Eat Out responds to chef Kobus van der Merwe’s criticisms

Eat Out responds to chef Kobus van der Merwe’s criticisms
Scenes from the 2023 Eat Out Awards held at GrandWest in November 2023, from left, Germain Lehodey, James Gaag, Siba Mtongana, Abigail Donnelly. (Photos: Tony Jackman)

Wolfgat chef-owner Kobus van der Merwe raised some valid points and his op-ed in Daily Maverick has given Eat Out pause to listen and consider how we can improve in several key areas, specifically judging and scoring, writes Aileen Lamb, CEO of New Media.

I want to sincerely thank Kobus van der Merwe for sharing his concerns in his op-ed for Daily Maverick. Having worked with the South African restaurant industry for 25 years, we know that the best way to evolve the Eat Out Awards is to engage with all those we have the privilege of serving. 

Kobus raised some valid points and his op-ed has given Eat Out pause to listen and consider how we can improve in several key areas, specifically judging and scoring. 

What we can share now is that we made a key decision late in 2023 that all the restaurants being judged will be visited by all the judges and on separate occasions.

The need for this came through in almost all of our feedback sessions with chefs and restaurants following the Eat Out Awards ceremony in November 2023. So this change has already been implemented for the coming year. 

It’s important that considerations such as consistency and an individual judge’s subjectivity are taken into account, and we agree that having all the judges visit each restaurant will make for a far more robust judging process.

We stand behind the integrity of our judges and we are always willing to listen, learn and evolve together with the industry.

What we will be doing now is reaching out to all the restaurants, owners and chefs, as well as to our audience, to gain detailed feedback and insights. This feedback will inform our complete approach for the coming year and be considerate of the whole industry. 

We encourage everyone we reach out to to be as direct and honest as Kobus has been.

We don’t yet have all the answers but, as an independent brand, we are absolutely committed to fairness and transparency. 

We will publish the full judging process for 2024, along with any further changes, on the Eat Out website and social channels by 29 March 2024.

This will include the 2024 judging panel, which has not yet been finalised. 

Kobus van der Merwe’s op-ed can be read here. DM

Aileen Lamb, CEO of New Media.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • drew barrimore says:

    Oh how lovely and measured. So while restaurants and chefs ‘suffer’ under Eat Out’s judgements, we shouldn’t judge Eat Out too much since they’re learning on the job, as they go along. Sound a lot like the ANC government.

  • Hari Seldon says:

    This is a really nice reply – factual, takes it on the chin and commits to improving. Well done.

  • Adriaan 18 says:

    So vindication for Kobus! Unfortunately the damage is done and I for one will not place any value whatsoever on Eat Out’s latest ratings. If you haven’t yet read the Op-Ed by Kobus, I highly recommend that you do.

  • Louis Eksteen says:

    WOW! What a fresh breeze from Eat Out! We rarely see anyone in the public eye actually owning up to mistakes or errors!
    Thanks for this response, to the industry in general, and to us, the diners.
    It was very brave from Kobus to put the piece into the public eye, as it could have easily became a tit-for-tat spat, with nobody winning.

  • Ed Charles says:

    Maybe spend a bit more time visiting Joburg restaurants because the Eatout coverage of this city is woeful.

  • Rod H MacLeod says:

    … and I heard her say “let them eat cake”. Pack of Rennies in your pocket and sachets of Enos in the hotel room to relieve the pain of the heavy burden judging eateries frequented by about 2% of the population.

  • Glenda Caine says:

    So, when all else fails “reach out”. I hope the hard working chefs and staff in the many South African restaurants who were either ignored, bypassed or downgraded are able to “hold on” while a fairer, less subjective and inclusive process is developed.

  • Julie-Anne Stewart says:

    Not a good indictment for Eat Out there were so many complaints about the judging. However, that being said at least they are prepared to acknowledge their errors and try to improve the judging process, although it does not help the restaurants who were a part of the 2023 process. Well done to Kobus for speaking out.

  • Bob Kuhn says:

    Maybe Eat Out should do a survey of who really can afford to dine out at these lavish overrated eateries and how they earn a living to do so!

  • Russel Wasserfall says:

    A balanced and considerate reply from Aileen Lamb. As the saying goes: “There is no truth, only perception.” Creating an objective awards brand is an impossible quest. However listening to industry voices – actively evolving to ensure judging is as equitable as possible – is an excellent way to build confidence in an awards process that can never be anything other than subjective.

  • Lucius Casca says:

    Not really, Kobus reached out to them and they basically did nothing. This is pure back pedaling and lip service after having their name embarrassed on DM, nothing more.

  • ceciliajsteinberg says:

    These restaurants suffered, and are suffering, real-life consequences in terms of reputational and brand damage inflicted by this biased and unfair public “judging”. How will they be compensated?

  • probinson says:

    Total justification for complaints. Mag will be viewed with skepticism
    for now

  • R W says:

    I stand by my comments in the OP-ED regarding the Fried Runny Egg and Salty Chips.

  • Brett Commaille says:

    It’s a solid response as a first step, regardless of whether it is driven by sincerity or embarrassment. That said – the proof will be in the pudding – whether they implement everything said and continue to aim for improvement. Either way, may they be judged in the same manner that they judge others. That would seem fair/appropriate. Live by the sword/ butterknife, die by the same.

  • Robert Gornal says:

    It is imposible to cover every restaurant in the country so how are the few that are visited chosen?

  • roelia says:

    I can’t help but wonder about the provincial bias as well. Is it really possible that our restaurants in Gauteng is so vastly inferior to those in the Western Cape? And what about other provinces? Is the “South African” cultural and culinary landscape only shaped by one province? Just wondering. Also, where are the majority of the judges based?

  • Hanlie Van Dyk says:

    I thought Kobus vd Merwe’s opinion was well-written, and am heartened by the fact that New Media seems to have listened. Let’s hope it brings positive change.

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