cyberculture

Foodie Dating Hits the Million Mark

Heart-shaped-sugar-cubes

Heart-shaped sugar cubes via Prima Donna Bride

 

Foodies need love too.

Could you date someone who’s a vegan? What if that potentially special someone doesn’t like Chinese food? Or chocolate? Or pasta? You could be chevre on a crusty baguette and they’re Velveeta on white. Or you’re gluten-free and they’re all about pancake breakfasts.
Forget about personality types, pheromones, and horoscope signs; true compatibility is all about the food.

It’s been a year since the Eater blog hooked up with HowAboutWe to launch its foodie matchmaking service.
Instead of matching singles by their online profiles, daters pair up by filling in the blank:  How about we…
Proposals tend toward …shop for sea salt and make our own caramels  try every grilled cheese sandwich on the menu of the new food truck  ...load up on charcuterie and have a picnic…

On the Gen X dating giant OK Cupid, you can’t just call yourself a foodie, you have to prove your bona fides with a foodie test. The flavors and spices section asks daters to name an herb that’s described as ‘woody.’ The plating section of the test goes multiple choice with the question of appropriate garnish for a gin-brined pork tenderloin (would it be fresh parsley, creme fraiche, lemon twist and juniper berries, or a swirl of basil emulsion?).

If you want something more low-key with fewer strings attached than traditional one-to-one dating, there’s the pre-arranged double dates of Tandem and group dining sites like GrubWithUs and BlendAbout. These are services that facilitate something like a smörgåsbord of blind dates bringing together a dinner party’s-worth of singles— typically a table of four or eight with some pre-screened interests and compatibility. Still too much of a commitment? Try meeting someone Over Coffee.

There’s dating for vegetarians and vegans, Singles With Food Allergies, special dieters, and a site that matches couples based on refrigerator contents. Non-cooks can also look for their own Single Chefs to date.

On the occasion of enabling its one-millionth date, HowAboutWe looks at how all their foodie daters filled in the blank. The One Million Date infographic tallies up the pour-over coffee dates, shared house made pickle plates, and thousands of artisan bitters-infused cocktail meet ups for a revealing look at the dating habits of food-obsessed singles.

 

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Who Knew? Chefs Have Their Own Version of Yelp.

image via Merton Parrish

image via Merton Parrish

 

There’s one question we all want to ask our favorite chefs: Where do you go out to eat?

A chef’s recommendation is the ultimate stamp of approval. Chefs know restaurants from the inside out, and they know their local dining scene as only an insider can. With so much time spent in their own kitchens, when a chef turns the tables and chooses a restaurant to experience from the diner’s side, you know it’s got to be good.

Their secret weapon is Chefs Feed.
Chefs Feed is a Yelp-like restaurant discovery and recommendation site that we civilians can peruse, but the only people contributing reviews are chefs and other hand-picked culinary professionals.

Chefs Feed covers 15 U.S. cities plus London with a current lineup of 600 working chef-contributors, all respected professionals in their own circles and some outright celebrities like Thomas Keller, Mario Batali, and Wolfgang Puck. While just the chefs can add photos and reviews, anyone with the app can submit questions and comments, creating an interactive dialogue between the professionals and the rest of us.

Chefs look to the top of the food chain for inspiration, but they’re as likely to eschew the haute for the offbeat. So while all the big guns of city dining are represented, Chefs Feed also reveals the universal appeal of dumplings and Asian noodle houses, and unravels the mysteries of some lesser-known ethnic cuisines like Ethiopian and Peruvian. Given the hours they keep, it’s no surprise that chefs also display a soft spot for late-night joints and all-day breakfasts.

600 chefs vs. the collective wisdom of the mob
Yelp is commendably democratic with fresh voices and plenty of knowledgeable citizen journalists. But Yelpers also bring their quirks, biases, grudges, and ignorance (along with unchecked spelling and grammar); and the ratings are notoriously easy to game. Unscrupulous business owners compensate diners for positive reviews, greedy customers extort freebies with threats of negative reviews, and the site itself has been willing to tip the ratings scale to favor paid advertisers.

By contrast, there’s nothing democratic about Chefs Feed. Its roster of contributors is drawn from the elite and exclusive club of successful, professional chefs. You might not always share their dining druthers, but you can trust their discernment. After all, it’s Mario Batali; not some random guy with a smartphone.

Chefs Feed is offered as a free download from iTunes.

Then there are the restaurants where chefs go to blow off steam after a long shift in the kitchen. Read Gigabiting’s Marijuana and Food to learn how chefs feed their munchies.

 

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Another Epic Twitter Fail – This Time It’s Starbucks’ Turn

cursing twitter via ClaudiaChez

cursing twitter via ClaudiaChez

 

When good tweets go bad
Twitter is a powerful tool for brands to interact with their fans. It’s an inexpensive and immediate way for restaurants to build relationships and create a buzz. It builds customer engagement and loyalty. But when something goes wrong, things can go downhill in a hurry.

The followers, and the followers’ followers, and the followers’ followers’ followers….
We’ve seen blunders and over-sharing, humor that backfires, restaurants that tweet their own gaffes, and Twitter campaigns hijacked by disgruntled customers. When it happens, the company’s own narrative is in the hands of the masses. Starbucks is the latest in a string of restaurants to lose control and see their Twitter campaign blow up.

They spread it, all right.
Starbucks created the hashtag #SpreadTheCheer and invited its customers in the United Kingdom to tweet out some holiday cheer. The feed was displayed  on a giant screen at London’s Natural History museum where the company sponsors the ice rink. But cheerful quickly turned to sneerful.

Unfortunately, Starbucks has a reputation as a bit of a Scrooge in Britain where the company has been in the news for its plans to cut paid lunch breaks, sick leave, and maternity benefits for thousands of employees. It had also recently emerged that the coffee chain, with 700 locations across the U.K., had circumvented the British tax system with some financial-sleight-of-hand involving its division in Switzerland, and had paid less than 1% in corporate taxes over 14 years. The tweeter feed was flooded with profanity-laced sentiments blasting Starbucks as economy-busting tax dodgers who push overpriced milky coffee drowned in sugar syrup. And all was displayed on a giant screen at a central London landmark.

