The hardest part about asking for feedback is listening and changing

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In the restaurant that I own, I Privé in downtown Burlingame we receive a lot of feedback from our customers.  Yelp, Travelocity and Facebook users send us both positive and negative reviews, all of them public.  We solicit private feedback from our diners via email.  We leave paper forms in the final bill before they pay.

While most of the feedback is positive, there is roughly 20% that is very negative, or areas where the diners tell us things could improve.  The negative feedback could be related to service, the music we play, a particular dish they didn’t like, cramp seating or just a small change like the brightness of the TV’s


I read each feedback every day, our team discuss about each feedback and talk about whether it’s something we should change.  If we agree, then we tell our team leads on the floor, in the kitchen or sushi bar.  While we believe we listen objectively, I think there is a human bias to either brush off some comments as a single person’s point of view.  We have to also keep in mind of our own subjective view.

Truly listening to negative feedback is difficult, realizing our own bias and gut reaction is the first step.


After hearing and listening to feedback, reacting and changing is the hardest.

First we can tell our team leads and they can tell the other team members, but to actually make fundamental change is hard.  It will take repeating the message, noticing when we revert back and reinforcing the message again.

In the restaurant business, the easiest type of changes to make are concrete black or white ones. When customers complaint about being cold, we add heaters.

The next hardest is to respond to complaints about food.  When a customer does like a dish, I go in and try it and tell my chefs if I think something needs improving.  In order for me to know whether something has been fixed, I will need to try the dish again.  I think we are getting better in responding to specific dishes. This is also subjective, so I try to make sure to focus on the quality instead of my personal preference.

Finally, responding to comments about service is the most difficult because we have to figure out which server it was that evening, whether the complaint is legitimate and working with the server over a long period to improve training and their behavior.

As an engineer working in the food industry, most the restaurant work is rewarding and it exercises another part of my brain and let’s me spend some time on my passion for food. Fast iteration based on realtime feedback is a lesson I learned that I can bring to my restaurant.

Tony Tam


I Privé New Summer Dish: Salmon Fiesta dish is as good as it looks


I am a partner at a modern Japanese restaurant in Burlingame, California

Our new Salmon Fiesta dish is as good as it looks. Enjoy six pieces of wild king salmon sashimi wrapped in cucumber and mango, served with sweet vinaigrette. It’s a refreshing and delightful way to begin your dining experience. And if salmon isn’t your favorite fish, the dish is also available with tuna or yellowtail.
Which fish would you try it with?

Tony Tam

Return on investment of online marketing for restaurants using Yelp, Yahoo, Google, Facebook

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In helping my friend’s modern Japanese I Privé raise awareness, we decided to try to pay for marketing on Facebook, Yelp, Yahoo, Google.  Here is what I’ve learned about the effectiveness of these companies.  Keep in mind that is this my owner personal experience and not based on a large marketing budget and only apply to a small restaurant.

When we think about marketing, it’s not just about driving people to visit the restaurant, it’s also about building a relationship over the long term so that we can communicate with current and potential customers.  The return on investment focused on long term relationship as well as sustained value.


Yelp is the first platform most people think of when they want to find a new restaurant. When we started the restaurant, we agreed that building a good reputation on Yelp is the primary focus.  To do that, we have to focus on awesome food and great service and the Yelp ratings should take care of itself.  We also agreed that we have to be listening and responding to any negative feedback and act on them.

We did pay Yelp for advertising in one of his previous restaurants and noted that the ROI for paying removing competitor ads, hosting a video, pay for view ads for similar restaurants was about $3 / click to our page.   We thought that was not worth paying for.  The main reason was that for a new restaurant, we wanted to build a good reputation on Yelp rather than just driving traffic.  So we decided to pay $0 on Yelp but focused a lot of time responding to customer.

We do love Yelp’s transactional business model.  The integration with Locu for $20/ month.  The integration with online reservation with for $99/month.   These services are well worth the money.  I did an analysis of Opentable, the cost would have been about 8 times the rate of  We had the luxury of too many people wanting to get in, so we didn’t need the exposure of Opentable for immediate term traffic.

Future: We spend 50% our time focused on paying attention to Yelp and responding to our customers.  We would love to integrate with Eat24 as well once the pricing model looks better.

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When we looked at our referral data for our website, Yahoo and Bing combined to have < 1% of referral.  We decided to first focused on improving our SEO and make sure when users looked for ‘i prive’ they would find us.  We worked on this for 3 months, even thought the current search for ‘i prive’ still has a suggestion for ‘in private’, our website appears to be #2 in the search result.

