experience at an unnamed Capitol Hill restaurant as an example of “what not to do” on his KIRO radio program. Douglas’s biggest mistake? In the new media era, there’s really no such thing as an unnamed restaurant.

“So, last night, I’m up on Capitol Hill. I have my 2-year-old niece with me…” the story begins on Douglas’s Seattle Kitchen episode that aired last Saturday and is available online below.


More audio at MyNorthwest.com

What follows is a litany of transgressions against Douglas and his party of four that seem to have crawled straight from the bowels of Yelp. 

  • The restaurant should have more seats
  • The restaurant was out of 2 of the 5 reds on its wine list
  • It was out of the liquor to make the “specialty” cocktail table ordered
  • The appetizers were “pretty good”
  • The waitress, “sketchy”
  • Ordered entrees at 6:50p hoping to get out in time for Grammy’s broadcast. By 7:50p only 2 of 5 entrees had arrived.
  • Entrees were a “B”
  • Paid and wouldn’t let owner take the unserved entrees off the check.
  • Owner of the restaurant “recognized me” (OK, here’s where it get less Yelpy)

“Our food needs help. Would you consider helping us out on our food?” Douglas says the restaurant’s owner asked him in a moment of likely star-struck hope and, apparently well-placed, nervous dread. Douglas doesn’t say what he said to the restaurant owner at that point.

It took readers at foodie news blog Eater Seattle all of one comment to nail down the secret Capitol Hill restaurant’s identity thanks to the numerous identifying attributes Douglas includes in his broadcast:

  • Interior is prettier than expected
  • Mixed reviews on Yelp
  • Hanna Raskin said it was shaky 
  • Five red wines on their red wine list
  • 10 specialty cocktails
  • Appetizers were pretty good (B or B+)
  • Owner comes from a restaurant family
  • 5 months old

The list of restaurants that opened on the Hill in October is surprisingly lengthy: Bako, Momiji, Terra Plata, and Altura. The list of those restaurants nailed by Hanna Raskin is short. Though one could argue that her mayo-focused opinion of Momiji is also “shaky.” Add our information on Keeman Wong’s family background in the restaurant business, and the commenters were pretty sure about it. Douglas was burying Bako — even if he didn’t mean to.

“I haven’t had an experience like I had last night in quite awhile,” Douglas summed things up. 

“This one’s just not going to make it.”

Douglas tells CHS he didn’t intend for the fingers to be pointed at a specific restaurant and would not confirm that he was speaking about Bako.

“That never occurred to me. That wasn’t the point,” Douglas told CHS on Tuesday. “They were suffering through the same issues we had faced — a comedy of errors.”

He also said he isn’t planning an apology. “I didn’t intend for it to be taken that way and if I wanted to say anything like that I would say it to the restaurant owner in person and not on the blog,” Douglas said.

Douglas did pop up in the comments on the Eater post where issue was first raised after the Seattle PI posted about the show:

Thierry and I have a very fun radio show every Saturday and Sunday on KIRO where we talk restaurants and our love for them. We both have been through the trials and tribulations of opening restaurants and know that it is an incredibly difficult business. In the 23 years I’ve had my own restaurants we have both enjoyed terrific reviews and have learned from the less than fantastic reviews. When I talk of restaurants, my goal is to never burry anyone, but be constructive in my criticism. –Tom Douglas

We asked Bako’s Wong to comment on the situation and if he was willing to confirm that Douglas had visited his restaurant earlier this month but haven’t heard back.

But we’re fans of constructive criticism. If you have advice — constructive advice — for any Capitol Hill restaurant Douglas might visit next, let us know in comments. Or tell it to the restaurant owner in person and not on the blog. Your choice.

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37 thoughts on “Tom Douglas uses radio show to Yelp a Capitol Hill restaurant

  1. His review summed up my experience at Bako. Out of several things and it took an hour after ordering my entree for it to arrive even though there couldn’t have been 15 other people in the space. Also, three different people waited on me so it was unclear who I was tipping in the end…

  2. Well in a nutshell I think this place is a waste of time. I took my daughter her and we ordered two entrees and an appetizer. My entree was delivered to the table about an hour after I ordered. And I waited politely for my daughter’s entree, and waited, and waited. I had to ask for it. She is 8 years order and was getting the chicken dish with a side of rice. It finally came, but I had to ask twice for her side of rice. The chicken was cook “French” style which really made it inedible for her or me. I sent it back to have them cook it more and it still was inedible. She had rice for dinner. And our appetizer came well after the entrees. We have recently gone to Lucky 8, and we LOVE it!!!! Save you money and have a better time at Lucky 8. When We go out we like to eat Asian, and she will always say, “Daddy, not the place where the appetizers came last.”

