cyberculture

The Yelp IPO. Who Wants In?

Yelp is going public.
Last week the business-review website operator filed with the SEC for its initial public offering. Sometime in early 2012, you should be able to buy publicly traded shares of Yelp stock. But will you want them?
We can’t seem to make up our minds about Yelp.

We love Yelp.
It’s the mother of all review sites. We barely remember a time when we ate out without consulting it.

We hate Yelp.
Like the old adage says: Everyone’s a critic. On Yelp that includes the uninformed, the unqualified, and the perpetrators of unchecked spelling and grammar.

Yelp is a runaway success.
Yelp draws 61 million monthly visitors to its database of 22 million user reviews.

Yelp is a failure.
Losses total $32 million and counting. Some believe Yelp can never turn a profit.

Merchants can’t make up their minds either.
Exposure on Yelp can drive real traffic to small businesses. Amid a sea of competing delis and pizza joints, a couple of good Yelp reviews can make all the difference. But merchants complain about the lack of transparency to Yelp’s review filter that selects what’s posted publicly, and have suspected that the filter is manipulated to benefit paid advertisers. Class-action lawsuits have been filed that accuse the company of extorting ad fees in exchange for withholding negative reviews.

Then there’s Yelp’s love-hate for Google.
Google may be the pipeline to Yelp’s customer base, but these days there’s not a lot of love passing between the two sites. A few years ago, Google paid Yelp for access to its review database to populate Google Places, a local business add-on to Google Maps. After that agreement ran out, Google tried to buy Yelp, and when the offer was turned down, Google continued to mine Yelp’s pages, without payment, for unlicensed content.

This fall Google bought the Zagat reviewing brand, removed most of the pay wall and pitted it directly against Yelp. Yelp has seen its content pushed to the bottom of online searches as Google tinkers with rankings to favor its own Zagat results. Since more than half of all of Yelp’s traffic comes from Google searches, this could be a disaster in the making for Yelp.

Unconditional love for Yelp’s IPO.
Yelp is the Web’s de facto reviewing authority with killer brand recognition, millions of devoted Yelpers, and a ready-made stock symbol (YELP). Despite grumbles from readers, lawsuits from retailers, and imploding tech partnerships, the IPO is expected to be a great success. Groupon’s recent public offering demonstrated that investors will line up to buy a piece of an over-valued, unprofitable tech company with a shaky future.

More detail about Yelp’s IPO can be found in the S-1 registration statement the company filed with the SEC.

 

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Free Food for Facebook Fans

image via Troll.me

This week alone you could have eaten for free at Chick-fil-a, Hooters, Applebee’s,  IHOP, Baskin-Robbins, Waffle House, Subway, TGI Friday’s, and Denny’s. There were free cans of Campbell’s soup, beans from Green Mountain Coffee, and enough free energy drinks to keep you up all night surfing the web for more.

A whole new form of promotions has grown up around the Facebook ‘like’ button. Companies offer freebies to induce us to become fans of their Facebook pages. It’s called inbound marketing, and most brands and consumers feel it creates winners on all sides. Companies love it because it creates customer leads for their brands at about half the price of traditional marketing campaigns. They not only get the individual’s contact information, but  ‘likes’ appear on the wall of the user’s Facebook page, leveraging that person’s social network. And of course we like it because who doesn’t want to get free stuff?

The average Facebook user clicks 9 ‘like’ buttons every month; we tend to ‘like’ it most if it involves chocolate, milk, or ice cream, although Coca Cola alone picks up 4 new fans every second. Giveaways have gotten so ubiquitous that some brands generate interest by distinguishing their promotions with unusual twists: Campbell’s soup will send a can to a sick friend, Denny’s fans can win a year’s worth of Grand Slam Breakfasts, McDonald’s has been picking up 50,00 new fans a day by offering a second chance to win its popular annual Monopoly contest, and Burger King drew gobs of attention for its offer of a free Whopper to anyone who would ‘unfriend’ 10 of their contacts.

Looking for some free food? Here are some sites that can tip you off to the latest giveaways:

Hooray Free Food
Sweet Free Stuff
Daily Free Stuff
Oh Yes It’s Free
Free Stuff Finder

Food and beverage brands are social network stars. They dominate Facebook’s popularity rankings with 11 of the top 20 spots, including the top 4. You can follow the rankings on Social Bakers and FameCount, two sites that track social media followers for the food and beverage industry.

 

 

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Steve Jobs: The Food World Pays Tribute

The Food World has a soft spot for Steve Jobs.
No, he was not a ‘foodie;’ in fact he had little interest in the distinct pleasures of the table.
His ties to the industry are indirect, his influence is almost incidental.
He was never really one of us.
Even so, the visionary mind of Steve Jobs has touched the lives of diners, home cooks, and food workers everywhere.

Quick food facts about Steve Jobs:
He was a vegan since his college days, although he did eat sushi.
He briefly dabbled in fruitarianism (yes, an all-apple diet).
He often did his own grocery shopping at the Palo Alto Whole Foods.
He was partial to raw foods.
He frequently fasted, believing that digestion was burning up energy that could be better spent on work.
In his role as Pixar CEO, he convinced Disney to drop its McDonald’s Happy Meal toy tie-ins.
Earlier this year, he was ranked #5 on a list of the 50 most powerful people in food.

After technology, media, and entertainment, the food industry is where he had his greatest influence.
Here’s the way Steve Jobs is being honored and remembered by food communities online:

Restaurant Management Magazine looks at the transformative potential of the iPad for the restaurant industry.

