ICE’s Culinary Management Instructors are seasoned industry professionals who are still active in the industry and working on their own projects while teaching classes at ICE. Julia Heyer and Vin McCann recently looked at social media’s effect on the restaurant and food world, and today they continue to dive into the complex world of online networks and social media. When we last left off, Vin questioned the long-term effect and at what point the messages turned from fascination to “self-promoting chatter.”

Julia Heyer
People are fascinated with our industry. While they couldn’t care less about what happens in the toothpaste factory at Proctor & Gamble, they are interested in restaurant kitchens. There is a sexiness factor.

For now, that results in a different reach for our biz. The new media allow restaurant businesses to connect with guests, both existing and potential, who want to hear from them.  Instead of using the old adage of “let’s throw a whole bunch of ads out there at that wall and see what sticks,” it allows targeted reach to and identification of your guests. Will it change? As we say in German, Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat Zwei — everything has an end, just the sausage has two.

Vin McCann
I’m fully aware of the hyped dynamic between “community” and “connection” flooding our collective imagination, but I’m pretty sure that in the world of commerce, it’s just another sign of “I’ve got something and I want you to buy it”.

The public’s fascination with restaurants is driven more by entertainment than real interest in craft. Nobody (save real foodies and folks forced by economics) cooks anymore. Whatever sexiness drives your model is more fantastical than physical. The public wants a sustained illusion. The more consistent and focused the connection, the less likely the fascination will continue. I’m afraid focused targeting is more akin to staying over into the morning after a one night stand — the parties run the risk of dispelling the magic and kissing up to reality. Repeated outreach, personal or electronic, seem a good deal like increasingly desperate calls to a partner who took the experience somewhat less seriously than the caller/tweeter/poster/sender.

Julia’a Response
Wow, Vin. I don’t dare to wonder what bad combination of dispelled one-night magic, follow-up social media stalking, and lack of cooking you experienced!

I do however disagree with your premise that the general consumer can’t cook and is deeply shallow at heart, just looking for a quickie and moving right along.

It is in the human nature to want to connect. That was true for cave men and still holds true for the digitalised hipsterati of 2011. If you survey 100 singles they will be more likely to be looking for a relationship in the mid- and long-term, than a lifetime of one-night stands. Similar if you survey diners. While they would like to try a new place every now and then, they do have their trusted standbys and local joints. They are ready to be reached out to and connected with. Otherwise, they will not sign up to your social media outlet in the first place! Sound like online dating? Perhaps. It may lead to a one night stand or to marriage, depending on what the other side has to offer. The same can be said for restaurants targeting you for engagement via social media. Some you love and leave, while others will be part of your life for decades to come.

Vin’s Last Word
Jules, I think you’re confusing real connection (of the personal and romantic variety) with fear of missing out (not necessarily an antidote for loneliness). As much as I’d like to address all the implicit value issues strewn into your restaurant-romance-relationship metaphor, I won’t follow you into that rabbit hole. But I will say that as much as I enjoy a bacon cheeseburger, I’ve never been engaged to one. Too much “connecting” of the superficial, witless, look-at-me-variety, no matter how targeted, can and will, tire the most dedicated friend or follower.

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