Avoiding pie fights on Facebook

A recent Facebook kerfuffle over the Theatre District restaurant Pigalle is a cautionary tale for the digital age. It began with a complaint from a New Hampshire woman who dined at Pigalle on Thanksgiving and had a strong complaint about the pumpkin pie. She detailed her reaction in vivid language, several days later, on the restaurant’s Facebook page. Soon afterward, a representative of Pigalle — who turned out to be well-known chef Marc Orfaly — lashed back at the woman in the comments, calling her all sorts of unprintable names (the nicest thing he called her was “fat”). After the restaurant community went wild, Orfaly and the customer connected by phone, and both expressed remorse. On Facebook, Orfaly apologized, and the customer urged people to make Pigalle reservations.

All’s well that ends well. Sort of. The whole episode could have been avoided if the initial complaint had been lodged in person, at the moment the problematic pie appeared on the customer’s plate. In pre-social-media days — and even, sometimes, today — a diner would send back unacceptable food, a chef would apologize and possibly offer a freebie, and a single mishap, broadcast on Facebook or Yelp, wouldn’t have the potential to damage a restaurant’s reputation. One danger of social media is that it makes it far too easy for people on both sides of a dispute to take petty swipes at each other in a public forum — and for a common event to suddenly turn toxic.