How Some Restaurants Use Social Media to Tailor Fine Dining

Who doesn't want to be a celebrity, if only for a day? The Internet lets many of us feel that way, what with all our followers and friends and retweets. But offline, we don't get the perquisites that go along with fame and fortune, like having the maître d' at a fancy restaurant know precisely what we'd like.

Or maybe we do.

Sarah Rich (aka my girlfriend) has a really fun piece in the resurrected Gourmet about restaurants that use your social media presence to tailor your dining experience. There seem to be two camps on this topic. Some think it's creepy that a restaurant would Google you before you come in. Others think it's conscientious and interesting practice. I'm with the latter camp.

Here's why: you are not just who you are offline. If you use social media, you also have an online persona that exists in a quasi-public (i.e. searchable) space. Would it make sense to be weirded out by a restaurant for reading about you in a magazine and shaping your experience with that knowledge? Well, you have far less control over that experience than you do over your Twitter or Facebook presence.

Anyway, here's how it might actually go down for you some day:

When John Hartupee found himself eating fast food in the Montreal airport on his way to a weekend dine-around in New York City's finest restaurants, the irony was not lost on him. From his Blackberry, he tweeted: "Burger King in the airport waiting for my flight to NYC. I'll consider this my amuse-bouche for Eleven Madison Park!"

The next day, Hartupee glided through the revolving door of Danny Meyer's palatial restaurant with his girlfriend, leaving the memory of his traveler's appetizer to evaporate in the Manhattan heat. The maître d' greeted them, the host swept them off to a crisp, white-clothed table, and a quiet fleet of servers delivered house-filtered mineral water and minimalist square menus.

By the time the real amuse-bouche arrived, they'd been fully transported. They savored a soupçon of sweetbreads, and the table was cleared. Then a second set of small plates arrived, this time concealed under silver domes. The couple sat expectantly as the waiter carefully unveiled their next pristinely constructed bite. But instead of a torchon of foie gras or an heirloom tomato puree, each tiny plate held a single, silver dollar-size lamb burger on a diminutive bun. "We hope these are better than the one you had at the airport," he said with a wink. Hartupee was dumbfounded.

Had the food police reported his culinary transgression? Were New York chefs omniscient? Reading Hartupee's expression, the maître d' approached the table and explained that as part of their daily preparations, the hosts scan social networks for mentions of the restaurant. Hartupee's tweet presented an opportunity for the staff to personalize his experience, and they took it, figuring that frequent Twitter users aren't too averse to having strangers know a thing or two about them.

And they were right. Hartupee's dismay gave way to delight. "This is one of the most quirky yet thoughtful things I have seen a restaurant do," he wrote afterwards in another online forum. "They took the time to prepare that special item only for us." But the comments that follow confirm that not everyone relishes the diminished privacy of the digital age. One respondent wrote, "This is the creepiest thing ever."

Read the full story at Gourmet Live.