Restaurant marketing site Restaurant Commando tells of the lessons learned from Steve Jobs’ marketing of the iPod.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals thanks Steve Jobs for his role as one of the world’s most prominent advocates for vegetarianism.

Fast Casual shares ten lessons the restaurant industry can learn from Steve Jobs.

The Food Watchdog looks at the legacy of food apps.

Food Network Musings describes Steve Jobs’ influence on the home cook in everything from from recipe gathering to how we make shopping  lists.

The Daily Weston recognizes the range of Steve Jobs’ food-related contributions from party evites to Yelp reviews.

Serious Eats asks you to share your own thoughts, remembrances, and thanks in response to the question: “How did Steve Jobs change Food/Cooking?”

iEat. That’s why I mourn his passing.

 

 

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Their Last Meal on Earth: What the Chefs Would Choose

It’s a morbidly perverse little parlor game.
Chefs have been playing the My Last Supper game for years. Alone together with some down time, in the kitchens and after-hours back rooms of restaurants around the world, they ask each other the question: As the big clock is ticking down, what would you eat?

Like The Aristocrats joke told among comedians, it was always a kind of secret handshake for chefs. Then a few years ago, photographer Melanie Dunea asked 50 prominent chefs to describe their ideal last meal, and she compiled their answers, along with portraits informed by their responses, in an absorbing, intimate volume titled My Last Supper.

The answers are as varied, imaginative, and distinct as the chefs, and it’s a diverse list that includes Ferran Adria, Jamie Oliver, Anthony Bourdain, Marcus Samuelsson, Gabrielle Hamilton, Tyler Florence, and Thomas Keller. Some of them would pile on luxurious ingredients like truffles and foie gras; some would seek perfection in the simplicity of a hot dog or a BLT; and others would return to their early taste memories choosing scrambled eggs, rice pudding, or Mom’s fried chicken. Each also shares the wished-for setting, dining companions, and even background music (count on lots and lots of early Rolling Stones).

Last week, Melanie Dunea launched a website bringing the concept to life. Every other Tuesday at noon, EST, she’s releasing a video in which a different chef shares the manner in which they would bid adieu, complete with recipes. The current episode features the ultimate meal of chef Daniel Humm of New York’s Eleven Madison Park.

You can watch the latest installment of My Last Supper here.

In October, Dunea will release a follow-up book, My Last Supper: The NextCourse. Asking the question that drove the first volume: “What would be your last meal on earth?” it features a new roster of chefs including Grant Achatz, Heston Blumenthal, Paul Bocuse, David Chang, Tom Colicchio, Bobby Flay, Todd English,  Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck, and Joel Robuchon.

 

 

 

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The Latest Food Startups: At the Intersection of Food and Technology

Foodia. Foodzie. Foodily. Foodbuzz. Foodspotting. Foodista. Foodtree. Foodler. Foodoro. Fooducopia. Foodcaching. Food-Ex.
Did I forget anyone?

It feels like every day there’s a new food and technology venture competing for our attention, and still, the food-related startups just keep coming. There is no end to the interesting and innovative ways we can now search for recipes and nutrition tips, track down rare ingredients and bargains, or find out where all our Facebook friends like to go out for dinner. It’s all good, but still, you have to wonder if we really need three different services that can page us when a table is available in a popular restaurant (No Wait, Textaurant, and ReadyPing).

Does it feel crowded in here to you?
Aren’t all the programmers, designers, and entrepreneurs supposed to be building up that ‘cloud’ computing thing? Instead, they’re poking around the food space and even bringing the capital with them. Money managers took notice in August when a chain of grilled cheese restaurants launched with an estimated $10+ million in funding from the same group that backed Google, Yahoo, and Pure Digital. Now every seed fund and venture incubator program worth its salt has at least a couple of food startups in its stable.

It shows no signs of slowing down. Here are some of the newest entrants focused on technology, innovation, and market trends in the food world:

MooBella has developed an ice cream-on-demand vending machine that takes 40 seconds to churn out a fresh scoop that can be customized with 96 different variations of flavors, mix-ins, and butterfat.

Tasted Menu has users rate, recommend, and review individual restaurant dishes to create a database of the best of the best (and worst of the worst) for each city it covers. It joins Foodspotting and Forkly in a crowded field of crowdsourcers.

You’ll never eat alone: Grub With Us plans family-style dinners for strangers to meet at restaurants (currently in 7 cities), and SpoonDate lets you arrange a spontaneous blind date based on location and food cravings.

Culture Kitchen hosts authentic, ethnic cooking classes taught by new immigrants.

Foodcaching consolidates offers from daily deals sites like Groupon and Living Social and turns them into a location-based treasure hunt for food and drink bargains.

Foodoro and Fooducopia have joined the old-timer, three-year old Foodzie, in the marketplace for buyers and sellers of hand-crafted foods that let you set up your own etsy-style shop.

Jeffrey Peden, founder & CEO of CraveLabs looks at why the food industry is so ripe for the tech invasion.

Looking for a piece of the action? Kickstarter is a funding platform that lets you in on the ground floor of start-ups for as little as $5. It’s currently seeking micro-funding for a caffeinated breakfast cereal, a maker of fancy cake kits for home bakers, a crowd-sourced cookbook, and a few dozen other food-based projects.

Food and Tech Connect is an information company that produces networking events connecting innovators—the entrepreneurs, technologists, researchers, policy makers, farmers, and producers—at the intersection of food and information technology. It’s the premier place to stay on top of what’s happening on the cutting-edge of the food world.