For the non-twitterers out there, hashtags are words or phrases preceded by a hash (#) symbol. They’re used to organize tweets into a topic or dialogue, and make them searchable. The hottest hashtags appear as trending topics on the right side of Twitter’s homepage, the most coveted spot in the twitterverse, seen by millions of users. This happens organically when a newsworthy event dominates the conversation, like #HurricaneSandy or #JustinBieberHaircut, or for about $120,000 a hashtag can be purchased and promoted as a trending topic, as Starbucks did with #SpreadTheCheer.

This is not the first restaurant twitter campaign gone wild.
McDonald’s began promoting the sponsored hashtag #McDStories with the idea of getting people talking about their experiences with the fast food giant. The company started the conversation with a few innocuous tweets:  Meet some of the hard-working people dedicated to providing McDs with quality food every day and When u make something w/pride, people can taste it. As hoped, people shared their #McDStories by the thousands. There were stories about diabetes and diarrhea, a video posted of a mouse working its way through a bag of hamburger buns, and a heated back-and-forth with PETA over the inhumane use of mechanically-separated chickens. Apparently some McDStories are better left untold.

Wendy’s had a similar experience with a Twitter campaign built around its 25-year old TV commercial with the little old lady crying out “Where’s the Beef?  When the chain promoted its hashtag #HerestheBeef, plenty of users responded with their pornographic versions of Here it is! and another segment responded with less bawdy but equally graphic imagery of cruelly penned, industrially-raised livestock.

There have been some obvious missteps: Taco Bell was justifiably slammed for its utterly offensive tweet on Martin Luther King Day asking Have you ever dreamed of eating @Taco Bell and then woke up and made that dream come true?  And Denny’s printed its menus with an invitation to Join the conversation! that directed its customers to the Twitter account of a Taiwanese gentlemen named Denny Hsieh whose Twitter handle is @Dennys. The menus were used for four months in 1,500 locations before they were corrected.

For Starbucks, this was a rare stumble in cyberspace. The company has topped virtually every list of social media winners since such things were tracked: industry, media, and marketing firms have all singled out Starbucks as the most socially engaged company, the best loved online brand, and the top restaurant presence online. That’s what makes this bush league Twitter fail all the more surprising. A publicly displayed, unmoderated, real-time feed? They should have known better.

 

Posted in coffee, cyberculture, food business, Web 2.0 | Leave a comment

SPAM vs. Spam

 

 

image via Happy Trails Computer Club

image via Happy Trails Computer Club

 

 

What’s in a name?
SPAM: a gelatinous block of porky luncheon meat.
Spam: a steady e-mail assault of erectile dysfunction ads, entreaties from Nigerian princes, and replica watch offers.
It’s hard to imagine a brand surviving this kind of association, but Hormel SPAM is doing just fine, thank you very much, not just surviving but thriving.

Hormel can get awfully touchy about the name.
It’s been a sore subject since the mid 1990’s when they watched their once-proud brand become synonymous with a detestable digital menace, and were powerless to stop it. Over the years they’ve repeatedly singled out technology companies with ‘spam’ in their company names and sued them for trademark infringement. After a decade of legal debate, the judges of the Trademark Board ruled against Hormel, asserting that the brand wasn’t truly damaged because no one confuses the internet applications with a canned meat product.

In 2001 their worst fears were realized.
A Hormel spokesman explained the company’s struggle with a statement on their website: “We are trying to avoid the day when the consuming public asks, ‘why would Hormel foods name its product after junk e-mail?’” Indeed, ‘spam’ has become ubiquitous throughout the world to describe the flood of unsolicited e-mail and in 2001 the term entered the Oxford English Dictionary not as a luncheon meat but as “The practice of sending irrelevant, inappropriate, or unsolicited postings or e-mails over the Internet, esp. indiscriminately and in very large numbers.”

But for all of Hormel’s anguish, SPAM remains unmarred by the negative association.
Born in the Great Depression, SPAM is an emblematic food in America’s hard-times pantry—so much so that it’s been suggested that the Federal Reserve Bank should track SPAM sales as an economic benchmark. We’ve turned to it again in the recent downturn. Hormel has seen steadily rising sales and profits for the past four years.

In 2012 SPAM makes peace with the internet.
Looking to grow its online presence, this year SPAM redesigned its website, added a YouTube channel, and stepped up its customer engagement through Twitter and Facebook. The brand also introduced its first-ever spokescharacter, Sir Can-A-Lot, a little tin can of a knight who’s on a crusade to rescue your meals by infusing them with some pink processed meat. This year, SPAM’s U.S. consumption reached an all-time high of more than 120 million cans.

 

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Surprise: Pinterest is Tops Online for Recipes

image via Someecards

 

Pinterest was the breakout social network of 2012.
It might feel like you blinked and missed this one, but clearly a lot of food lovers didn’t— 90% of online recipe sharing is happening on Pinterest.

Two year-old Pinterest flew under the tech radar for much of its early life. Silicon Valley found it easy to ignore the start-up of yet another social media channel, and especially one that lacked technological innovation and was founded by a Valley outsider with a humanities background. But it struck a chord with home cooks.

Mom’s old recipe cards meet food porn.
The Pinterest combination of social sharing plus a visual scrapbook feels right at home in the kitchen. Home cooks have been clipping and swapping recipes forever, and now they’re taking them to Pinterest’s web-based pinboards where food fans trump all other interest groups. Food is by far the fastest-growing, most popular, most re-pinned category on the site.

The top spot on Pinterest is no small potatoes.
Pinterest is now the third largest social network behind only Facebook and Twitter, and is closing in on number two. The site has around 30 million monthly visitors and is the third-largest source of referral traffic on the Internet. 70% of Pinterest users cite recipes as their most pinned items.

