An old pal of mine owns and runs what I think is a pretty decent little independent restaurant. In a small city whose dining scene is swamped by the bland, relentlessly homogenising reliability of the lavishly-financed chains (Pizza Express, Café Rouge, Wagamana, Carluccio's, Prezzo etc.), he has carved out a niche and is, I think, making a good living for his young family.
So I wonder what he feels about the power of the better-known food writers from the national newspapers? I should ask him the next time I pop in there. Perhaps he's relaxed about it. After all, just weeks after he opened the place, someone from The Telegraph weighed in with a fairly unhelpful review. While the reviewer did attempt a level of even-handedness by conceding some of his article's black marks could be attributed to teething problems on the part of the the very recently opened eatery, the generally unfavourable write up can't have been easy reading for my mate. Happily, though, four years on from that panning of the gravy and the portion sizes, his business seems to be in rude health. So perhaps the influence of the reviewers is not always a crucial factor for the success of a newly established restaurant.
That said, it's probably not a good idea for a restaurant owner to risk antagonising one of the more well-known food writers unnecessarily. Take the case of Made in Belfast, a comfy-sounding place in... er... Belfast. Sixteen months ago, The Guardian's Jay Rayner praised the ambiance but slated the food. In a daring act of defiance, the owners decided today to risk some selective quoting of Rayner's review. This is from the restaurant's Facebook page:
As you can see, Rayner caught on to this stunt pretty quickly. He then went on to flag it up to his 73,259 Twitter followers, linking to his original review. Ouch. One kicking, it seems, was not enough for the good people at Made in Belfast. They just had to go back for more. Still, it could have been worse. For one thing, someone could have wondered aloud about all the guff about the Irish credentials of a restaurant which is fact owned by someone from Kent who was on TV last month speaking about her disillusionment with life in Ulster.
Not the first example of very poor social media marketing you've seen this year, no doubt - and very unlikely to be the last.