Restaurants. Those poor businesses, struggling to make ends meet. Existing to please us, the evil customer, the fickle, complaining pain in the arse who comes in and harrasses the waitresses, doesn't like paying service and threatens to write nasty Tripadvisor reviews.
We should pat these institutions on the back! They need all the help they can get, right?
Well of course, a business is a business. It needs to survive. How does it survive? Customers. Being full every night is surely the dream of restaurants everywhere. Booked, months in advance, kitchens ordering supplies happily, chefs and FoH working together like a well oiled machine. A performance, even.
Yet somehow, through the wobbly vision of a dream fading away, I've come to realise that going out to dinner is precisely not this. A restaurant is not a performance. It's not an event. We are not there to witness art.
Cooking and service is an art maybe, but not 'art'. It's not an expression of feeling. It's not there to entertain. It's not there to challenge your head intellectually and make you see the world in a different way. Well, apart from in some ridiculously pretentious Parisian three-starred Michelin kitchens I believe. So let's climb down from this extremely high horse and see restaurants for what they are, places to simply go and eat food in. Restore ourselves to a feeling of wellbeing, re-energise and raise our spirits.
Now, I love a restaurant as much as the next annoying blogger. In fact, going out to eat is my favourite thing to do in the world. I am a dream customer for a restaurant. I spend a huge proportion of my income on eating out. I like nothing more than being waited on efficiently, served lovely food and being treated like the king of Greece for the evening. That's what I'm paying for.
How restaurants have attracted customers has changed over the years, from the small ad in the local newspaper, word of mouth, PR, email newsletters, even touts on the street with flyers and other collateral, asking, sometimes even hassling you to come in.
So when I look at twitter (as I do, occasionally) and see restaurants, who I've taken the time to follow, tweeting about their 'spare table tonight' again and again, I can't help thinking it's one step towards 'digital touting', an abuse of my time, a sales pitch I didn't sign up for.
What makes you think that your sudden table availability is of such importance it warrants tweeting, like a piece of news?
Do you really consider yourselves so popular, so in demand, that a free table at your place is some kind of hot ticket? Like front row at a Justin Bieber show? Like a major sporting final? Are you expecting people to jump up and down and race to take you up on your generous offer to squeeze us in, and be the lucky part witness to the great sensational act known to us mere mortals as 'having dinner'?
This kind of short-sighted use of twitter is typical of DIY marketing and reeks of amateurishness, self importance, and is precisely what fuels the ridiculous hype, PR puff, fast turnover, backlash, dark void, waning of popularity then inevitable closure of restaurants. By playing this game you are fuelling the very devil you are fighting.
It's no coincidence that this practice is popular with a certain type of restaurant, recently opened and hype-hungry, generally. I can only predict that continually waving 'please come', many will shoot themselves in the foot and begin to irritate even the most loyal of fans. Because bottom line, it's boring.
Let's not forget a few things. Twitter is not a marketing tool. It was not put here as a government funded free service to help small businesses sell their wares. Most people are not on it to watch advertising, or try and be sold things every two minutes. Businesses using twitter should be grateful they are even there, communicating with customers for free. They are guests at a party, and the party is not a trade show. Be here, yes, have fun, contribute to the atmosphere, but please don't talk shop constantly.
My gentle advice to restaurants would be to keep quiet, stop drawing attention to your thinly veiled desperation, concentrate on pleasing the customers that have taken the time to book and have kept their bookings, and work on making them regulars.
I believe it will pay off, even if you occasionally have to have the odd empty table.