Pinterest has staying power.
Pinterest is the rare social network that seems to have cracked the code for monetization. Pinned images are like glowing recommendations for products that convert Pinterest browsers into shoppers at astounding rates. According to PriceGrabber 21% of users have purchased something they saw on the site and foodies again led the way, accounting for a third of those purchases. The site collects affiliate fees by attaching links that take you from a pin you like to the store that sells the item, and last month Pinterest launched its business accounts that will surely lead to advertising and other revenue.

Learn to love Pinterest.
There’s never been a shortage of places to go for pretty pictures of food and stuff to buy. And does anybody really need another online social network? But if it’s where the food is, it’s where we’ll want to be. 
I’m trying: http://pinterest.com/gigabiting/

 

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Gingerbread Houses 2012

image via Petit Plat

 

What’s up with gingerbread houses in 2012? Plenty, it seems.
Gingerbread houses have gone green and sustainable, mid-century modern, and gluten-free. They’re big enough to walk through and small enough to dangle on the rim of a mug of cocoa. And we’ve finally had enough of gingerbread houses made of cupcakes.

Here’s a sampling of what’s online this holiday season:

Learn how to make a gingerbread house with a YouTube cooking lesson.

Visit our nation’s official gingerbread White House during the month of December at ObamaFoodorama.

View a time-lapse video of the construction of a life-sized gingerbread house (that’s 600 pounds of powdered sugar you’re watching!).

Peruse the gingerbread house picture gallery or upload a photo of your own creation at the Pinterest board for Gingerbread House Heaven.

Enter a gingerbread house-building contest. A national competition is held annually in Asheville, NC, but there are plenty of local events for both amateur and professional bakers.

Order a gingerbread replica of your home from custom baker Rebecca Russell.

Disneyland always pulls out the stops for its life-size gingerbread house at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort. This year’s house is based on the Haunted Mansion from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and features a special-effects laden see-through ghost train that travels around the base of the house while ghosts chase a gingerbread man on a push car.

Choose between an A-frame, a Colonial, or a Saltbox with gingerbread house blueprints from BobVila.com.

Shop for kits, pans, and decorating tools at the Wilton Christmas Gingerbread Shop.

Play the online Home Sweet Home and decorate a virtual gingerbread house.

And yes, there’s an app for that.
Download Gingerbread House Maker for Android and Apple gadgets.

 

Posted in Christmas, cyberculture, diversions | Leave a comment

Vegan Men Come Out of the Closet

[image via The Vegan Soapbox]

 

The tell-tale signs
Does the man in your life know the proper pronunciation of quinoa?
Has he ever come home with a guilty look and the smell of wheat grass on his breath?
Does he think it’s cute when you refer to lentils as legumes (Silly girl, they’re pulses!) and get hot and bothered when you wear your organic cotton t shirt?
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but your man is a vegan.

The cultural cliché that just won’t die
Real men are supposed to eat meat. Those who eschew animal-sourced foods are, if not exactly girlie, compromised as manly men. Even vegetarians rate their own kind as less masculine.

Meat is the food of men. In ancient societies, a successful hunt was an emblem of manhood, bringing status and signaling readiness to marry. Meat-eating suggests power, vitality, and virility. Nearly every language with gendered pronouns assigns maleness to meaty words.

By contrast a meatless regimen seems mild and anemic. And worst of all, it speaks of compassion. Vegans are tagged as sensitive souls—hugging trees, cuddling bunnies, awash in emotionalism. In other words, feminine.

Finally, vegan men are coming out of the closet.
Bloomberg Businessweek profiled heavyweight, alpha-male vegans like Bill Clinton, Russell Simmons, and Steve Wynn in The Rise of the Power Vegans, and a group called Vegans in Vegas held a first-of-its kind event mixing bachelor party hijinks with vegan-themed presentations in fields like nutrition, fitness, and environmentalism. The online, pro-vegan lifestyle magazine The Discerning Brute calls its content fashion, food, and etiquette for the ethically handsome man, and The Ethical Man recently became the first 100% vegan apparel shop for men. 

Beefcake; hold the beef
40 Sexy Vegan Men shares photos and video of celebrity vegans from the fields of film, music, professional sports, and television. 10 Brawny and Buff Vegan Men gives us exactly that from the chest-thumping world of boxers, wrestlers, and martial artists. And then there was the wildly-popular Vegan Ryan Gosling internet meme (sample entry: Hey Girl, sorry my shirt is off but we’re out of cheesecloth and I needed to drain some tofu).

Do your part to help change perceptions
Encourage your man to come out of the shadows and practice his veganism in the light of day.
Take him on a date to the bulk foods aisle. Start dropping phrases like bioavailability and meat analog into conversations. Learn to love a splash of almond milk in your coffee.
Real men do eat plants; they just need our love and support to do it in public.

 

Posted in cyberculture, funny, vegetarian | Leave a comment

Audible Edibles: The Best Online Radio Food Shows

 

There’s something about listening to a food show on the radio.

Of course I am endlessly entertained by TV cooking shows: a little pseudo-cooking from a well-coiffed celebrity host in a pristine, Sub-Zero-sponsored kitchen; or maybe the high drama of competitive cooking looking all too easy with flashy knife skills and careful editing. It’s performance television, and most of us view it with the same slack-jawed passivity we assume when watching a CSI marathon.

But there’s just something about listening to a food show.
There’s an intimacy and immediacy to the disembodied voice in your ear, a connection that is rarely found through the high-gloss visuals of television. Fans of the genre claim that at its best, radio taps deep into their memories, pulling imagery from their brains in a way that video never does.

Radio is accessible just about anytime, anywhere: you can tune in the local station through the FM dial, subscribe via satellite service, stream shows live online, or download podcasts to numerous devices. There are shows for every taste from the big city polish of Los Angeles’ Good Food and Eastern Iowa’s recipe-swapping Open Line, with its repertoire of icebox cookies and new uses for canned cream of mushroom soup. Niche podcasters play to cultish audiences with the practical, the edgy, and the strange like the dairy discourse of Cutting the Curd, school cafeteria reports from the Renegade Lunch Lady, and Mike and Tom Eat Snacks, known by its legions of fans as MATES, in which comedian Michael Ian Black and actor Tom Cavanagh riff on snack food, combining wildly improvisational comedy and surprisingly solid food reviews.

