Hype Machines: Will Foodies Make 'Em or Break 'Em?

As we continue to dive into social restaurant consumer data, we're uncovering interesting new aspects of how restaurants become popular and trendy today. The ideas behind building the next great concept or brand are about as hard to achieve as getting the perfect chef or CEO for your restaurant business. The reality is, with enough understanding about your guests, you can build a high performing restaurant very quickly.

In the next 18 months, I expect we will reach a critical mass of social behavior around the services that restaurants provide. With this, the time that determines the success or failure of a restaurant could literally be cut in half. This could change many aspects of the restaurant business, including getting caught up in the hype and losing focus of the real goal.

As we analyze more than 10,000 restaurant brands and concepts representing more than 300,000 restaurants globally, we get to look at trending data that will surprise even the best restaurant operators. Understanding what your guest wants these days is sitting in plain sight on social media. Trends, demographics, consumer interests and competitive aspects around the restaurant business rise from this data in ways we could have never imagined. This can help a business begin to map out strategies on how, when and where to compete within the market.

The Blindside of Influence: When Hype Trumps Value

With recent data, we have begun to see some disturbing but real – aspects of the restaurant business. In the social media business, they're called “tastemakers,” or influencers that every business tries to reach. The ability to get those influencers to talk about your restaurant can have a big effect on your popularity. It’s the oldest tactic in the book, but the nature of digital and social media sharing today has the ability to take the tactic to virality, dwarfing the water coolers of yesteryear.

I was recently privy to this very process in the streets of New York while dining at the No. 1 Foodable-ranked restaurant in NYC in September. I witnessed staff catering to the very tastemakers I speak of, while the restaurant suffered from being behind on several orders and even pushing reservations back 30-45 minutes as guests arrived. But with the likes of Rachael Weisz, one of my favorite actresses, along with celebrity chefs and more Hollywood types just within a few steps of my table, I began to notice the fail of what a restaurant is really meant to do: provide compelling service and great food.

ABC Kitchen got caught up in their own hype, living up to the bill of goods it has had over the past few months. I decided to take a deeper look at our own analysis by dropping the most influential celebs from the list of sentiment scores for ABC Kitchen. What I found was astounding! ABC Kitchen dropped in that same month from No. 1 to No. 22 with a simple shift in audience. After 22 years of tracking how restaurants perform, and how consumers interact with them, I even got caught in the “hype net” – that is, until I saw it in action. The interesting part is that, with today’s technology, we truly can tell who the real players are in the restaurant business. Mind you, I don't see ABC Kitchen going anywhere soon, but like all restaurants, when you forget the simple basics of great service and food, the hype factor will wear off pretty quickly.

Speak With Your Wallet

The greater concern or epiphany here is when the real foodies of our industry start to become numb to the hype and digress into the actual landscape of great food. With more that 2,000 restaurants opening and closing in NYC each quarter, foodies speak with their wallets and without the hype machines. Kind of reminds me of the 60s TV show “To Tell The Truth” – will the real restaurant operators please stand up?