  3. Tom Douglas must get amazing service everywhere he goes, because this is in no way a comedy of errors. It’s a not great night out, but definitely not unusually bad for mere mortals.

  4. the blogs didn’t name the restaurant, the commenters did. and all you have to do is listen to tom’s podcast to hear his comments and it’s pretty easy to figure out who he’s talking about.

    welcome to the 21st century and connected social media! be careful what you say online.

  5. Ive had nothing but excellent experiences in Douglas’ restaurants the last 20 years, I’m sure he expects nothing less when hes on the other side and a customer. You should as well.

    If a place has shitty service, doesn’t know how to order, nor can train staff in how to expedite a kitchen and serve their customers entrees o time and together, they deserve all the bad press they can get. They keep this up and they’re done.

  6. I agree: we all want to bitch about the crappy experience we had somewhere the other night, but when you have the visibility and media clout (deserved or not) of a local celebrity, you need to be more aware of the potential impact regardless of your intent. I believe Tom could have brought up many or most of the issues he raised with his experience in a more generic way, addressing the industry as a whole, and it would have still entertained or educated his listeners without starting drama around a newcomer to the industry.

  7. Jay: Exactly. Bako (since every thinks that’s who it is) is definitely NOT a competitor. Tom is the big, bad restaurant tycoon using his pubic forum to crush a little ant restaurant like Bako. Shows really bad form and is extremely tacky. A$$hole move, really. It’s one thing for CUSTOMERS to review places on Yelp, or professional restaurant owners to criticize bad restaurants. ANOTHER restaurant owner? Really classless. Especially because Tom is so rich and successful and presumably the owner of Bako confided in him for advice. Just saying…

  8. Yeah, shame on Tom for having a mediocre-at-best dining experience in line with my own and that of several posters here and on Seattle Eater, Urbanspoon, Yelp, and so on, and having the temerity to express an opinion about it–never mind the fact that he omitted the restaurant’s name. ARO, I reject your characterization of legitimate objective criticisms as “shit-talking.”

    When and if Bako succumbs to its flaws, Tom’s experience and pubice comments about them will have been a symptom of the disease, not a cause.

  9. knowing Tom Douglas talked shit about Bako would ordinarily make me WANT to go there, solely because I assume he’s just talking shit to be a dick.

    Seeing all the other comments about how shitty the place is why I will never go. I assume somebody with several restaurants and a personal sense of greatness in the industry to be a snob. The people talking shit are the untrained folks off the street.

    I hope for Bako’s sake they get it together and damn quick!

  10. I don’t find it to be bad form in the least. He spoke as a critic and his opinions seem to be in line with other reviews of the restaurant. He didn’t even name the restaurant, refused to corroborate speculation and even this blog couldn’t name Bako with certainty. But because he’s a successful restauranteur and minor celebrity he’s supposed to shut up and not say a thing about a bad experience? He’s crushing an ant by pointing out some seriously bad problems? I say bring it on. If the owner of the restaurant hasn’t gotten their act together in response to lousy reviews from the people who’ve been there before TD, then maybe this is precisely the thing that will cause them to get it together.

    And based on my own experiences at TD’s restaurants, excellent and timely service is as high a priority as the food. That’s been made evident to me on several occasions including one encounter with Tom himself (as I learned later) where my party received an effusive apology for a longer than expected wait to be seated. And once seated, we were greeted with comped appetizers and enjoy prompt, attentive service there on out. It’s not just the food that makes a restaurant a success and a place people return to…

  11. There are so many things wrong with this. As a restauranteur, TD should really tread more carefully. He should err on the side of being supportive, not on the side of snarkiness.
    Then there is the question of TD’s restaurants and their quality or lack of it. How would TD like it if other folks in the industry publicly trashed restaurants as mediocre as his, say ….. Right! Though I am not going to name the place, one really could easily do so, because, in fact, more than one of TD’s establishments would have a tough time rising above that mark. In one, in particular, it has been my bad luck to “enjoy” some of the worst food and silliest service in town.
    As somebody who has risen to the top of the game and whose restaurants have been a school to many other talented chefs, cooks, etc., TD should get out of the business of “improv restaurant criticism”. A practice that is questionably solid at best, even when left to the alleged “professionals”, becomes altogether sticky when the one exercising it is the owner of one of the largest restaurant groups in the city.
    There are many noble, useful, fun, and interesting topics that Thierry and TD can discuss in their radio segment. However, restaurant reviews should definitely not be one of them. TD’s “non intentional non review” of Bako was a boo-boo.