Tune in here, my friend; you look hungry:

  • Cooking Issues brings one of our favorite blogs to life. Dave Arnold, the Director of Culinary Technology of The French Culinary Institute at The International Culinary Center, tinkers with the newest kitchen technologies, techniques, and ingredients.
  • The BBC’s The Food Programme produces thoughtful, in depth explorations of a broad range of culinary topics.
  • Dare we call it hipster radio? Snacky Tunes is a weekly Brooklyn-based happening hosted by identical twins Greg and Darin Bresnitz, a duo better-known as Finger on the Pulse, bringing together chefs, DJs, farmers, bands, DJs, restaurateurs, and record label owners for a discussion of things culinary and musical.
  • The Menu comes from The Monacle, a global affairs magazine that’s become essential reading for the young, stylish, and moneyed, as well as those who aspire to a global jet setter lifestyle. The weekly radio show is a fascinating peek at that crowd’s need-to-know hotspots and personalities.
  • American Public Media is still at the top of its game with the long-running classic The Splendid Table, combining recipes, cooking tips, chef interviews, and lifestyle segments.

You can keep the food talk streaming with a pair of food-focused radio networks:

  • The Food Radio Network is a far cry from the cluster of food shows found on the lower end of the dial at public radio stations. Brazenly commercial, it can feel at times like ‘QVC Radio’ with sponsored segments like Pillsbury Makes It With Love, but in between the promos you’ll find some quality programming like the global kitchen of One World One Table and the totally tea-centric Steeping Around.
  • The non-profit Heritage Radio Network presents an eclectic lineup of live webcasts aimed at a hip, green-leaning listener. Hot Grease follows the local food movement; Let’s Get Real sniffs out everything fake in food from empty health claims to self-righteous foodiness; The Speakeasy examines contemporary cocktail culture; and there’s a whole slew of shows for everyone from culinary do-it-yourselfers, to craft beer lovers, and culinary world insiders.
Posted in cyberculture, Entertainment | 2 Comments

The Rise of Subscription Commerce


Just like the flash sales and daily deal sites that clog your inbox, monthly subscription services want to fill your mailbox.

Here’s how they work:
The subscriber pays a monthly fee, usually around $10 or $20, to receive some type of box each month. The box can be filled with samples or full-size products, household names or new product introductions—you don’t know just what’s inside until you open it. Each service targets a narrowly defined customer niche, and products are carefully selected by authorities in the category. Some of the more successful services have hundreds of thousands of paid subscriptions and can charge a slotting fee to the manufacturers for the privilege of inclusion, while others pay the wholesale price to get a product in their boxes. There’s Bark Box for dog owners, Mystery Tackle Box for fishing enthusiasts, his-and-hers underwear (Manpacks and Panty by Post), and the very crowded beauty field (Test Tube, Birch Box, Beauty Bar).

Food makers have flocked to subscription commerce.
It’s a natural fit. There’s a constant parade of small, independent food artisans, and food lovers have insatiable appetites for new and different tastes. The producers gain access to specialized consumer niches, getting their products in the right hands, and consumers get the thrill of discovery with little effort or expense.

The return on investment to the food producers is a little murky; it’s not clear that subscription boxes convert enough samplers into customers. But it feels like a pure win for food lovers. 
Here are some of the more interesting food subscriptions out there:

Love With Food sends out 8+ samples in each $10 (shipping included) monthly box, skewed heavily toward high-quality snacks and treats like granola, hand-made marshmallows, herbal teas, and salsas.

KnoshBox is also heavy on the snacks. Monthly boxes are themed (Autumn Harvest, Wine Trails), and focused on small, regional American producers. The $30 boxes (shipping included) are filled with full-sized jam jars and biscotti bags.

Sometimes it seems like all the interesting food artisans live in Brooklyn or the Bay Area. Gotham Box taps into foodie envy by curating a monthly selection of new treats out of either New York or San Francisco ($20 including shipping).

Mantry‘s subscription boxes are designed to stock what they call the’ modern man’s pantry.’ The focus, they say, is on the rare, the exotic, and the functional (cuz Babes recognize a man with taste), which seems to mean a lot of hot sauce, jerky, and chocolate. If you want in, you can add your name to the waiting list.

The Turntable Kitchen offers a monthly ‘curated food and music discovery experience delivered to your door’. Each $25 (including shipping) pairing box brings a couple of old favorites on 7-inch vinyl plus a digital mix-tape of carefully chosen new artists; a recipe collection, tasting notes, and a few exotic ingredients to pair with the music.

Subscription boxes are a boon to special dieters.
Pick your allergens, singly or in combination (dairy, egg, soy, wheat, tree nuts…) and Tasterie will compile a monthly selection that’s been subjected to a rigorous screening and verification process to ensure allergen-free ingredients and processes ($20 including shipping). Paleo Pax is for followers of the fad diet that aspires to mimic the 10,000 year-old regimen of hunter-gatherers of the Paleolithic era before the advent of agriculture and domesticated animals. For a monthly $18 (plus shipping), expect to see lots of nuts, dried berries, and foods made from sea kelp.

Lost Crates is the meta-curator of curated boxes. They have assembled a lineup of online lifestyle curators and create proprietary boxes (prices vary) for Joy the Baker, the Shiksa in the Kitchen, EcoSalon, and others. A clever quiz guides you to your ‘soulmate crate.’

My Subscription Addiction is a review site for the expanding universe of subscription commerce.

 

 

 

 

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Bad tippers take note. They’re naming names.

image via The Snarky Souffle

 

Do you tip a straight 15%? Do you bump it up to 20% or more for really good service? Not to worry; you should be in the clear.

