Dining & demographics or it ain’t art, it’s numbers

I was speaking to a news executive the other about his dislike of the algorithms used to create news feeds: What’s reported.  He noted that clicks are tracked in response to news items and if more people click on “Kim Kardashian’s Nude Magazine Cover” than “Protests in Butte on Minimum Wage,” that the news site will run more stories on KK’s butt than on Butte.

What this means is that information used to form opinions needed to create vibrant democratic changes will be accessible to those who either create that information or have increasingly unique access to it.

Profit dictates what’s reported.

It’s a failure of democratic institutions to establish and maintain effective firewalls against those with money who want to make more money at the expense of public life.

We see the same thing in restaurants.

I stopped eating dinners out in Boston about five years ago, no more than half a dozen times a year, and almost always before a movie, show, or basketball game.  I got tired of seeing pork on the menu, pizza, and a cocktail list which preceded the food and was pushed hard by the hapless server.

In NYC, too, many restaurants are creating menus emphasizing trends that sell.  Let’s face it: Running a restaurant is a business, it always has been, and owners need to come up with profitable business plans.  But what’s happening is: The business plan is the template, the food follows.  Like this: The investor, nowadays it’s often a hedge fund guy or guys, looks at the numbers of what sell and tells the chef–“Come up with a menu that uses these ingredients or this style of service.”

There are exceptions.  Restaurants selling fish, vegetables, chef owned at low profit, but survival of these places is going to be tougher as the private sector shows growth of the restaurants they own and as rents go up.

Anyone who tells you that a chef is an artist hasn’t worked in a restaurant: Writers and painters don’t create based on demographics, on what they think will sell.  But the pressure on chefs is understandable, and their choices are narrowing.

The solution lately, within the past ten years, has been for chefs and owners to own and operate a high end place at near cost–Gramercy Tavern, Per Se, Daniel, Del Posto, etc.–while making the real money at low end places–Shake Shake, Bouchon, DBGB, Otto.

Me?  I’m eating out less than ever, and buying directly from the purveyors who supply to the chefs.

Using math, the food in restaurants, with notable exceptions, is going to cost more and be served faster than ever before.  Tables are turned 3-4 times in a night with 70-90 minutes allotted for a meal that costs $200 or more for two.

And where, one might wonder, will the increased profits go?  Back to the investors.  I’m not saying that we’re all starting to buy at the company store, but I’m not saying we’re not.  If money is controlling the dining, the ideas and feelings implicit in that intimate experience will be influenced by the money behind it.


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