The rush for chefs and restaurants to hop on the Twitter machine and establish a following has generally been a boon for customers, who can now use social media to do some serious menu creeping, keep up with reservation openings and specials, and get to know the personalities of the places where they love to eat. But not surprisingly, there’s also a downside to this open dialogue between diners and restaurants, as we’ve seen from a slew of digital faux pas plaguing the restaurant world of late.
First up was a “no-show” shaming campaign conducted over Twitter by Noah Ellis, the co-owner of Los Angeles hot spot Red Medicine. The series of sassy tweets, such as, “I hope you enjoyed your GF’s B-day and the flowers that you didn’t bring when you no-showed for your 8:15 res,” sparked an intense mix of reactions. Some food pros supported Ellis’ quest to show diners how their flakiness can wreak havoc on a restaurant’s bottom line, while others thought he crossed the line by calling people out (who may have had a legitimate excuse for missing their reservation) in such a public way. Ultimately, Ellis is lucky that Jordan Kahn’s cooking can help the restaurant overcome the backlash resulting from his actions.
Padi, a small Pan-Asian joint in Delaware, might not have such an easy time bouncing back from its recent social-media debacle. The manager has been accused of using the the restaurant’s Facebook page and Instagram account to post racial slurs laced with profanity, along with photos of receipts from customers who tip poorly. “What do you expect from a last name like that? Sand n****** will never change #cheap #jew,” read one especially offensive post. “Cheap ass, order takeout and eat it at the bar. #notip #monday #cheap #trash,” was another. Needless to say, resorting to racism has made Padi a far less sympathetic case in the battle between restaurants and their tip-dodging, reservation-breaking clientele.
Diners are already feeling disenfranchised enough in the era of ego-driven chefs—if they start feeling threatened, they may never come back.
The trend extends to other aspects of the food world too, including activists who are employing digital tools to get their point across. After receiving numerous threatening emails from PETA and other anti-foie gras activists, a SoCal restaurant decided to stop serving the controversial ingredient. And now, the anti-foie mob has moved on to individuals by hacking the website of a respected producer, Hudson Valley Foie Gras, and distributing personal information such as email addresses and phone numbers of its customers. They have even gone so far as to publicly post the information on the website called, The Negotiation Is Over.
Antagonism between restaurants, food companies, and customers is nothing new, particularly since Yelp beef became the industry’s favorite pastime. But with new tools making the feedback loop instantaneous, restaurants should get their social-media strategy in order before resorting to public flogging and smack talk. Diners are already feeling disenfranchised enough in the era of ego-driven chefs—if they start feeling threatened, they may never come back.