If you are rude, if you are demanding, if you totally stiff your server, you just might find your name making the rounds in cyberspace on a list of bad tippers. Waiters, bartenders, even pizza delivery guys all have their go-to websites for rants and revenge, pulling transaction details from credit card receipts and posting them anonymously. The tweets could be flying before you get your car back from the valet parker (and yes, they have their own site).

Find out what your servers really think of you.

Waiter Rant has made an industry of tipping tales with a popular blog and a best-selling book, Waiter Rant: Thanks for the Tip – Confessions of a Cynical Waiter. Here you’ll learn how the car you drive tells the world what kind of tipper you are, and why the check for your table of 6 included a gratuity charge.

Bitter Waitress pulls no punches with posts like Man and Fat Wife’s Anniversary, and Stop Coddling the Whiny, Bitchy People.

Is your name among the thousands of entries in the Lousy Tippers Database? With the ominous subtitle ‘There is a Consequence,’ let’s hope not.

Another place that servers go to share is the Facebook page Bad Tippers Suck! where they like to remind you that there is no such things as over-tipping.

Celebrity Tipping: the stuff of legend.

All eyes are on them as they stride in with entourage and attitude. They are fully aware of the scrutiny, the flash of cell phone cameras, the gossip that moves at the speed of light. But still, they engage in heinous acts of tip stiffing. Such hubris! Of course their servers are only too happy to share sordid tales of rude behavior and lousy tips.

Sullen, petulant Russell Crowe appears on the list of the 10 best celebrity tippers while perpetually cheery Rachael Ray is one of the 10 worst. Go figure.

Stained Apron identifies celebrities as ‘Saints’ and ‘Scum,’ claiming that tipping habits are the true test of inner peace and civility. We could have guessed about Uma Thurman, but it’s nice to know that the former members of the Village People wear the halo. It seems that most members of Congress are going to hell, but we already knew that.

Here’s a tip: don’t wait until you see your name on a bad tippers’ database to give a jolt to your conscience. From sommeliers to tattoo artists, find out the appropriate gratuity for all the service workers in your life with these tipping guidelines.

Did you know that servers cover the tip’s fees on credit cards? Read Gigabiting’s Credit Card Fees on the Tip: Who Pays?


Posted in cyberculture, restaurants | 1 Comment

They Call Themselves ‘The Opposite of Yelp’

 

image via F*ck You Yelper.tumblr.com

 

It seems like everyone is on Yelp.
And by everyone we mean the uninformed, the unqualified, and the perpetrators of unchecked spelling and grammar.

Yelp struck a blow for democracy.
The user-submitted reviews—60 million and counting—turned us all into food critics. In the aggregate it’s the collective wisdom of the mob. But you don’t really want to look too closely at that crowd. There are fresh voices and knowledgeable citizen journalists, but you also get plenty of Yelpers bringing quirks, biases, grudges, and ignorance. This is hardly a crowd that’s always going to get it right.

Taste Savant is a new restaurant discovery and recommendation site that aims to get it right.
The basic model resembles Yelp with its sortable, searchable database of restaurants, but where Yelp is an inclusive, digital free-for-all with a cacophony of voices sounding off on every corner deli, diner, and taco stand, Taste Savant touts its exclusivity:
“We give you reviews from people who matter for restaurants that are worth your while.”

People who matter; restaurants that are worth your while
There is nothing democratic going on here. Taste Savant is unabashedly elitist. It presents a range of dining experiences from Michelin-starred palaces to Chinatown noodle houses, but there’s a selective, curated approach to content, so unlike Yelp there’s no slogging through the mediocre and mundane.

The reviews are curated and tightly edited as well, sorted by source: Critics, Users, and Friends. Critics are food industry insiders like professional restaurant reviewers, food bloggers, and chefs (Taste Savant calls them “people who really know what they’re talking about when it comes to food“). Users are anyone who submits (approved) content to the site, and Friends are discerning Users that you let in to your inner circle. There’s also a live Concierge service that you can tweet for personal recommendations.

Savvy or snobby?
Yes and yes.
If this sounds like so much foodie pretension taking potshots at populist dining, then Taste Savant is not for you. But that’s the point. Until the rise of social media, restaurant reviewing, like all forms of cultural criticism, was an elite enterprise. It was undertaken by individuals who brought disciplined tastes and cultural and contextual perspective to the table, and it was precisely because they were not one of us that we valued their opinions.

Taste Savant has launched its public beta site and blog covering New York City with additional cities on the way.

 

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Don’t Give Away Your ‘Like’ Button

image via NewLikes

 

The Facebook ‘like’ button is perhaps the most valuable technological innovation of the last few decades.
It’s the keys to the kingdom, the feature that turns social networks into something more than the sum of its users, the revenue generator that adds billions to Facebook’s coffers, and the engine that propelled Facebook’s IPO into the stratosphere.
So why don’t you have something to show for it?

A recently settled class action lawsuit laid this all out for us. We learned how a little click of the thumbs-up icon is turning us into unwitting, unpaid product endorsers. Our actions are plugging products to our social network; our names and photos are integrated into Sponsored Stories that appear on our friends’ pages. Facebook gets the ad revenue and the products get our endorsements, which is estimated to influence purchase decisions at three times the rate of straight advertising. We’ve become the ads, but we’re shut out of the equation.

Swaggable is here to shake up the model.
Swaggable hooks you up with free products and hopes you’ll continue to do what you’re already doing—share your opinions with your social network. You pay nothing, not even shipping costs, and manufacturers send free product samples. You’re not obligated to write a review, and you’re expected to be honest about the products so that your opinions can maintain a semblance of impartiality.

The brands that Swaggable represents are mostly specialty foods. You sign up via Facebook Connect, telling Swaggable what types of products you’re interested in, or you can make specific requests for products you want from their current offerings, with new ones added every week. Samples are full-sized retail packages of mostly new and trendy foods, and Swaggable highlights categories like organic, fair trade, vegan, and non-GMO.  Right now they’re sampling granola bars, fancy nut butters, spiced nut mixes, coconut drinks and teas, and a few dozen other products.