 

 

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Will Restaurant Menus Go the Way of the Album Cover?

photo collage via Popphoto

Some of us are still mourning the passing of the album cover.
First shrunk to CD jewel box size, it’s all but disappeared into the straight-to-iPod download.  A once vital contribution to the culture of music, album art and liner notes are increasingly the preserve of gray-bearded collectors.

Could the same thing happen to restaurant menus?
Many of the quick-serve and national chains now use electronic menu boards, self-serve ordering kiosks, and digital table projections. iPad menus and wine lists are popping up at even high-end restaurants, and a restaurant’s website has become the ultimate ambassador for an establishment’s brand identity.

The menu used to be the heart of any restaurant.
Like album covers, menus reflect social, cultural, and artistic values. They are big canvases where restaurateurs can create a visual and tactile experience that invites us in and tells us a story about the meal to come.

Thankfully, there are some who will carry the torch into the digital age.

The preeminent design champions of Under Consideration recently launched Art of the Menu to catalog what they call “the underrated creativity of menus from around the world.”

The fine art publisher Taschen has just released Menu Design in America, a yummy, coffee table-sized book that provides an epicurean tour of dining in America over the past 100 years.

The Italian gastronomic society Academia Barilla has a rich collection of menus dating back to the early 1800’s, giving us a rare view of regional Italian cooking that predates the unification of the individual Italian states.

The Harley Spiller Menu Collection documents one man’s love affair with Chinese takeout. 6,000 of the 10,000 menus in his private collection are of the tri-fold variety that urban dwellers find stuffed in their mailboxes.

The New York Public Library has one of the world’s largest historical menu collections, with more than 40,000 menus that are regularly perused by historians, chefs, novelists, and everyday food enthusiasts.

You can help carry that torch.
For years, the librarians at the New York Public Library have been slogging their way through the process of digitizing their massive menu collection. The progress has been slowed by the idiosyncratic nature of menus. The Optical Character Recognition technology is stymied by handwritten menus, unorthodox layouts, and fanciful typography, and the digital scanners aren’t able to read the menus in a way that creates indexable, searchable data.

The library has created the What’s on the Menu? project to enlist the public’s help in transcribing the menus, dish by dish. Eventually they plan to formalize the process a bit, but for now there are no user accounts or tracking systems. You just click on a menu and type what you see. It’s easy and it literally takes just a few seconds of your time for you to contribute to this important preservation of our culinary past.

Give it a try—you can start transcribing right now, right here!

 

 

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First Date Groupon: Frugal genius or extreme cheapskate?

 

image via Jay I Kemp

It’s awfully tempting to use an online coupon on a first date.
With the right Groupon offer, you can offer a splurge that’s otherwise out of reach—the crème brûlée tastes just as rich at half price, right? Even if it’s just a neighborhood joint, you’re demonstrating thrift and fiscal savvy, and who wouldn’t want to see such admirable qualities in a potential mate?

Wrong!
Sorry, but most seasoned daters and relationship experts see it as a mistake. It’s considered cheap, tacky, and so unsexy. In the world of dating don’ts, it’s right up there with asking for a doggie bag.

I know what you’re thinking: who wants to date someone so obviously shallow and materialistic, with such disregard for your circumstances and best interests? Those are valid points, and the experts recommend you hang on to those thoughts for a future date, maybe the third or fourth. The best first dates are about mood, magic, and romance; a big dose of practicality wrecks the atmosphere and brings a couple down to Earth.

Groupon is working furiously to overcome the first date stigma.
The company conjures up its own first dates through its Date Assistant, a free matchmaking service for singles looking to couple up and redeem two-for-one offers. Groupon also brought together unattached-and-looking coupon clippers with an offer of $85 worth of speed dating discounted to $40, which set a Guinness World Record for the largest speed dating event in history.

And then there’s Grouspawn.
If a couple uses a Groupon coupon on a first date and subsequently produces a child, they may be rewarded with a $60,000 college fund. Two such couples will be chosen each year, which should help push them past that awkward first date moment—photographed hand in hand with the coupon and the day’s newspaper—when the relative strangers/prospective parents gather the requisite documentation. Just in case.

As a general rule, a relationship needs a firmer foundation before couponing can begin. Groupon on a first date and your crush may not respect you in the morning.

 

 

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I am Jonathan Stark’s Starbucks card.

Hi! I’m Jonathan Stark’s Starbucks card. You can download a picture of me to your phone and buy coffee with it. Seriously.

http://jonathanstark.com/card/

It’s true. You can use Jonathan Stark’s Starbucks card to get yourself a free coffee. The real card lives in Jonathan’s wallet, but he has posted a downloadable copy that can be scanned at any Starbucks. An iced vanilla latte, a French press pot of Guatemala Antigua— name it. There’s no cost, no catch, no strings, no restrictions.

Jonathan Stark was curious about the concept of social sharing.
About a month ago he loaded $30 onto a Starbucks card and posted the image for his friends to use. They quickly turned it into caffeine, so Stark added another $50 and invited a few more friends. This time, the card wasn’t depleted. His friends were adding money as well as spending it, starting a twitter conversation in the process. So he created a program that allows coffee drinkers to check on the card’s balance, updated every minute, and encouraged users to share it with their friends.

Jonathan Stark’s Starbucks card has become an experiment in anonymous collective sharing that turns a cup of coffee into an act of participation and social engagement. It’s kind of a high-tech version of the take-a-penny-leave-a-penny dish next to a cash register. Sure, you could order 8 pounds of French Roast and a round of venti frappuccinos for the office, but there’s a karmic toll to it; the same one that keeps you from dumping the whole take-a-penny dish into your pocket, even when you see a bunch of quarters peeking through the copper.