  12. It’s common these days to have several servers during the course of a meal…I don’t like it either, but it’s the way it often is. My understanding is that servers at most restaurants “pool” their tips and divvy up the total to various staff members. So, even if you have only one server, your tip is not really going to that person, but to various staff who were not directly involved in serving you.
    This doesn’t seem OK to me and makes me not want to tip at all. Maybe the European model is better after all.

  13. I agree. Tom Douglas is a great restaurant owner, but he is not a food critic and should not comment like one. Most real food critics make several visits to a place before they write their review, and it’s unfair for Douglas to comment on a place on the basis of only one visit. A slam by him has the same effect as 20 slams on Yelp by anonymous customers.

    I’ve only been once to Bako, but I had an excellent experience there, with delicious food (chicken hot pot). And please note that Douglas gave the food a “B,” which isn’t too bad coming from someone of his experience.

  14. This man is granted a public forum to discuss his trade and his opinions on certain restaraunts.. He has been on Top Chef giving advice to them and what not so im not sure why many of you say he isnt qualified. He knows the Business and what he experienced was not up to par.. im sure if the majority of you had a radio show you all would be on it in a minute naming the restaraunt and giving diva sass… Look if the place really is as bad as all of you say..then let them see and hear this .. as much as we want a non pho or thai place succeed on this hill they need to step it up. dont make Tom the bad guy for stating what happened. Bako made it happen , put the blame on them and tell em to step it up..

  15. capicola: You’re missing my point. It isn’t “objective criticism” when it’s coming from a fellow restaurant owner/competitor. Don’t you see an inherent conflict of interest? Like I said, nothing wrong with pro restaurant critics and the dining public (via Yelp, etc.) to criticize. But a restaurant owner using a media platform to slam a another restaurant is pretty low.

  16. People say Yelpers are untrained. Well, now you have a guy who knows what he is talking about. This place is going down anyway, plenty of bad reviews long before this. Go to Chinatown for cheaper and better.

  17. . . . if he wasn’t so right. I’ve eaten at Bako several times now (maybe 5 or 6) and I like a lot about it, but it’s just so broken in some ways. They are always out of at least one of the specialty cocktails, and frequently they’re out of multiple food items, even early on a Friday night when any restaurant worth its salt would be stocked to the gills for the weekend. The service is spotty, the food is sometimes on time, sometimes interminably slow. What keeps me coming back is that I really like the food. I like the cuisine concept they’re going for and the execution is typically great. I get sad every time I go, I’m sitting there eating great food and really enjoying it, but knowing that they’re probably not going to stick around much longer if they don’t get their act together. What a shame.

  18. I am not going to believe any of this information until I experience it for myself. Especially when the restaurant in question is in close proximity to one of TD’s restaurants.

    Sometimes it is hard to distinguish the untrained folks on the street from the coordinated corporate PR attack.

  19. “Especially when the restaurant in question is in close proximity to one of TD’s restaurants.”

    ?? There’s no Tom Douglas restaurant on the Hill that I’m aware of.

  20. You know, I don’t know. Every time I’ve been to Byzantian (for example) over the last few years the service has been the most dreadfully slow service I’ve ever encountered. I still love the food though. The place also has a fantastic atmosphere on sunny summer days. I think certain places you just have to roll with it. Part of the, dare I say, charm of Byzantian is hanging out with some wine and chatting for 45 minutes before the order arrives. Americans are so obsessed with having everything now now now and pay attention to me me me. Just sit back and relax. It’s dinner, not a race.

    Also (to overhyped Tom Douglas), sometimes liquors and wines run out. They aren’t continuously flowing. Waitstaff can look “different” but be absolutely amazing. Also, more seats? Seriously? Wahhhh. Do your research before you dine, Mr. Douglas?

  21. Regent Bakery and Cafe is going to clean up now anyway. And rightfully so. Nice to have a real decent Chinese restaurant in Seattle proper finally.

