Menuism Dining Blog
Dining education for foodies

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I was recently invited to join a roundtable discussion at Rafe Needleman’s Reporters’ Roundtable on CNET. The theme: how the Web has changed the restaurant business. Naturally, I jumped at the opportunity to reflect on this intersection of digital and dining that Menuism’s been a part of for more than five years now. My fellow guest was Mark Pastore, owner of Incanto and Boccalone, and an outspoken critic of Web services like OpenTable and Groupon. The topics of discussion were broad and interesting, from diners’ growing expectations to the increasing complexity of running a restaurant business in an era of social media. Rather than rehashing many of the topics we covered at the roundtable, I thought I’d post the video so you can watch for yourself here.

A few personal observations about the experience:

  • Recording studios are far smaller than they appear on video. Maybe it’s true that the camera adds 15 square feet. 🙂
  • The conversations before and after the taping are often more interesting than the topics covered during the segment. This was especially true here; both Mark and I had a lot more to talk about than what was covered during the show.
  • It takes a lot of time and effort to create a video podcast like this, from brainstorming topics, to finding guests, to prepping the studio and servers. It’s a testament to Rafe and his team that they’ve been doing this so well for so long.
  • I need to speak louder next time.

It may seem from the video that Mark and I have differing viewpoints about the impact that Web services like Menuism, Groupon and Foursquare have on brick-and-mortar restaurants. However, I don’t think we actually stand that far apart. For example, we both agree that these services grow the ever-expanding toolkit for restauranteurs to connect with their diners.

Where we differ is more a matter of perspective. A restaurant owner whose focus is providing the best dining experience possible is naturally going to be bewildered by the vast array of marketing options available now. The increased marketing leverage of services like Groupon (where else can you get hundreds of new customers in a few hours?) present a huge opportunity but also a huge potential pitfall to restauranteurs who are looking for any advantage in an already tough business.

Coming from the Web side of things, my view is obviously more glass-half-full when it comes to the potential benefits of technology for restaurants. A prime example is the explosion of outlets built on diners’ opinions, which makes for greater transparency and more informed dining choices. Websites don’t have to play the diners-vs-restaurants game to succeed. However, facilitating education, transparency and open discourse encourages a better relationship between diners and restaurants, which I think is a definitive measure of success. That’s what we believe in here at Menuism, and that’s what we’re working hard to build: an open and supportive community and dining resource that will enrich everyone’s dining experiences.

Which Web dining services do you use? What do you want to see more of in the future? If you’re a loyalist of OpenTable, what do you and don’t you like about the service?

Happy eating,
John

Posted by on April 8th, 2011

John Li has been coping with random food obsessions for as long as he can remember, starting with Triscuits as a child. His current obsessions include ramen, margherita pizzas, and single malt scotches. His passion for food and technology culminated in co-founding Menuism in 2006.

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