The card occasionally struggles to find its equilibrium between generosity and  moochers. As of this writing, a few hundred dollars is passing through the card every hour or so, with nearly half of the users also giving back.

Say ‘Hi!’ back to Jonathan’s card.

 

 

 


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Everything (and then some) Bagels

image via chris piascik.com

The everything is not the most popular bagel—that would be plain, closely followed by sesame. But for some, it’s the only bagel that will do. Salty, seedy, and pungent with onion and garlic, it’s the true bagel lover’s bagel.

The everything bagel also has its detractors. They complain that the everything’s yeasty, stinky goodness befouls its milder brethren in the paper sack on the way home from the bagel shop. They whine about garlic breath and the way poppy seeds tuck themselves into the spaces between their teeth. I say knock yourselves out with a blueberry bagel [sic].

And there’s controversy.
In a promotional post for his 516Ads blog, web entrepreneur David Gussin claims to have invented the everything bagel as a teenager in the early 1980’s. Working an after school job at a Queens bagel bakery, he was inspired to reuse the tasty, toasty, seedy debris he swept out of the oven at the end of a shift. The shop’s customers went crazy for the concoction, and the rest, as he says in a New Yorker Schmear Dept. profile, is history.

Not so, says modern marketing guru Seth Godin. He claims to have originated the everything bagel at least three years earlier, back in 1977 when he was a teenaged bagel shop employee. Godin figures the oversight comes from the fact that the bagel shop of his youth was located in Buffalo—too far off the radar of the bagel elite. Despite a compelling argument from Godin (“…you add the seeds when the bagels are on the wet burlap…the burnt seeds in the oven get pretty incinerated and you wouldn’t want to use em.”) the New Yorker has yet to publish a retraction.

The everything is hands-down the funniest bagel.
There is so much online riffing on the boastful hyperbole of the appellation that blogging pioneer Jason Kottke hypothesized, “If I didn’t know any better, I’d have thought Twitter was built specifically for the purpose of cracking wise about the lack of everything on the everything bagel.” His blog, Kottke.org, rounded up some of the best:

–This “everything bagel” is great. Has onions, poppy seeds, garlic, cheese, q-tips, Greenland, fear, sandals, wolves, teapots, crunkin… @JohnMoe
–The “everything bagel” really only has like three things. Just what I want for breakfast. Lies. @missrftc
–You might want to scale back on calling yourself an “everything bagel.” I mean, right away I can see there are no M&M’s on here. @friedmanjon
–Flossing after an everything bagel is important b/c as the name implies, you don’t just have *something* in your teeth, you have every thing. @phillygirl

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

You can make everything taste like an everything bagel with a sprinkle of Everything Bagel Spice Mix.

The home gardening adventurers at Plantgasm ask the question, “Can you grow anything from the seeds of an everything bagel?
Nope.

 

Posted in cyberculture, food knowledge | 1 Comment

Attack of the Belly Fat Ads

They’re the ads that ate the internet.
You know the ones—crudely drawn, often animated, with cellulite deflating and re-inflating above the waistline of a pair of too-tight jeans, in a never-ending before-and-after of fat to fit to fat to fit. The headline, looking to be hand-lettered, touts a simple, unnamed tip to trim the fat.

To say you know the ads is an understatement. The ads are so ubiquitous that you’ve likely seen them hundreds or even thousands of times. Their sponsors are clients of half of all the ad networks in the U.S., running on the homepages of powerhouse websites like Facebook, CNN, and the Washington Post. They’ve appeared tens of billions of times as banner ads and popups. You read that right—billions, with a b.

The Federal Trade Commission is going after the perpetrators of a hustle.
The FTC has asked federal courts to halt the belly fat ads and freeze the operators’ assets, alleging that the ads are the leading edge of a vast and elaborate con built on false claims and deceptive practices.

Click on the ad looking for a homespun diet tip and you’re taken to a second site. This one looks like news coverage of a reporter’s investigation into the health benefits of diet supplements. The faux news report, named something like Weekly Health News or Health News Beat, typically investigates diet pills made from mangoes or acai berries, or from the human hormone hCG. It might include the names and logos of major networks and news outlets, and because the ads run on their websites, the reporter will falsely represent that the networks have run the news report.

The fake reporting has suckered millions of people into giving up their credit card numbers to obtain ‘free’ samples. It turns out to be not so free when the initial orders obligate them to a stream of $79.99 shipments. There’s a toll-free number for cancellations, and the tens of thousands of people who have filed complaints after their calls went unanswered will be happy to tell you about that one.

We keep seeing the ads because they work. So far, these unsavory businesses have raked in more than a billion dollars in sales—again, that’s billion with a b.

Read about the 10 legal challenges filed by the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC has also posted a consumer alert to warn the public about the proliferation of deceptive claims and fake news sites that pedal weight loss aids.

 

Posted in cyberculture, health + diet | Tagged , | 2 Comments

You’re So Wrong! Food Myths and Misconceptions

Adding salt won’t make the water boil any faster, you can take mayonnaise on a picnic, and go ahead and swallow that gum—it doesn’t take any longer to digest than anything else you might eat.

Let’s face it, sometimes common wisdom isn’t all that wise.
Then there are those infernal enemies of truth—of course I’m speaking of tweets, like buttons, and repostings. They carry the misinformation to the masses, and the next thing you know you’ve got yourself a new food mythology.

