Last week, we discussed what I felt was one of the BEST uses of Twitter by a restaurant: the Canlis hidden menu scavenger hunt, wherein the Canlis brothers hide 1950's-era menus all around town, post Twitter clues as to their whereabouts, and then, if you find one of the menus, will serve you a whole lobster for $4 (or anything else at 1950's prices) all in celebration of Canlis's 60th anniversary, coming up in December.
Scavenger hunts with cheap lobsters as the prize? That's a pretty cool use of social media--clever, fun and not at all stalker-y or invasive.
But then there's this...
Eater last week reported on the use of Twitter by Manhattan restaurant Eleven Madison Park to, essentially, stalk their customers. Sure, it was in a friendly way. And it resulted in a free (mini)cheeseburger for one lucky fella. But still, there was a vague whiff of Big Brother Is Watching to the whole affair.
This, from Eater:
"A guy has a burger at the airport, tweets that he will consider it an "amuse-bouche for Eleven Madison Park," and the next day receives a miniature lamb burger at the restaurant. The waiter says, "We hope these are better than the one you had at the airport," winks, and walks away..."
Now to me, this crosses a certain hazy, philosophical line between clever and creepy. It makes me think that Eleven Madison Park has some bespectacled nerd on staff, sitting in a darkened room somewhere full of cigarette smoke and the smell of old sweat and lamb, watching an entire wall of video monitors as he tracks every mention of the restaurant everywhere in the electronic universe. I see him hunched over a scratch pad, writing cryptic notes and passing them to the front-of-house staff, saying things like "Winklebottom, prty of 2, 8:00 rez on Thrs. Hsbnd Larry enjoys motorsports and fucking his Russian secretary, Wife Loretta looking 4wrd to romantic dinner. Offer chmpgne & caviar/blini amuse."
And while this is probably not the case--while it was probably nothing more than a lucky catch by some hostess updating the restaurant's Twitter feed or Facebook page, seeing the airport tweet and mentioning it to someone in the kitchen with a weird sense of humor--it still stands as a benchmark moment to me: the point at which a restaurant becomes too involved in the personal lives of their customers.
Which isn't to say that thousands of restaurateurs out there no doubt saw this same story and thought exactly the opposite--seeing this as a perfect example of how social networking at the obsessively public nature of modern life can be exploited to make a casual, one-time diner at an otherwise completely impersonal eating establishment feel personally coddled, watched and cooked for, as though his every need is being catered to. I guarantee that this is not the last example we'll see of restaurants blurring the lines between life and dinner.
Is this going to stop me from tweeting like hell about how I could really really go for a fat steak, a cold beer and a whole cheesecake delivered to me by Woody Allen the next time I'm in New York and heading out for dinner? Hell no. But I do wonder at what point the inherent animal paranoia--the fear of being watched by unseen eyes--of the average human will begin butting up against leap into out-and-out customer surveillance.
Especially if there's not a $4 lobster (or at least something better than an amuse-sized lamb burger) in it for the watched.