Facebook has an estimated 600 million active users, each connected to an average of 130 friends who collectively click the ‘like’ or ‘comment’ buttons 112 million times every hour, adding billions to Facebook’s bottom line. We’re the ones holding all the cards and we don’t seem to know it. Swaggable puts a little pinkie finger on the scale to shift the balance of power a tiny bit toward us.

 

Posted in cyberculture, shopping | 1 Comment

Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Tweet Everything You Eat

Tweeting breakfast with Future Man via Where's My Jetpack?

 

Who gives a tweet?
Time Magazine calls them ‘contented little burps’. In GQ, the comedian Patton Oswalt characterized them less kindly as ‘bowel movement prequels.’
340 million tweets are generated every day, and sometimes it feels like they’re all about lunch.

Food is one of our two universal hobbies.
It’s as broadly interesting as any subject can be. But just like sex—that other über-popular pastime—we don’t need to know everything about what our friends are up to. And we definitely don’t need to see pictures of it.

Not every meal is tweet-worthy.
Food pictures shouldn’t be tweeted out of a documentarian’s compulsion. The subject needs to earn its keep. When we scroll through too many pictures, even the exceptional becomes mundane. The sheer volume threatens to turn the delectably compelling into the hypnotically dull.

We need to have standards.
Before you post, ask yourself why. The simplest of tweets can add to the conversation, while the exceptional might just be an ego-driven desire to put one’s fabulousness on display. Share because it’s a leg of lamb of uncommon beauty or a creatively set table. Share because it’s a special gathering of friends or a unique outing in your travels. If it’s conspicuous social validation or gustatory navel gazing, keep it to yourself.

Eat It Don’t Tweet It is a hilariously scathing satirical YouTube video that chronicles the dining adventures of a smug, knit-capped food photo enthusiast who sings like The Cure’s Robert Smith and fancies himself to be a ‘gastronomic Annie Leibovitz.’
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It’s Not Online Dating. It’s Social Pairing.

 

image via SituEating

 

Socialize with your social network? What a concept.

Social pairing takes all those profiles and all that location-based data and creates real-world connections. KLM lets you choose your airplane seatmate from LinkedIn or Facebook, and Ticketmaster does the same for concert tickets. But nothing pairs like social networks and food. Food is the original social media juggernaut. Our dining history is documented in OpenTable and Foursquare, our likes and dislikes are recorded in reviews on Yelp, we tweet about our favorite dishes, and post pictures to our Facebook profiles.

Despite all of our online communities—or maybe because of them—we yearn for offline connectedness, and food is the natural place to find it. Great or humble, the best meals are the ones we share with others. New social pairing applications are leveraging existing networks and creating new ones to add genuine social engagement to our social media connections.

Group dining sites like GrubWithUs and BlendAbout facilitate something like a smörgåsbord of blind dates. More low-key, with fewer strings attached than traditional dating sites, the dinners are held after work on non-date nights, and typically bring together a table of eight. Dinners can be strictly social or tagged for specific hobbies or industries, and diners link their RSVPs to photos and profiles.

GetLunched is on its way to the U.S. on the heels of its UK success. It integrates LinkedIn profiles into old-fashioned business networking. Job hunters, advice-seekers, brainstormers, and collaborators can extend a lunchtime invitation that specifies ‘I’m Buying,’ ‘You’re Buying’ or ’50/50,’ depending on the value exchange of the meeting.

Personally, I enjoy a table for one; just me and my meal—no extraneous conversation, no one asking me to switch to the tuna because they’re already ordering the lamb, no presumptive fork sticking into my dessert. But it would appear that many women don’t.  It makes them feel awkward or lonely, dredges up painful memories of the middle school cafeteria, or they could be traveling in a country where it’s frowned upon or even dangerous. Men are strictly banned from the women-only social pairings of Invite for a BiteMaiden Voyage, and Global Dinner Network.

Zokos calls itself a ‘collaborative party platform’. It takes the group beyond restaurants with DIY potluck dinners, picnics, tailgate parties, and cooking classes. You can designate yourself as host or guest, and zokos brokers the invitations, collects the ‘chip-in’ costs, and oversees menu contributions so you don’t end up with 8 pasta salads.

If the hours-long commitment to a meal with unknown companions is too much for you, how about a cup of coffee? Over Coffee pairs up compatible coffee drinkers, and plans to open their own bricks-and-mortar café to bring together strangers for caffeine and conversation.

For another take on not dining solo, check out Gigabiting’s Shoulder to Shoulder with Strangers: Dining at the communal table.

Posted in community, social media | Leave a comment

A Nice Lasagne Crosses Party Lines

Company’s coming. What will you serve?
Maybe you should check their voter registration cards at the door.

So says Hunch, the collective intelligence, decision-making website co-founded by the people who brought us Flickr. Hunch is building a ‘taste graph’ for the internet, using profile-building methodology to map group and individual affinities. Sifting through 25 million responses, its algorithm reveals distinct eating patterns and preferences that correlate with political ideologies.

  • Political Pizza
    thin crust for Liberals, deep dish for Conservatives
  • Have a muffin, Mr. President
    Liberals like their baked goods while Conservatives tend to skip breakfast
  • French fries for all
    Conservatives pick them up at McDonald’s or Chick-fil-A, Liberals head to In-N-Out Burger
  • Staying in tonight
    Conservatives whip up meatloaf or fire up the grill for steak and chicken; Liberals are crazy for seafood
  • And pour a glass of…
    wine for Liberals, bottled water for Conservatives
  • Meatless Monday
    11% of Liberals and 3% of Conservatives are vegetarians
  • Of course everyone loves Thin Mints
    Girl Scout cookie time brings Trefoil Shortbread to Conservatives; Liberals snatch up the Caramel deLites

There is significant common ground found between the two groups.
Conservatives and liberals both agree that a bacon double cheeseburger is a beautiful thing, and soft tacos will always beat crunchy ones. Sprinkles on ice cream and sugared rims on cocktail glasses are shared enemies. Romaine lettuce is the universal salad green of choice, and everyone likes a good hot dog.