Let’s separate the facts from the fiction, the science from the silliness.
We’re going to look at those myths and misconceptions, and settle this once and for all.

myth: Add salt to water to make it boil faster.
reality: Salt actually raises the boiling point, so salted water takes longer to boil. It’s moot anyway since it takes way more salt than what gets added to a pasta pot to have that effect. Just add salt because it will make the pasta taste better.

myth: Sushi means raw fish.
reality: Sushi refers to the vinegared rice. Sashimi comes closer in meaning, since the ingredients are always raw, but it’s still not accurate.

 

myth: A craving is your body telling you it needs something.
reality: Our bodies can tell us physically when we lack a certain nutrient, but specific food cravings are strictly emotional.

 

myth: Alcohol burns off in cooking.
reality: Alcohol has a lower boiling point than water, so it evaporates more quickly in cooking. But even after an hour of simmering, 25% of the alcohol remains, and 10% after two hours.

 

myth: There are negative-calorie foods that use more energy to eat than what’s contained in the food itself.
reality: The mere act of existence burns about 62 calories an hour, so in that sense, you can eat very low-cal foods and come out ahead. But chewing and digesting even a tough food like celery won’t bump up the hourly calorie burn enough to compensate for the added calories.

myth: You can’t bring sandwiches containing mayonnaise on a picnic.
reality: Commercial mayo has a high acid level and actually acts as a preservative for other ingredients. The turkey on a sandwich or the tuna in the tuna salad are more likely culprits when it comes to food-borne illnesses.

myth: Slice into rare beef and you get bloody juices.
reality: Nearly all blood is removed from meat during slaughter. Even when it’s served ‘bloody rare,’ you’re only seeing water and beef  proteins.

 

myth: The avocado pit in a bowl of guacamole will keep it from turning brown.
reality: There is no special magic to the pit. The browning is just natural oxidation from exposure to air, and the pit is big enough to block some air from reaching the dip. Try saran wrap and you’ll cover more area.

Myths, legends, misconceptions, polite fictions, old wives’ tales….
They’re the lessons o f old-school chefs, the ‘wisdom’ passed from mothers to daughter; whatever you want to call them, there are plenty more out there, and now they’ve gone viral.

 

 

 

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A Daily Deal Just for You

[image via ToMuse]

It’s the daily deal battle royale.
Groupon’s success has spawned an entire industry of ‘deal-of-the-day’ clones. The good news: outstanding bargains are out there; virtually something for everyone. The bad news: something for everyone is flooding your inbox, from tequila tastings to pole-dancing lessons, when all you really want is a good, discounted pizza. There are so many of these daily deal startups out there, that now we have daily deal sites aimed at them.

Fortunately, there are sites that stand out from the pack. They are targeting narrow, niche markets, and putting their own spin on the social buying business model.

For the boys gone wild
Thrillist, the online newsletter celebrating the bro lifestyle, has launched Thrillist Rewards, heavy on half-price brewery tours, mail-order meats, and all-you-can-eat spare rib deals.

For the other boys gone wild
The Daily Hookup and Daily Pride are the gay man’s answer to Groupon.

For the foodies
Too tasteful for coupons, Savored takes you into the kind of high-end dining rooms where the discount is kept under wraps. It’s prearranged at reservation time, and then automatically, and discreetly, subtracted from the total at meal’s end. I guarantee you will be amazed by the celebrated and coveted tables to be had through these deals, and it’s all so hush-hush that even your dinner companions won’t know your secret.

For African-Americans
The discount deals offered at the Black Biz Hookup come from black-owned and operated businesses.

For moms
You’ll find half-priced treats aplenty for family-friendly fro-yo shops at Plum Distict.

For the Jews
A dozen bagels for the price of six, or maybe a nice brisket sandwich? Between JDeal and yes, Jewpon, you’re sure to find them.

For suburbanites
You get big city dining bargains and you don’t have to pay for downtown parking with the small town BigTip deal site.

For Hispanics and Latinos
Multiple sites are still duking it out for preeminence in this massive target market; Desceuento Libre, Groupacho, and Social Libre. Each offers a different Latin-flavored oferta del dia.

For the Fox News crowd
Glenn Beck launched Markdown, touting its combination of values (of the shopping kind) and values (conservative ones).

The pizza and beer pong set has CampusDibs, there are Gluten Free Deals for celiac sufferers, and Vegan Cuts is the place to save money and animals. Don’t feel left out if your tribe isn’t represented here; new niche sites pop up regularly.

To help you sort through the deals:
Yipit aggregates all the deals from all the services, and then sends a single, consolidated email customized to fit your preferences. Take a look at the more than 200 deal sites they are currently tracking.
Restaurant critic meets price tracker at The Bad Deal. Check here before you buy.
You have unused, prepaid Groupon and other coupons, and the expiration date is approaching. Impulse purchases can happen to the best of us. Fortunately, there is a robust secondary market for deal coupons at Lasta.

 

 

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Potluck Politics

[image via Column Five Media]

Check those voter registration cards at the door.
You don’t want to serve gnocchi if there are Republicans on the guest list—linguine and spaghetti are the preferred pasta shapes of Conservatives, but a nice lasagne crosses party lines.

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.

We split along party lines on more than congressional budgets and healthcare.
Liberals like their pizza with a thin crust while Conservatives lean toward deep dish. Liberals like to toast things for breakfast, are crazy for seafood, and are 57%  more likely to drink wine with dinner at home. Conservatives skip breakfast more often, like to fire up the grill for dinner, and are 57% more inclined to avoid tap water. But everyone agrees: soft tacos are best.