At the 3rd month of opening, we decided to spend buying native ads on Yahoo Gemini.  The Gemini ads appear on mobile, desktop and search on and other * sites.  To my surprise, we saw a 0.07% click through rate.  While that doesn’t sound like a lot, the CPC was $0.48 which is almost 6 times better than Yelp.  (While the CPC on Yelp is higher, I do agree the quality of the acquisition is way better on Yelp because people are looking to each that day or that week)

I also love the Yelp check in deals, because we get to see how many people checked in for the deal and how many redeemed.

Future: We decided to continue to buy ads on Yahoo in order to build brand awareness and expand our reach.  There are some drawbacks in the granularity of the demographics and geolocations we can target to.  It’s at the DMA level and not on the city level.


We bought Google Ad words ads which would show our ads on affiliates and on Google search for certain keywords.  Very surprisingly, the Google Ad Words was not very cost effective.  We had a CPC of almost $1.11.   We were getting 40% of our web traffic from, without paying them anything.  They did a great job of refreshing their index and our SEO worked really well.

Future: For restaurants, Google Ad Words would drive clicks, but I cannot retain a long term relationship with the customers after that first click.  We decided to stop and just pay attention to continue to improve our SEO and also the integration with Google+ into the search results is effective for coupon promotions.

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I am not a personal user of Facebook, but I was surprised at how well Facebook marketing was.  For a CPC of about $0.77, I’m able to get a Facebook like.  From that point on, I’m able to market to about 10% of the audience via free news feed.  Then I can boost my feed post to about 4,000 people for about $50.00.  This is great to keep people engage on a weekly basis as well as do one time promotions of coupons.

Future: The bulk of marketing dollars will go into gaining Facebook likes for the next 6 months as well as posting photos to keep users engaged.  Also it seems like people don’t really mind when we post about 1 photo a day.  It’s not like email spam, because you can ignore the news feed posts.

I Privé Facebook
I Privé Facebook


From the beginning, my vision is to build a relationship with customers.   Customers who subscribed to our email list will only get 1 email per month, never more than that.  We get almost 250% better open rates than the industry norm.  It’s a great way to build a long term communication channel with our customers.  Email coupon campaigns have proven to be hugely effective.

Future: I think we continue to keep up our part of the bargain, never spam our customers and we built the email list.  We are growing about 50% a month here, so it’s worth to keep on investing.

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What surprised me is how ineffective Google campaigns are.   Facebook demographic targeting, the real time feedback about how effective each ad is really has pushed Facebook forward and convinced me to open up most of our marketing budget.  Yelp’s checkin deals are effective as well for restaurants.  Ultimately, we want to own the relationship with our customers, so the most valuable marketing is our email database.  And the surprising dark horse has been Yahoo Gemini ads.

Tony’s Metabolic Rate

I spent $40 today at Yahoo! to measure how many calories my body burns if I were just sitting down.  I spent 15 minutes breathing in a tube and out comes a chart of how many calories I burn.  It turns out that my body burns 1,872 calories, plus 561 calories with just normal movement everyday, and if I burn 234 calories with exercise, that adds up to 2,667 calories / day.  I did this test to understand why I’m snacking everyday and also to understand how much food and exercise I should be doing if I wanted to grow muscles or to loose weight.  I highly recommend spending the money to understand your body.

Simple Crepe Recipe

C’s school uses this recipe for their annual fund raising event. This year I used it to make 100 crepes. The only caveat is that you have to adjust the amount of milk so that the crepe’s consistency is to your liking.





Mix flour and salt, add eggs and milk, beat well, add oil and mix again. Let mixture stand at least 30 minutes then begin to make your crepes!

Pink Lady Apple Popsicles (archive 2007)

Cate loves loves ice cream. In order to balance her craving against the saturated fats of ice cream, I make her popsicles out of strawberries, raspberries and apples.

Her favorite is lady pink apple ones.

1) Take 6 lady pinks, wash and juice them
2) Take a cheese cloth and filter the juice 3 times to remove all the pulp
3) pour into ice cube makers and freeze for 3 hours.

Very sweet and healthy ice popsicles!! I let her eat has much as she wants.



homemade pizza : first attempt a success

C. wants to cook more with her Dad for 2008 New Year’s resolution

First attempt at making pizza dough at home. Pretty simple recipe.

10 minutes of working the dough for both C. and I. let it rise for 1 hour. Pop it into the oven for 10 minutes. She gets cheese pizza, I get spicy sausage.

Things to improve:
Need to let dough rise longer
don’t over bake it
dough was too thing for C’s small pizza, it got hard
C. needs to work the dough harder :-)