This is one of The Food Channel’s Top 10 Food Trends for 2012, based on research conducted in conjunction with CultureWaves®, the International Food Futurists® and Mintel International. For the full list, click here.
Courtesy may be the key to mutual coexistence. What do you get when you mix social media with restaurants? Often a lot of frustration on both sides. This is the year we see a lot of that coming to a head, with a line being drawn in the sand(wich)…which is eventually crossed peacefully by both the restaurateurs and the patrons.
Today, you have the “new foragers” on one side – social media-savvy (and mostly young) people who look for the best places to eat by turning to recommendations online. On the other, you have chefs and operators who firmly believe that the general public has unrealistic expectations and that restaurants are unfairly getting blamed for bad dates or bad moods—not necessarily bad food or service.
The trend we are seeing is, first, a sort of social media blackmail; restaurants held hostage by the whims of social media “critics,” most of whom are food literate (knowledgeable about food) but cooking illiterate (unable to cook much of anything themselves). This leads to high, but potentially unrealistic, expectations.
The sequence often goes like this: The patrons have, for whatever reason, a dining experience that doesn’t meet expectations. So they blast out a negative review on Facebook, Yelp, Twitter, and any of the other ratings sites, in a fit of what’s called “Yelp bombing.” Then they often recruit their friends to write a similar bad review, with the goal of dropping a restaurant’s star ranking.
That’s followed closely by restaurants and others in the hospitality business fighting back, followed by—we believe—a move toward mutual civility. But the position of power is definitely in flux.
We see a path to peaceful coexistence, but there will be some pain along the way. Chefs and restaurant operators need to learn to use social media tools more effectively and more proactively.
What we are seeing is a movement by restaurant operators to set the record straight. The question is, are enough operators ready to fight back?
The consumer mindset of entitlement, where they are allowed to criticize at any point, without an understanding of the issues, is being called into question.
For starters, part of the conversation will be around being courteous to other diners—getting patrons to be more considerate with use of cell phones, flash photos, and not lingering too long when their table is needed. It also means a show of courtesy to the restaurant by making reservations. After all, how good can a chef be when he doesn’t know whether to prepare for 40 people or 140?
So, for a generation that has lost the concept of courtesy—one that is so focused on technology that they never learned social graces–we think change is ahead. And, for the chefs and operators who have hidden behind the excuse of, “We are too busy running things to get online,” they are going to begin true engagement with their patrons.
The result, we think, will be a new courtesy that can only be good for the dining experience.
CultureWaves® connections: Virtual Forest, We Are Family
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