If only congressional budgets and healthcare were this easy to agree on.


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Coffee Shop Squatters Get Their Eviction Notice

What’s a graduate student (or freelancer or blogger) to do?
Coffee shops are cracking down on table squatters who make themselves a little too much at home.

You know the ones. For the price of a small coffee they’ll monopolize a café table for hours on end. They put their phones in chargers, connect to the free WiFi, and settle in for the workday. Why not? The bathrooms are clean and somebody left behind today’s newspaper with an empty crossword puzzle. They can nurse the cool dregs of that same cup of coffee for the better part of the day.

The squatters monopolize precious seating space, commandeer electrical outlets, and remain at the table for cell phone calls, and the coffee shops—chain and independents alike—are fed up. Some urban coffee shop operators have resorted to covering electrical outlets with padlocked plugs to limit your session to the duration of your battery life. Others have shrunk the size of café tables to tiny cups-only pedestals, or have removed tables entirely, replacing them with European-style stand up coffee bars.

The draconian strategies have outraged some long-time customers, and once you leave the high-traffic high-rent cities, these tactics simply don’t cut it. Suburban coffee drinkers are not there to escape a cramped city apartment. A welcoming atmosphere is the stock in trade for a local café.

Coffee shops are now looking to strike a gentler balance. In the Chicago area, Panera bakery-cafés request that WiFi usage be limited to 30 minutes during the lunch rush, while nearby Cafe Jumping Bean forgoes the self-policing and just powers down the wireless router at lunchtime. Others like San Francisco’s Café Abir hope to bypass freeloaders by only handing out the WiFi access password with purchases, and changing it every few hours to discourage lingering. Everyone in the business is waiting on Sony which is currently developing an electrical outlet that can read a user’s identity and set time limits on electricity use.

What’s fair and reasonable? Here’s a look at some different perspectives and opinions:

According to a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair, poll 32% of Americans think that a person who has purchased coffee should be able to use the shop’s free WiFi for as long as they want. 38% think that 30 to 60 minutes after they finish their drink is reasonable. Only 18% think you should use it only for as long as you’re drinking.

 

Posted in cyberculture, workplace | 3 Comments

You Too Can Be A Food Blogger

image via If Only She Applied Herself

 

The instructional book publisher For Dummies has announced its newest title: Food Blogging for Dummies.

Come on in, the water’s fine.
It’s been estimated that a new blog is born every half second, and an awful lot of them are food blogs. Blogging continues to redefine the way information is exchanged, and its influence is irrefutable. Political blogs have the power to oust political leaders, video blogs create instant celebrities, and food bloggers moved no less a mountain than McDonald’s when they got the fast food giant to shrink the french fries and add apples to its Happy Meals.

Food blogs have grown up.
Food bloggers took their knocks in the early days when the category was overrun with the tedium of the hyper-personal ‘Today I had a cheese sandwich‘ genre (bear in mind that the whole of the blogosphere seemed to then be powered by cute kittens and homemade porn). While tedious, navel-gazing scribblings can still be found, many more food blogs are serious endeavors that inform, entertain, and edify. They’re increasingly authored by chefs, cookbook authors, and other food industry professionals, and are essential reading for every restaurateur, purveyor, grower, and policy-maker. Food bloggers are followed assiduously by editors, publishers, and journalists of all stripes (who often envy their readership) and are courted by publicists and marketers, agents and manufacturers.

Food Blogging for Dummies is the latest title to join a literary lineup that includes primers on ferret-keeping, programming your TIVO, buying property in Spain, and how to feng shui your garden (or home or office). While it’s authored by a totally legitimate and talented food journalist, early word (the book’s release date is still a month away) has it that chapter titles include How to Write a Top Ten List and Using Words Like Toque, Delish, and Drool-Worthy For Fun and Profit. Really.

Here are some other resources to visit for a look at the world of food blogging:

Yes, we have them. It’s the Food Blog Code of Ethics.

Saveur publishes one of the internet’s more definitive lists of top food blogs.
The magazine has also created A Brief History of Food Blogs.

It all started here in 1997.

 

 

 

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The Yin and the Yang of Twitter Hashtags

cursing twitter via ClaudiaChez

Fast food restaurants are working the Twitter hashtags.
For the non-twitterers out there, hashtags are words or phrases preceded by a hash (#) symbol. They’re used to organize tweets into a topic or dialogue, and make them searchable. The hottest hashtags appear as trending topics on the right side of Twitter’s homepage, the most coveted spot in the twitterverse, seen by millions of users. This happens organically when a newsworthy event dominates the conversation, like #JapanEarthquake or #JustinBieberHaircut, but last year Twitter started selling spots on the list. About $120,000 buys a promoted trend, and everyone from Al Jazeera (#ArabSpring) to Starbucks (#Starbucks) has sponsored a hashtag and promoted it as a trending topic.

Fast food restaurants are drawn to Twitter.
It’s an inexpensive and immediate way to create a buzz and promote a menu special. It builds customer engagement and loyalty. At its best Twitter creates powerful word-of-mouth messaging; at its worst, well, it also creates powerful word-of-mouth messaging.

Twitter campaigns gone wild.
McDonald’s began promoting the sponsored hashtag #McDStories last week with the idea of getting people talking about their experiences with the fast food giant. The company started the conversation with a few innocuous tweets:  Meet some of the hard-working people dedicated to providing McDs with quality food every day and When u make something w/pride, people can taste it. As hoped, people shared their #McDStories by the thousands. There were stories about diabetes and diarrhea, a video posted of a mouse working its way through a bag of hamburger buns, and a heated back-and-forth with PETA over the inhumane use of mechanically-separated chickens. Apparently some McDStories are better left untold.

