Quality is a never-ending quest — don’t rest on your laurels
I ate the best pizza of my life on January 13, 2009. Every detail of the experience, from the aroma of the room to the faces of the couple at the next table, will be forever embedded in my memory. Just thinking about the pliant crust and fruity tomato makes me want to fly halfway around the world just for another taste of this destination pizza. The only trouble is I’d also need a time machine, because a recent trip to that very same pizzeria that changed my life nearly seven years ago has suddenly left me heartbroken. This was some of the worst pizza I’ve ever had and I’m still working through the emotional deluge it created.
My initial reaction was one of denial. “This pizza isn’t so bad. I can just pick off all the extraneous cheese. I’ll eat around the raw parts of the crust and stash them in my napkin. My pie is probably just a fluke and everyone else in the room is enjoying delicious pizza nirvana.” I gave them the benefit of the doubt until I noticed that everyone else’s pizzas looked just like mine.
By now the damage had been done and I could feel the disappointment at the table. After bragging about this place for seven years, I felt somewhat responsible. I was wrong about this place all along. I must have been blinded by the hype. My pizza radar is not as finely tuned as it once was. My friends will never trust me again. I’m a pretty sympathetic guy, but it didn’t take me long to realize that the pizzeria was responsible for this disaster –– not me!
I started to think about all the terrible things that must have contributed to the pizzeria’s decline. They’ve gone downhill. They’re cheaping out on ingredients. The magic they once had is now gone. They must be under new management who clearly don’t know what they’re doing. All these people who talk about how great the place is are just sheep following the masses and I was one of them –– but not anymore. That’s a pretty terrifying line of thought from a customer who had just one bad pizza.
The unfortunate course of action for too many scorned restaurant critic wannabes would have been to sound the alarm on online review sites. That’s not the way I operate, but my complaints most certainly surfaced during the debriefing with my friends after we left the pizzeria. I know what you’re thinking: “just point out the bad pizza to the manager and let her fix the issue right then and there.” But that’s a potentially embarrassing process I avoid at all costs. Sometimes I’d rather choke down a bad pizza than become known as a nit-picky customer.
If someone had noticed my uneaten pizza and asked what was wrong, the situation might have been diffused. Better yet, if the kitchen had prevented the raw pizza from ever hitting my table, I would never have had the opportunity to assume this once mighty pizzeria had entered its era of collapse.
Scott Wiener owns and operates Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City.