It must be an interesting time to own a restaurant. On the one hand you're pummeled by a shrinking economy and rising food costs. On the other hand you're assailed by a growing number of (mostly uncredentialed) food bloggers ready to pounce on even the slightest misstep and proclaim your restaurant an unmitigated failure.
Even a few years ago food bloggers wouldn't have registered a blip on a restaurateur's radar. But a funny thing happened on the way to making a dinner reservation. People started reading even the most obscure food blogs to find out where and what to eat. So what's a restaurant owner to do?
Sauté Bistro is a new restaurant in Houston. On December 4th, 2008, owners Connie and Kevin Lacobie did something that no other restaurant in Houston had ever done before. They placed an announcement on their website inviting all Houston food bloggers to their restaurant for a private tasting dinner (which I attended). And on top of that, the dinner would be gratis. As in FREE.
That collective groan you just heard came from the world's professional food journalists. Yes, writing a "review" in exchange for a comped meal or other compensation is a very slippery slope. But that's a subject for another blog post.
So were Sauté's owners brilliant or foolish for doing this?
Some say foolish because they must figuratively prostrate themselves before a potentially unruly group of local food bloggers.
Some say brilliant because for the cost of a dinner they are getting feedback and publicity from the people most knowledgeable about the Houston food scene (note that at no time did the owners explicitly request anything in return for the free dinner).
Of course that publicity may be unflattering, and once it's out on the Internet, there's no taking it back.
At the very least, Sauté's owners should be commended for engaging Houston's food bloggers for the purpose of publicizing their restaurant and getting feedback to help make their restaurant better, and ultimately successful. Because at the end of the day, the oldest rule in advertising still applies: the only bad publicity is no publicity.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.