Wendy’s had a similar experience with a Twitter campaign built around its 25-year old TV commercial with the little old lady crying out “Where’s the Beef?  When the chain promoted its hashtag #HerestheBeef, plenty of users responded with their pornographic versions of Here it is! and another segment responded with less bawdy but equally graphic imagery of cruelly penned, industrially-raised livestock. Come on Wendy’s, #HeresTheBeef, on a Meatless Monday, no less? Some might say you got what was coming to you.

Hardly isolated incidents, we’ve seen plenty of fast food twittering gone awry. There have been some obvious missteps: Subway, not exactly known for its down-home cookin’ was derided for its hashtag #SUBWAYAllStarBBQ; and Taco Bell was justifiably slammed for its utterly offensive tweet on Martin Luther King Day asking Have you ever dreamed of eating @Taco Bell and then woke up and made that dream come true?

It’s an axiom of marketing that customers share bad experiences far more often than they praise the good ones- consumer research has shown that bad:good ratio to be 5 to 1. When a customer shares online, you can multiply those numbers by their Twitter followers, and the followers’ followers, and the followers’ followers’ followers….
Between their own tweeted gaffes and hashtags that are hijacked by disgruntled customers, companies are powerless to control their promotional narratives.
Maybe fast food restaurants should just lay off the Twitter hashtags.

 

 

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How to be a Food Geek

[image courtesy of Consumer Eroski]

Food Geeks should not be confused with Foodies.
Foodies talk about past and future meals while eating the current one. They know the pedigree of the eggs they eat and will carry heirloom tomatoes like a newborn baby. They can be profoundly interested and even technically proficient in one or many aspects of food (cheese, restaurants, cooking, wines), but the focus is squarely on the pleasures of the table: the food they eat, the people they share it with, the memories they create and the ones they recall.

Food Geeks are an entirely different animal.
They not only admire a crusty baguette, they can tell you if it’s due to enzymatic browning or lipid oxidation. They measure ingredients in grams and will serve caviar with white chocolate knowing that they match on a molecular level. Food Geeks appreciate the art of cooking while they embrace the science.

In the world of geeky niches, Food Geeks are a little more socially-acceptable than Gamers and Gadget Nerds but not as cool as Music or Movie Geeks. At least according to Gizmodo’s Socially-Acceptable Geek Subgenre Scale, Food Geeks have a middling rank between top-of-the-heap Finance Geeks (Math Nerds turned cool… who’s getting a wedgie after calculus class now,  jocks?) and the bottom-dwelling human/animal fantasy-hybridists known as Furries.

Food Geek Essentials
Food Geeks are well-represented online (no big surprise).

  • The patron saint of Food Geeks is Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking, a classic tome of gastronomic science first published in 1984. His blog, the Curious Cook is a must-read for any self-respecting geek.
  • Another essential bookmark is the molecular gastronomy blog Khymos. The blog is the creation of a Norwegian organometallic chemist (a fairly typical career among Food Geeks); don’t ask about the blog’s name unless you want a lesson in Greek and Arabic etymology (also fairly typical).
  • Ideas in Food showcases playful experimentation with food, reflecting the culinary rather than scientific backgrounds of its bloggers.
  • When Food Geeks just wanna have fun, they play a round of TGRWT. Short for They Go Really Well Together, the players start with the hypothesis  that if two foods have one or more key odorants in common, they might pair well in a dish.
  • Show some geek pride with a food-themed t-shirt.
  • Lifehacker has instructions for the Top 10 DIY Food Geek Projects.

You can mingle with the Food Geeks through the Facebook page and Twitter feed of FoodGeeks.com. And keep an eye out for TGRWT— the results from the last round should be posted any day now.

 

 

Posted in cyberculture, food knowledge, Science/Technology | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

This Blog Has Been [Redacted]

Internet Piracy Proposals in Congress
It’s a cause that got those bitter rivals, Google and Facebook, to put aside their differences and join forces.
It inspired a coalition of internet giants that includes Facebook, Google, Twitter, eBay, LinkedIn, Mozilla, Yahoo, AOL and Zynga, to jointly draft an open letter to members of Congress. The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times have both officially come out against it, and even the Wall Street Journal ran an anti-legislation opinion piece this week.
Obviously, it’s a big deal.

Congress introduced the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) on October 26th. It sounded like a good idea; who wouldn’t want to stop piracy? Let’s do something about all those rogue websites operating outside the U.S. that traffic in scams and counterfeit goods. Let’s fight online trafficking in copyrighted intellectual property so that the creators get their due. But if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that it’s not such a good idea. In fact the introduction of SOPA sent a chill down the spine of all of us who pay attention to these things.

Some call SOPA the end of the internet as you know it.
Perhaps that’s a tad dramatic. But just a tad.

SOPA creates insanely over-reaching new standards of liability for copyright violations. The upshot is that any website could be sued or shut down for any copyright infringement found in any of its content coming from any of its users. Facebook would be responsible for every entry posted by every random user. User review sites like Yelp and Rotten Tomatoes would be held to the same standard for each comment and review posted to them. Sites like Vimeo and YouTube would find that their liability extends to even copyrighted music playing in the background of home-made videos.

SOPA backs up the new standards with a deeply flawed system of enforcement. When a copyright is thought to be violated, the rights holder can sue the website for infringement. Internet service providers would be compelled to shut down servers, and search engines would have to block addresses. Advertising networks and credit card processors would have to disengage. An entire website could be shut down for  a single bit of material unknowingly uploaded to the site, and all of this could take place in advance of a court hearing or trial.

The bill moved through the House Judiciary Committee in mid-November, and will be introduced to the floor for a vote before the end of the year. Both sides have strong bipartisan support, so the outcome is anybody’s guess.

If you’re just waking up to this issue now and want a complete analysis, a good place to start is The Center for Democracy and Technology which has published The Stop Online Piracy Act: Summary, Problems and Implications, or go see the key points boiled down in the summary infographic produced by AmericanCensorship.org.

You can read the full text of H.R.3261 Stop Online Piracy Act at the Library of Congress website.

If it comes to this:
Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), a staunch opponent of the bill, will add the reading of your name to a filibuster to stall the vote.

.

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