Game of Phones

Dine first, tweet later writes Duncan Welgemoed.

Ever since I can remember, humankind began fast forwarding through mobile devices like someone scrolling through a YouTube video to get to the best bits. We have grown accustomed to machines going from totally essential to completely obsolete, mobiles thrown into the abyss alongside puree swiping and 62-degree eggs. All we are doing is pretty much surrounding ourselves with technology that is designed to distract us. This is bullshit… especially for a restaurateur. The sole reason I got into cooking was so I could cook and connect. There is no better feeling than having someone enjoy an experience that you have put together, from the food and wine to the company. It’s a performance akin to theatre and no one wants to be distracted by a buzzing phone or flashing lights when you have paid good money to be entertained right? Wrong – we crave constant stimulation and the smart phone has become an integral part of the dining landscape. The problem we now face in the restaurant industry is that more people are taking photos of the food, décor and wine, which take away from the overall ambience. On Saturday nights I could light up Waymouth Street on the power generated by iPhones in the dining room and still have enough electricity to take a cat selfie. You know what the menu and wine match is before you have even walked in, as well as what to expect by from the kitchen, so there is no element of surprise left. I’m generalising. But there’s definitely a higher base-level of expectation. It’s tricky for a chef. On one hand we know that the dish the front of house has placed in front of the diner is first looked upon through the lens of a smartphone, the description etched into a comment box and posted before anyone has had a chance to taste the dish. On the other hand it’s free advertising, our food broadcasted to a plethora of potential customers, counting the likes and shares, deciding on your next signature dish by the amount of shares the photo has – that’s when the cons become blurred. Social media has become ‘word of mouth’ and the amount of people that comment online about their experiences is staggering. Everyone has now become a critic and as soon as something is posted, it’s out there for the world to see. It can be used for good or evil and there is no responsibility or accountability especially when negative reviews are posted anonymously such as: “MY WINE WAS NOT POURED EXACTLY 60 SECONDS BEFORE OUR MAINS CAME OUT!!! SCANDELOUS!!” By WInEFiend 87 Or “WE PAID $50 FOR THREE COURSES!!!!! RIPOFF!!!!!!!!” By Diner#Catselfie69 It sounds like an exaggeration; it’s not. It’s human nature and technology has left us hopelessly spoiled. We whine like disappointed emperors the moment a restaurant does anything other than pander to our every whim, why? Because now we have an audience. But I’m talking about someone else there, of course. Not you, precious readers and potential diners, not you – after all you are the ones who ultimately blah blah let me pat you on the head blah. Bless you, whoever you are. You know a complaint is serious or a compliment extremely sincere when it’s handwritten. And even now, because these words too will appear on the internet, I know someone, somewhere, will be formulating a complaint in their head. Like all things we need balance, we need to be honest in our expectations, enjoying the meal for what it is, and stop comparing notes. Next time look around the restaurant you are dining in, count how many people are gazing lovingly into their Instagram accounts and consider putting your phone on silent, starting a conversation with your partner and enjoy the experience… then feel free to Tweet about how awesome or crap it was. Within the industry we appreciate the support the online community gives us and take on the chin the constructive feedback, even if it’s not what we want to hear. However, just remember to respect the establishment, put down your phone and eat your food. * I use my phone more than any other human in Christendom. Duncan Welgemoed is the Executive Chef of Bistro Dom and The Happy Motel

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