Inside the Foodie Matrix, Or: Why Food PR People Are Worthless
David C. Mau This is how restaurant people spend their days....
Twice a month, legendary bartender/chef/restaurant insider Dave Mau pops by Stick A Fork In It to chime in about a random OC food or drink musing of his choice. Enjoy!!
Winter here in the OC may lack the simple charms of a New England one but it does have its advantages. We don't get many snowball fights, sleigh rides or other such trappings but we are granted a great time to surf. When the water warms up just a tad and that wind turns around with just the right swell, truth be told, I'll trade all the mittens and hot cocoa in the world for that. Awhile back one of those perfect days materialized and suddenly it was like mid-July at The Cliffs in HB and I found myself in the company of a couple other chefs along with one pal from outside the industry getting ready for a weekday paddle out. It was a rare, random gathering with a couple buddies who cut fish, a long-time server, one who works the line at a high-end steak joint and another that owns his own hipster restaurant in central OC. My non-industry friend was stoked to tag along. He's a desk jockey but considers himself a bit of a "foodie" and was excited to hang with us and pick our brains.
After said session we adjourned to Zubie's Dry Dock (where all sensible people in The Biz go after surfing) and spent a couple hours drinking pitchers of cheap beer, eating oysters Rockefeller and talking shop. We were tossing around what chefs and shops were hot, those that were not. The ones that have their shit together, the ones that are flat-out overrated. What food trends were already played out and what may be next. Mixed in with all this was the usual banter about customer/back of house nightmares. My non-industry pal was a silent witness as we all opined about this stuff--we're a pretty vocal group and I think he was intrigued by what he considered an "insider's" view. We all left a bit tipsy and quite full. My buddy and I headed back to Orange with a quick pitstop at The Fling for a last pop. During the drive my friend was kind of quiet until we got closer to home, then he opened up.
"So, all those shops you guys talked about, the ones everyone said were overrated and charged too much?"
"Well, those are the one the wife, I and all of our foodie friends got to. What's up with that?"
I was a little taken aback and not just because he really didn't know what was behind the whole foodie phenomena, how PR plays into perception, and how it drives people to specific shops. I was also struck by how accepting of the foodie status quo people have become. It's beyond formulaic. Invisible, pervasive and insidious as The Matrix, if you want to see it for what it is, well, then I am your Morpheus.
As far as I'm concerned, a really good restaurant doesn't need a PR person. If it does, it's minimal: just enough to navigate the nuts and bolts of that world, writing a boilerplate press release or basic social media stuff. Also, it's not a hard and fast rule but it's generally true that a PR person's primary function is to steer you in the direction of some shop that may or not be quite all that and make you pay a premium for their "inspired mediocrity" as a fellow industry person once put it. That being said, blaming a food PR person for doing their job is like blaming a compass for pointing north. Their chosen vocation is gonna cover their mortgage, put food on the table and maybe put their kids through college. The one thing you won't hear about these machinations is they're usually a charade of Mad Men-esque proportions. I get this isn't a fun thought! When I tell my friends outside The Biz they look at me like I just told them their puppy died or there is no Santa Claus. But like all childhood fantasies, this must come to an end.