  22. Seattle is full of pansies. This city doesn’t allow for any creativity, spendy fine-dining, critique or ownership to wrong doings. There is something completely broken in the entire scene. Chefs are shunned for creating tasting menu only establishments, for charging more then $25 dollars for an entree, and for $10 cocktails. Hell yeah people run out of wine and booze but, they fu**ing shouldn’t, its what EVERY cook and owner should learn MISE EN PLACE! But, guess what, so one wants to pay enough to keep cellars and bars chock full of booze. Our foods critics dance around the real issues and never bash a place for being shitty, not EVERY restaurant is good, especially just because it’s new. Terra plata sucks, pretty space but, their brunch is ok. Coterie Room is like having a gallon of cream 2 pounds of butter then finishing it all off with a foie gras milkshake gross, Lucky 8 is ok but, drive 3 minutes down 12th and you can eat cheaper better chinese in the ID. This city needs new diners or someone to all of a sudden back something with some actual balls, I hope for the best but I sadly think we are the place where chefs might start going to die.

  23. I thought of this episode as I was sitting with three other diners at Tom’s Italian place Cuoco in South Lake Union last night, waiting literally 5+ minutes for anyone to so much as acknowledge our presence after we’d been seated. No water, no drink orders, no “Hi, I’ll be right with you.” We’re looking around in vain for a friendly face to even notice we’re sitting there. Maybe it’s just one of MY dining-out pet peeves — you just want someone to let you know that THEY know you’re there within maybe a minute of sitting down, and Tom’s crew completely blew it. I actually like Cuoco a lot, and we went on to have a great meal and more than competent service, so this isn’t a rant against the joint, but it does show that on any given night, things can go wrong . . . even at one of Tom’s places.

    I haven’t had an experience like that in quite awhile, either, Tom.

  24. Let me get this straight….you’re whining because you had to wait FIVE MINUTES for a server to appear? That’s really not very long…have just a little patience, for god’s sake!

  25. It does often seem like restaurant critics are loathe to say anything critical. However, there are exceptions….the relatively new critic for The Weekly (Hannah Raskin) tells is like it is and is not afraid of expressing some negatives.

  26. I am afraid that you are missing the point. The issue is not whether the restaurant in question is as good or bad as TD made it sound. The point is that as a restaurant owner of his stature and power it is wrong and abusive to trash any restaurant the way he did. Moreover, it is plain mean to publicly humiliate the owner of the said restaurant who, having recognized TD, asked for his input in making the restaurant better.

    Would you respect and trust your doctor if he started trashing other fellow doctors in a radio show? How about if it were your lawyer? Or your college professor?

    The point is that TD is not a restaurant critic and should not pretend to be one. Dang, the point might even be that many restaurant critics in the city should not even pretend to be that…. No, that is another story altogether. The point is that TD made a grand boo-boo, big mean grand boo-boo.

  27. Well a) I’m not “whining.”
    And b) I realize that objectively, 5 minutest isn’t long.
    But c) when I sit down for a fairly important meal, and nobody even passes by the table for 5 minutes, 5 minutes seems like a pretty long time. Check the time next time you’re seated at a nice place and on the off chance you’re ignored for 5 minutes, see how long that actually feels, especially when you’ve got people hankering for a cocktail. It’s just an ominous start to the evening, that’s all.

    I would guess that if you asked Tom Douglas how service should go, he’d say 5 minutes of no service is not what he strives for in his joints. So my point was simply that he’s not immune to glitches at his restaurants..

  28. I wouldn’t mind if my doc trashed another doc on a radio show (or lawyer, etc). I would figure they’re in a better position to know.

    Just because someone’s a potential “rival” doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to be critical. Since you know the comment is coming from a potential rival, you take it w/a grain of salt. No need to say “He shouldn’t comment because he owns a restaurant too!”

  29. Uh, yes calhoun, 5 mins is a long time to wait.

    Time it sometime. When you next want a drink of water, wait 5 mins before you go to get it. It’ll be a much longer time than you think.

    You come across as more of a whiner than the orig poster.

    Within the 1st 5 minutes of sitting down you should have water and a menu. If busy, the server can at the very least drop the menus off quickly and say “I’ll be with you shortly.” That goes a long way to appeasing the customer.

    But sometimes you have to be proactive. The last time we were at a place where no one served us (this wasn’t in Seattle), I had to go back to the front desk and ask for help. It turned out we were in a “middle” section and every server thought it someone else’s job to hit our table. Service was fine after that, but we never went back.

  30. I have been to Bako a handful of times and never had a bad meal or a bad drink there. I’ll be very sad indeed to see it go! Especially loved the man tou pork but really, everything was good. Tom Douglas overstepped — a big name guy like him shouldn’t be publicly dissing little eateries. Shame on him.