Nevermind the legal and moral curbs on what restaurants can say to prospective customers. In the age of social media, public reaction is far more forceful in policing the communications. Expect no mercy for a transgression, as some operations learned this week after underestimating consumers’ anger when a perceived line is crossed.
Here’s proof that dad was right when he counseled to think before you act.
Triggering a culture clash
A new foodie haven in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn wanted locals to know it wouldn’t be just another newcomer in the rough-and-tumble neighborhood’s gentrification. Summerhill was setting out to be the area’s most Instagrammed spot, a “boozy sandwich shop” for downing a few cocktails on a sweltering summer afternoon—exactly what the predominantly black and Hasidic neighborhood needed. Or so the place asserted in the official announcement of its opening.
Still, it pledged to retain some grit. A bullet-riddled wall, for instance, would be left untouched, a reminder of Crown Heights’ violence-torn past and the site’s reputed stint as an illegal gun shop.
The characterization might not have been the best for a neighborhood many New Yorkers remember as the scene of a three-day race riot in the 1970s that left two dead.
The press statement touched off a firestorm, with offended New Yorkers gathering to protest the place’s insensitivity and complete misfire in reading the mindset of its new neighbors. Talk about an upscale interloper imposing its sensibilities!
Then things got appreciably worse. Proprietor Becca Brennan admitted that the bullet holes weren’t real, and she spoke of celebrating the place’s opening by putting 40-ounce bottles of rose in paper bags, a consumption method usually associated with Colt 45 and Olde English.
Locals called for a boycott. But Brennan, 31, finally apologized, retracted the rose-in-a-bag josh, and admitted she’d made a mistake by making light of the area’s past.
That’s really the name?
A misdirected stab at humor similarly set a match to tinder for a newcomer in Iowa. The restaurant in West Des Moines thought it hit on a memorable ID when it chose the name Me So Hungry, an option that’s wrong in more ways than we have enough time or space here to detail. Let’s just say the racial overtones were what really annoyed bystanders—so much so that the proprietors dropped their signage plans and went instead with the name Eggs & Jam.
Location, location, location
With delivery becoming a preferred mode of service, it’s not surprising that a small upstart chain in Detroit would coin a slogan promoting the option. “We deliver,” promises four-unit Bucharest Grill, a local brand specializing in shawarma.
The problem was where the chain posted its slogan: across the seat of its female employees’ uniforms, where the phrase could be taken much differently. And, indeed, that interpretation was the takeaway for a customer who felt the positioning was an outrage.
Proprietor Bogdan Tarasov immediately proclaimed that he did not mean to be suggestive with the slogan’s placement. After all, he noted, Bucharest Grill had been using the phrase on uniforms for eight years.
Still, he decided to discontinue that version of the uniform.
This week's head-spinning restaurant moments included a suggestion in court that the "b" in IHOb stood for "bad news for Applebee's." That's just one of the long-shot gambles that came to light as oddsmakers considered the likelihood of restaurants charging into sports betting and who'll win the chain vs. independent bout.