Remember the defining moment in the 2008 election? In the still wide field of Democratic presidential candidates, the junior senator from Illinois strode into a Rural Issues Forum on a farm outside of Des Moines, Iowa and asked this question:
Anybody gone into Whole Foods lately and see what they charge for arugula?
That’s when we knew that Barack Obama was a foodie like us.

It turns out that Democrats do like arugula. And Thai food. And bacon cheeseburgers. See the full political spectrum: You Vote What You Eat: How Liberals and Conservatives Eat Differently, at the Hunch blog.

Where politics are never taboo at the dinner table:
The same folks who brought us Drinking Liberally have added Eating Liberally to their social network of like-minded, left-leaning individuals. Hundreds of local chapters (in 47 states, plus DC and abroad) organize monthly gatherings that facilitate political engagement and democratic discourse over food and drink.

Stymied by the name?
Conservatives have been less successful in their efforts to get a similar network off the ground. Drinking Conservatively just doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. Keep checking for new developments from Red County, the folks who attempted to launch both Drinking Conservatively and Right on the Rocks.

 

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Why We Will Finally Buy Groceries Online

[image via Prevention.com]

When’s the last time you busted out a dictionary to look up a word? Or unfurled a map to look for directions? Or looked through the newspaper’s classified ads for anything?
We use the internet to make our lives easier in a million different ways, but we’re still not buying groceries online.

It’s the most universally detested of all household errands.
The parking space feels like it’s in the next county, the checkout line edges forward in tortuous slow motion, and we finish up with bag-splitting trips from car to kitchen; yet we’d sooner chance a shoe size crapshoot on Zappo’s than order groceries online.

On the cusp of success.
It should be a slam-dunk—online grocery shopping is a convenient time-saver, light on the environment, less physically taxing, and prices stack up competitively against supermarkets. But after a false start in the 1980’s and another go-round a decade ago, sales are sputtering along at less than 2% of the U.S. food market. We’re now seeing the third coming, and this one’s going to stick.
Here’s why:

•There’s none of the earlier, paranoia-fueled resistance to online transactions; by now, we’ve all bought something online, and for many of us, online shopping is second nature.
•The new, recession-habituated shopper is disciplined and strategic. For years, we’ve researched and price-compared high ticket items like electronics; now, we may not be ordering our groceries over the internet, but 62% of shoppers say they search for deals online for at least half of their shopping trips, according to a survey commissioned by the Grocery Manufacturers Association.
•The retailers are ready this time around. Food handling has improved, as have the technology tools available to advance the service and grow transaction size.
•The biggest and savviest players have jumped in, armed with existing distribution centers, retail know-how, and the deep pockets to sustain them through the high-value marketing campaigns and discounting necessary to build market share.

Walmart, already the nation’s largest grocer, is testing its home delivery service Walmart To Go. The retail behemoth is well-known for its mastery of consumer data and pricing strategies, as well as its stingy business practices, all of which serve it well in the grocery sector with its razor-thin profit margins.
Amazon has been tinkering with Amazon Fresh for four years in its native Seattle; once perfected, the service will go national. Unrivaled in expertise and insights into the interconnectedness of lifestyles and consumer buying patterns, Amazon is expected to be a major force in the grocery sector.

You still can’t squeeze the tomatoes or check the expiration date on the sour cream. But once you’ve experienced the time savings and the ease of (often free) delivery, you might never set foot in another supermarket.

The Shopper Marketing series from the Grocery Manufacturers Association is the industry’s road map to the future.

 

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Restaurant Websites: C’mon, people, you can do better.

Listen up, restaurants.

There’s a serious problem with your websites. You lavish attention on the details of food and service, but you put a website out there that would shame a first-year design student with its slow-loading graphics, clunky navigation, and forced downloads. Come on people, first impressions. Don’t you get it?

Here, in no particular order, are our top pet peeves:

Auto-play music: What is this, 1998? That’s the last time that unsolicited music that loaded with a site was kind of fun, kind of novel. Now it’s just annoying.

Flash abuse: You can do the darnedest things with flash these days. Look at all those animated special effects with the twirling, dancing logo. Love the slideshow of  arty closeups. Lucky me with all this time to admire it while I wait for the damned thing to load!

Pre-home page: The home page has finally loaded and I’ll be able to find the information I am looking for. Nope, just a lot of animated frippery and a click to ‘Enter Site.’ I thought that’s what I was doing when I typed the URL and hit ‘enter.’

Hide and seek with the essentials: Don’t make me count off the clicks until I get to the address, phone number, and hours of operation, all scattered throughout the site. Here’s a thought— how about keeping the information together and putting it all on that fancy pre-home page?

The menu: Are you honestly asking me to download a pdf of your menu? It’s not just a nuisance– if I’m on my phone, a metered data plan will make me pay for this privilege.

Get a clue about mobile devices: Hello? Does anyone in the kitchen have a smartphone?

Clean, fast-loading, logical, easy to navigate, mobility-enabled. Get it?

 

 

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Groupon: Like a one night stand for restaurants

[image via the Marketoonist]

Daily deal or deal with the devil?
It’s been hailed as a savior and slammed as a scourge of the restaurant industry.
It’s become a major force in dining, every month adding tens of millions of new subscribers.
As Groupon prepares to go public —in a hotly anticipated offering that could be the biggest initial tech company valuation ever—we have to ask: is this a good thing?

Here’s the deal:
Each day Groupon sends out an offer to its subscribers. It’s usually a discount of 50% or more off of products or services, heavily skewed toward dining and lifestyle categories. It’s activated only if Groupon delivers a specified number of customers to the vendor, encouraging subscribers to spread the word. Groupon and the seller split the proceeds, so at 50% off, a restaurant ends up with 25% of the offer’s value.

