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Danny Meyering, Lesson 18: Buy the Critics

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Our boy Danny Meyer is taking some heat today regarding his questionable approach to the pricing of critics' meals. As Page Six had it this AM, in Meyer's Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business, he recounts the story of bribing certain unnamed critics into two-starring the then-new Blue Smoke. While Page Six did provide one or two clues for guessing which critics among us are so easily bought, an excerpt from the book itself is muuuch more revealing.

Have a read, then place your bets.

In an extra special experiment, you're invited to weigh-in VIA COMMENTS. The times they are a-changin', folks.

Chapter 8: Broadcasting the Message, Tuning in the Feedback

The outcome of reviews from a small group of critics can even be influence by a free meal. One writer for an important paper wrote negatively about Blue Smoke during our opening. He was probably correct in his judgment, but a less naive approach on our part might have persuaded him not to share that observation with his many readers.

He had dined that evening with a well-connected publicist whose clients include an A-list of New York restaurants. I called the publicist after I read the pan and said, "Gee, we must have really screwed up in a big way with you guys that night. What happened?"

The reply left no room for misunderstanding: It didn't help that we had charged them for their meal, especially since they were sure they had seen other guests throughout the dining room being "comped." That was true...Clearly I had played this one wrong.

One critic who had given Tabla a no-star rating when it opened was about to review Blue Smoke. He wrote for another influential publication in New York, and I understood through the restaurateur grapevine that he welcomed being "hosted." I had also heard that whether or not he w as hosted might even affect the outcome of his review. When one of my managers spotted this critic in Blue Smoke one night, he let me know. I had never comped a critic before in my entire career. I had learned that most newspapers and magazines prohibited their writers from accepting freebies in order to avoid any conflicts of interest. But after weeks of watching the restaurant take a public beating, I decided to experiment. With the miserable reviews we were getting, there was nothing to lose. And since critics aren't public officials, I reasoned that hosting them wasn't illegal. As instructed, the manager went to teh critic's table and said: "Danny is so honored that you're dining with us tonight that he wants very much to welcome you as our guest for your first visit." That one visit was enough to produce a glowing two-star review, one of the very best we got early on. The strategy had worked so well that I tried it again, this time with a freelance reviewer doing a piece for a downtown magazine. Another shining review: two for two.

Historians will note that the list of reviewers who, circa 2001, employed a star system and goose-egged Tabla and two-starred Blue Smoke is not long. But we're not naming names. That's your job.
· Eatery King Kicks the Critics [NYP]
· Help Us Smoke Out Danny Meyer's Bribed Critic [Gawker]
· Setting the Table: The Transforming Power of Hospitality in Business [Amazon]

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