As if business conditions weren’t enough of a shin kick for the restaurant business, fate lobbed a few more ouches at the industry in recent days. Usually, effective communication is a salve in such situations. Not this week, buckos. Indeed, crystal-clear messaging was the very foundation of the week’s nightmares.
Here’s what we mean.
Cyborg restaurant critics
Suspicions were confirmed this week that convincing Yelp screeds can be fabricated by biased parties who’ve never even driven past the maligned restaurant. Indeed, they don’t even need a keyboard to hammer out an effective attack. Researchers from the University of Chicago proved a computer can generate posts that consumers can’t distinguish from ones written by actual customers.
The implications for restaurants are profound. Slams of impeccable quality could be generated by unscrupulous competitors for even less than the nominal fee Yelp ghostwriters currently charge. And trumped-up positive reviews would be just as easy to generate, in bunches.
The development might leave restaurateurs pining for the days when communication methods were far simpler.
Battle of the billboards
Those olden methods may not be as innocent as they sound. Just ask citizens of Mobile, Ala., where a high-profile feud between a Chick-fil-A and a Moe’s Original Bar B Que is being waged via vintage restaurant marquees.
The clash started with some gentle joshing. The Chick-fil-A used the billboard beneath its exterior sign to tout a new limited-time offer: “Try our new BBQ Smokehouse sandwich!” The come-on appeared right before Chick-fil-A’s standing message of being closed on Sundays.
Moe’s countered with a measured poke: “Chick-fil-A, I thought we were friends.” Then came what was to be the flashpoint: “Open on Sunday.”
That led to the Chick-fil-A asking if the two brands could be friends again. Moe’s countered that it was now buddying up with another local restaurant, Diamonds—a “gentleman’s club” that definitely doesn’t observe Sundays as the Sabbath.
Chick-fil-A answered that it wanted to be friends, and asked for a favor from the barbecue restaurant: “Anyway we could get a look at that white BBQ recipe?”, a signature of Moe’s.
“Yeah, we’ll send it over when pigs fly,” the Moe’s responded.
Ricocheting social media posts
A tweet intended as a show of solidarity with servers was instead taken as an insult from Denny’s to its employees, leading to a very public tarring on social media.
The flashpoint was a tweet that looked like a series of cascading folders a la how documents are organized on a computer. Inside a folder marked People was one labeled Nontippers, which included one tagged Heart. Inside that folder was an error message: “This folder is empty.”
The post drew a wave of responses, many cussing out Denny’s and most suggesting that it pay its employees a living wage instead of tweeting about the importance of tipping. More than 740 such comments were posted as of Wednesday morning, and 18,000 more viewers had responded with some sort of emoji evaluation.