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The Main Line Restaurant Facebook Wars

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Meet the creators of the Main Line’s most influential Facebook restaurant groups.

by Tara Behan Marmur, contributing editor

Gone are the days when an elite, petite cadre of newspaper and magazine critics could make or break a restaurant with one review. The rise of digital media ushered in the democratization of restaurant reviews, allowing everyone to have their say – and hold sway in, for example, Facebook groups.

Lots of opinions can be a good thing. Facebook groups are readily accessible resources for people looking for restaurant recommendations. But sometimes, the posts can be nasty and the comments even nastier. Who created these groups – and why?

Adrian Seltzer has been the administrator of Main Line Restaurant Reviews for nearly nine years. Her group membership is approaching 10,000, which is the exact amount of praise, criticism and downright disdain Seltzer has seen for restaurants throughout the Main Line and western suburbs.

Of all the posts she’s approved (or rejected), one is particularly unforgettable. “Check out the post on ‘carrot slaw,’” says Seltzer with a laugh. “That was a good one.”

The carrot slaw saga began with a 2017 post that accumulated an astounding 357 comments. The post is a grumbling complaint about the quality of the carrot slaw the writer purchased from Carlino’s in Ardmore. It included an unappetizing photo of a tiny portion of dressed matchstick carrots mixed with a smattering of brown raisins. The majority of comments ribbed the poster for her “first world” problem of not being satisfied with her “side slaw.” On that post, Seltzer commented: “Threads like these are what make MLRR great. Humor, sarcasm, pettiness, ridiculousness and wonderful carrot jokes.”

But Seltzer does want honest reviews. It’s why she started MLRR. Once upon a time, Seltzer followed Main Line Foodie Community run by Lower Merion resident Karen Ebbert. “I wanted the group to be about food, not about bashing restaurants,” says Ebbert. “So, I didn’t allow negative reviews about restaurants.”

Seltzer complained to Ebbert about her stance on not allowing positive and negative reviews. Ebbert encouraged her to start her own page focusing solely on local restaurant reviews. Seltzer had the time and the interest, so she created the first Main Line-centric restaurant review page.

Seltzer quickly learned why Ebbert may have not wanted to deal with the blowback that came with negative reviews. While food can bring people together, a Facebook restaurant review page can tear them apart – line by line.

Fast forward a few years, sprinkle in a global pandemic where restaurants are forced to close their doors and operate solely through takeout service, and the group became a literal recipe for disaster.

Seltzer managed her MLRR page during the shutdowns of 2020 and started Main Line Restaurant Specials, a group for local restauranteurs and publicists to promote food-related specials and promotions, something that wasn’t permitted on MLRR.

Even though restaurants were going through a business-crushing, gut-wrenching time, many MLRR users still came to the page to vent. Seltzer noticed that if someone posted a negative review, other people posted comments bashing the reviewer. “I then put in place the rule that a proper response to a negative review is to post your positive experience at that restaurant for context,” she explains.

In 2021, The Real Main Line Restaurant Reviews was created by former MLRR followers Stella Dreeke and Abe Haupt, who thought, just like Seltzer had all those years ago, thought they could do a better job with a restaurant page. Dreeke and Haupt, a scientist and realtor respectively, decided it was worth their time and effort to co-admin their snarkily named The Real Main Line Restaurant Reviews.

“We have a great deal of regard for Adrian. I am friends with Adrian,” Haupt is quick to explain when asked about the origin of his “Real” page. “As much as we love Adrian, she was quickly cutting off the threads and censorship was getting out of control on her page. A lot of people had a lot of thoughts and feelings about the restaurant industry at that point in time. We were just so tired of restaurants using her page as an opportunity to promote their business without real insight from the consumers.”

Dreeke adds, “We wanted to create a safe space for people to be able to post about their honest experiences—the good, the bad or the ugly. And we welcome it all.”

In response, Seltzer says, “I only removed or stopped commenting when people were being mean to one another or tried to politicize COVID. Neither subject was appropriate or relevant to how one’s meal was.”

Instead, Seltzer attributes their annoyance to the fact that Kim Strengari’s restaurants got a lot of positive reviews on MLRR. “I can’t take down posts just because someone is annoyed that they are being written about too much,” says Seltzer. “It’s not my fault that Kim is a good marketer.”

Strengari is the (mostly) well-liked restauranteur behind Gypsy Saloon and Southern Cross Kitchen in Conshohocken. Active on Facebook, Strengari has a constant presence at her restaurants, which seem to have a loyal following. Asking happy customers to post their opinions isn’t committing any Facebook crimes. “Kim is great at marketing her restaurants,” says Seltzer. “That’s it.”

For her part, Strengari remains (mostly) sanguine about Facebook restaurant reviewers. “Reviews come with the territory. I get it,” says Strengari, who has a 44-year tenure in the restaurant industry. “What I don’t get are people who don’t ask to talk to a manager if they’re unhappy while they’re at the restaurant. We’d be more than happy to try to fix it while you’re here, but if you don’t and three days later you write a negative review bashing the restaurant, what was your purpose?”

Mary Guzman, who co-owns the Bryn Mawr BYOB Sontuosa with her husband Ernesto, concurs with Strengari. “Mistakes are going to be made,” Guzman says. “Give us the opportunity to fix those mistakes.”

But how many mistakes are too many? If a restaurant has multiple problems over a prolonged period, shouldn’t prospective patrons know in advance? Diners – even those with disposable incomes – want to spend their money at restaurants offering great food, service and ambiance.

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Jaimi Blackburn interacts with a lot of customers who have a lot of opinions. As director of public relations for Fearless Restaurants (White Dog Cafés, Rosalie, Autograph Brasserie), Blackburn does address unhappy diners. “If someone had an issue with one of our restaurants, I prefer to reach out to them directly to handle it,” Blackburn says. “These Facebook pages are just part of a new media to a certain extent.” In fact, Blackburn is hosting a meet-and-greet for Main Liner Matthew Weldon Gelber at Autograph Brasserie in Wayne. Gelber is the administrator of the auspiciously titled group The Main Line and Beyond…Food, Travel and Lifestyle.

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