What’s in it for the restaurant?
Restaurant profits typically hover in the range of 5-7%, so it would appear that the owner loses his shirt on each Groupon sale. He’s counting on a few things to save him: the offer will bring in new customers who are converted to regulars; the Groupon customers will pay full price for menu items beyond the scope of the deal; and that a certain number of discount vouchers will be purchased but never redeemed before the expiration date (usually 6 months ahead). Rarely does it go as planned.

Usually the restaurant gets slammed immediately after the Groupon offer is floated, although often it’s just the regular customers coming in at discounted prices—a Wall Street Journal investigation found new customers to comprise as little as 10% of Groupon sales. When it has brought in substantial new business, the seller might struggle to maintain service and quality, alienating an original base of customers in the process. By virtue of their association with Groupon, you can assume that the new business is skewed toward bargain-hunters who are there for the cheap eats and will never return to pay full price for the same meal. The unredeemed coupons are often the only way a restaurateur makes a buck.

This is the restaurant equivalent of a one night stand. There’s a quick thrill from the initial rush of customers, but ultimately the brand is cheapened by the offer. This is not the way for businesses to build sustainable, customer relationships.

 

 

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Like Stars without their Makeup


A scandal rocked the vegetarian world last month.
It was revealed that vegetarian lifestyle magazine VegNews routinely ran photographs of meat-based dishes to illustrate its meatless recipes. Examples included ice cream made from actual cream, beef frankfurters posing as their vegan counterparts, and pork ribs with the bones airbrushed away to look like a soy substitute. Bear in mind that these were stock photos used for budgetary reasons, and that no animal products touched the VegNews test kitchen. Still, readers were outraged, immediately offering up their online condemnation. They called it hypocrisy of the highest order, a betrayal of their trust, a show of contempt springing from deliberate and systematic deceit.

Food journalists, though, mostly responded with a collective shrug.
Food is, for the most part, supremely unphotogenic. It’s the law of nature that frozen will melt, crisp will wilt, and moist becomes dry. Food stylists have always relied on an arsenal of inedible ingredients and unsavory techniques to get the money shot, in the same way that celebrity stylists enhance their clients with hair extensions, false eyelashes, and push-up bras.

Take roasted chicken. If you make it at home, you know that the flesh shrinks and the skin wrinkles and deflates as it roasts, but in the pages of food magazines it always appears plump with taut, evenly browned skin.  That’s because the picture-perfect chicken has been stuffed with materials like cotton balls and paper towels, its skin was sewn tightly together, and it was roasted just long enough to give it a little texture. Then, still raw on the inside, it’s sprayed with a soap-based mixture and blasted with a blowtorch to achieve the ideal, deep golden-brown color. Bon appetit!

Here are some other tricks of the trade:

  • motor oil substitutes for pancake syrup, and the pancakes are treated with water repellent fabric spray to keep the ‘syrup’ from soaking in
  • barbecued meats are colored and glossed with wood stain and eyeliner grill marks, while roasted meats get a coating of brown shoe polish
  • nuts are fixed in place with super glue, and berries get touched up with lipstick
  • Elmer’s glue is a stunt double for pouring milk; stick a straw in a glass of whipped Crisco and you’ll swear it’s a milkshake
  • aerosol deodorant gives fruit a just-picked look

There are purists out there who only use the real thing, and if the photographs are destined for advertising, the governing laws dictate that the food product that is the campaign’s subject must be the authentic item, although alterations and enhancements are perfectly kosher. The public should understand that commercialized food imagery is a hyper-idealized version of reality. It’s been gussied for its magazine appearance like a movie star that’s styled for the red carpet.

Ultimately, we gladly turn to our home-roasted chicken—homely and imperfect, but perfectly delicious. In the same way, we know that our romantic partners are not Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt, but we are no less satisfied.

 

 

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Barbecue, Bar-b-que or BBQ? Finally, a definitive answer.

Capital F for French toast but not for french fries; it’s sloppy Joe but bloody mary; wheat germ—two words; wheatgrass—one. Who decides this stuff?!

I’ll tell you who: the Associated Press. It’s the world’s largest news organization, operating in 121 countries, and what it says goes. If it’s being written for public consumption, the AP Stylebook is the final word in grammar, spelling, punctuation, and usage. For more than 50 years, it’s told us when numbers should be spelled out (one through nine unless it’s an age or percentage), whether it’s United States or U.S. (abbreviate when it’s an adjective), and that white (lowercase) is preferable to Caucasian (capitalized). And this year, the AP Stylebook features its first-ever Food Guidelines section.

It’s a big deal. Really.
The stylebook is the gold standard for journalistic publication. It means that food writing is recognized, legitimized, and welcomed into the ranks of established AP journalistic specialties like business and sports. It also standardizes and codifies food writing; we are told that equipment and techniques should always precede ingredients in the text of a recipe (in a nonstick pan over medium heat crack 2 eggs…), and now we know when to say the garlic is minced and when we should call it chopped.

If that wasn’t enough of a big deal already, we are also told unequivocally that Parmesan is a style and Parmigiano-Reggiano is a cheese; Crock-Pots (uppercase, hyphenated) are always slow cookers (little s, no hyphen), but slow cookers are not all Crock-Pots; and Broccolini™ is a brand name. And the barbecue entry offers this:  The verb refers to the cooking of foods (usually meat) over flame or hot coals. As a noun, can be both the meat cooked in this manner or the fire pit (grill). Not barbeque or Bar-BQ.
That settles it.

What a boon for foodbloggers (yes, one word) everywhere.

