Tasting & Tweeting: The Use and Abuse of Social Media in Restaurants

Craig Thornton, Walter Manzke, The Critic, Michael Voltaggio

Over the weekend, The Taste invaded Beverly Hills, Hollywood and Downtown L.A. I went to 2 of the 9 events. I paid particular attention to a panel presented at the Secrets of the Kitchen and Cellar event on Saturday, September 3rd. I wanted to attend the social media panel.

Here’s the description as copied from the website.

1:45-2:30 p.m. “Tasting & Tweeting: The Use and Abuse of Social Media in Restaurants” Moderated by LA Weekly Food Critic J*nathan G*ld** featuring Michael Voltaggio, Walter Manzke and Craig Thornton.

As media, we were welcomed to interview the panel after it wrapped up but I wanted to get back to all the great food at the event. I did take three videos in the beginning.

Michael Voltaggio

Walter Manzke

Craig Thornton

As I usually do, I posted the pictures and videos after the event, intending to blog about the event at some point. Then the moderator, LA Weekly’s Pulitzer Prize Winning critic, contacted me via Twitter to take his name off. He mentioned he couldn’t stop me from posting but he had anonymity issues “however implausible.” Er…wasn’t this a public event? And wasn’t he advertised as being there? I was confused.

This sparked a debate among my friends. They said he was the “Godfather of Food [Writing] in LA” and I should do what he says, no questions. And that it was about respect.

Well, I did take off his name. I did that immediately before even telling anyone about it. And I have now hidden his face in the above photo. But really? I’m sorry, Mr. Jo……old. Er, Mr. Critic but you make no sense. Are you going to ask all the others to take your name off their photos and videos? What about the people who tweeted during the actual panel? Are you going to stop hosting events (G*ld Standard) and stop moderating panels? The first time I saw you, I went to a panel at the Central Library. You were moderating a discussion for Zocolo. It was so long ago I really don’t know what it was about. But I do remember thinking, “Oh, that’s what the Critic looks like.”

When I took those photos and videos, I did not think I was going to “out” him like SIV at Red Medicine. People know what the Critic looks like. And if they don’t, he is easily searchable. I am startled he is even trying to be anonymous when he really isn’t. There’s been a debate about restaurants treating anonymous critics like “regular folk.” These anonymous critics seem to feel it’s crucial to really gauge what the restaurant is like. Then there are people like the Critic who are fantastic writers and don’t seem to have problems being fair when reporting about a restaurant. I recall some critics saying even if restaurants recognize a critic they can only do so much. It’s not like they’re going to suddenly hand you foie gras when it’s not on the menu.

My friends and I sometimes experience really great service and food at new (to us) restaurants, to the point where they suspect the restaurant recognized me. I always tell them no. I would like to give the restaurant the benefit of the doubt. I figure the restaurant is actually really that good and really up on service. And they say, but no, maybe it’s because you have a camera.

Should anyone with a camera to be feared? Maybe. That’s what this panel was about. Michael Voltaggio says he’s really hurt when he reads bad reviews. Craig Thornton wishes bloggers wouldn’t spend so much time photographing the food (it’s getting cold!) but Walter Manzke countered seeing someone take a picture was like knowing that diner liked it and was sharing it with their friends and family via social media. Perhaps these others would be smiling over the chef’s food as well.

When I go out to eat, I generally do take pictures but not always. Sometimes I may tweet what I’m eating and drinking at the time but also generally not. I prefer to interact with my friends in real time. When I do blog or tweet later, I’m reliving those moments, sometimes with them but generally with the world– that’s how our society is these days. I have been baffled by teeny boppers recording concerts on cameras or cell phones. Why do they get enjoyment out of that? But they could ask the same of us. Why do we document our meals and cocktails?

I have always maintained I am not a food critic. I don’t want to be one. I have long admired the Critic for witty reviews of restaurants. I often want to try all the places he goes. Sometimes I do love these restaurants. I wish he would come out with a new book. But it seems restaurant guides are quickly disappearing with the advent of mobile apps.

The Minty is really a diary of a foodie and cocktailian. If people tell me they want to go to the places I’ve gone to, I am happy about it. I write this blog for fun. I make no money from the blog. I won’t have advertising because it’s not worth it to me. I do crawls and events because I like meeting people.

I know I’m going to get a lot of heat from people who automatically will side with the Critic because he is esteemed but I would like you to consider the facts-

  • He is not anonymous.
  • He is recognizable.
  • He was at a public event where it was actively promoted he would be there.
  • He was hosting a public discussion.

Remember, I did take off his name and won’t use it in this post. But as he said, he can’t stop me from posting. In this age of social media and blogging, this is probably one of the best topics. Can critics be anonymous in this digital age?

A few weeks ago, I was walking out of a restaurant and I heard “Minty, Minty!” I turned around and a group of people I didn’t recognize had called out to me. They figured out who I was because I had checked in on foursquare. I don’t use a picture of myself on this blog, twitter, or foursquare. How did they know it was me? Apparently one of them works for the FBI and I got profiled. When questioned, they based the profile of the Minty on her shoes. Since I wasn’t wearing my trademark heels, I still found this a bit…creepy. There are pictures of me online. However, it would take some time to dig for such photos. And I did believe them when they said they just guessed based on my shoes.

If someone can figure out who I am in 5 seconds, how do critics (not The Critic) stay anonymous? Maybe my friends are right, maybe these new restaurants do know who I am based on foursquare, twitter, the blog, etc.

Perhaps that’s the true abuse of social media. I would like to remind everyone that whatever you put out there online is well and truly out there. And unfortunately for the Critic, there’s no way to really withdraw all those photos and videos.

** Oops, I wasn’t supposed to use his name but how can I not when he was advertised as the moderator? Should he demand as part of hosting panels people can’t record or take photographs of him?