The 2011 Edition of the AP Stylebook is available in book form and as a mobile app.

On June 13 at 2:30 p.m. ET, AP Food Editor J.M. Hirsch will host a live chat to solicit feedback and answer questions about the new edition. You can join the chat at twitter.com/APStylebook.

 

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Food Photos: Why we share; why we look.

If, as Socrates said, the unexamined life is not worth living, what does that mean for the unexamined meal?

Every meal, snack, sip, and chew…
We photograph, document, catalog, upload, tweet, and post.
Online food photos can be delectably compelling or hypnotically dull, and most are, in turn, some of each.

The interactive agency 360i examined the impulse to share our meals, and found that we are most often motivated by nothing more than gustatory navel gazing. Some people find that they become more adventurous eaters as they seek to jazz up the meals they share online; some find that it can keep them honest on a diet; but mostly it comes from a simple desire to share the routine, mundane activities of our lives.

The special occasion meal is also high on the list.
We photograph our food when we gather with friends, when we travel, when it’s a holiday, or when we finally got a reservation at the hottest new restaurant.

Then there are the exhibitionists.
They document food lust-inducing creations in the way others make sex tapes. The food porn-pushers bring us into their kitchens to follow every step in lingering, loving, color-saturated, hyper-idealized detail—the same visual language and techniques as the x-rated variety. Glistening jam-glazed pears might substitute for a gym-toned body, but it’s the same ego-driven desire to put their own fabulousness on display.

Is it bad form?
The food arrives at the table and the cameras come out before forks. Restaurateurs are conflicted. Of course they appreciate the exposure provided by diners who blog, but flash photography annoys the other customers. Some restaurants are now offering dedicated food blogger dinners complete with backdrops and light boxes right in the dining room.

Nearly 100 billion photographs have been uploaded across various social platforms, with food photos grabbing an ever-expanding share. Food photography can be provocative, social validating, or just plain tedious, but it’s here to stay.

You can download the full report Online Food & Photo Sharing Trends from the 360i website.

 

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Gwyneth versus Martha: Battle of the lifestyle gurus.

Two frosty blond celebrities. Two accomplished, ambitious, multi-tasking moguls.

Martha—the one we hate to love.
We roll our eyes at the laborious detail of her recipes, instructing us to bundle our asparagus with braided strands of chive, and arming us with stencils, X-acto knives, and a carpenter’s level to decorate cookies. We know that our chives, braided or otherwise, will never come from the herb garden  just past the cutting garden but before you get to the apiary.

But this is a woman who paid her dues. She’s the child of working class Polish immigrants who commuted to college from her aunt’s apartment. She’s a self-taught cook who built an empire from a little catering business that she ran out of her basement. She’s had a troubled marriage, a difficult child, and did a stretch in federal prison. We’re intimidated by the manic perfectionism and envious of the lifestyle, but we never begrudge her one smidgen of her success.

Gwyneth—the one we love to hate.
Hollywood dad, movie star mom, a posh and fabulous early life of exclusive schools, A-list family friends (Steven Spielberg is her godfather!), and vacation villas in Spain. She’s blond and willowy with a killer wardrobe, some not-too-shabby romances (Ben Affleck, Brad Pitt) before the rock star husband, and an Academy award while she was still in her 20’s.

And now she’s a food and lifestyle brand.
If you’re not acquainted with Gwyneth’s sideline, to bring you up to date: she dined her way across Spain, star chef (and friend) Mario Batali at her side, for a PBS television series; she started an online lifestyle magazine called GOOP, in which she instructs us to “nourish the inner aspect;” and she just published a cookbook.

The obvious problem is that unlike Martha with her ethnic striving and transparent self-reinvention, Gwyneth is not herself relatable, and she compounds the matter through blinkered entitlement that renders her incapable of relating to us. Her cookbook is packed with examples of her cluelessness, and its high-profile, celebrity-stacked launch and best-seller status set it up as a target for snarky critics who’ve made a sport of locating its most unintentionally funny line (sample: “I first had a version of this at a Japanese monastery during a silent retreat…”).

Her rundown of kitchen essentials includes Global knives (their smallest 3 in. paring knife retails for $60), a Vitamix blender ($400 for the low-end model), and a le Creuset Dutch oven (discounted to about $250 if you don’t care what color). Gwyneth allows that in a pinch you can substitute bacon for duck prosciutto, and brown rice syrup can stand in for agave nectar, but plenty of her ‘essential’ ingredients will have you scouring specialty stores, digging deep in your wallet, and wondering what the hell to do with an opened bottle of $40 ginger liqueur.

Not that Martha has escaped criticism. She’s plenty unapproachable for her steely manner and mania for perfection, and her elaborate, intensely detailed holiday meals with their hollowed-out-gourds as soup bowls and wreaths of 12,000 hand-strung cranberries have always been ripe for parody. She built an empire that is a testament to her ideal, and she’s the obsessive striver who personally sweated every detail.

By contrast, Gwyneth is building a testament to Gwyneth—to her own tastes and sensibilities. To her credit, she has fantastic style. It’s earthy but sophisticated, elegant and playful; but she is no less insufferable for it.

She’s also seen as a carpetbagger who gains entry to rareified lifestyle spheres through birthright and famous friends. It’s doubtful that she’s ever hand-strung even a single cranberry, although she was once given a cooking lesson with Jamie Oliver as a birthday present.

Could Gwyneth ever be the next Martha, or will her achievements forever be seen as celebrity dabbling? Time will tell.
Oh, and I hear that Eva Longoria has a new cookbook….

 

 

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