30 Days of WWGD? – The googley restaurant

I’m a few days behind on 30 days of WWGD? Sorry; took the weekend off. Today’s snippet: imagining the Googley restaurant:

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What would a restaurant run according to Googlethink look like—other than being decorated in garish primary colors with a neon sign, big balls for seats, and Fruit Loops and M&Ms on every table?

Imagine instead a restaurant—any restaurant—run on openness and data. Say we pick up the menu and see exactly how many people had ordered each dish. Would that influence our choice? It would help us discover the restaurant’s true specialties (the reason people come here must be the crab cakes) and perhaps make new discoveries (the 400 people who ordered the Hawaiian pizza last month can’t all be wrong?.?.?.??can they?).

If a restaurateur were true to Googlethink, she would hunger for more data. Why not survey diners at the end of the meal? That sounds frightening—what if they hate the calamari?—but there’s little to fear. If the squid is bad and the chef can hear her customers say so, she’ll 86 it off the menu and make something better. Everybody wins. She’ll also impress customers with her eagerness to hear their opinions. This beats wandering around the tables, randomly asking how things are (as a diner, I find it awkward and ungracious to complain; it’s like carping about Grandmother’s cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving). Why not just ask the question and give everyone the means to answer? Your worst diner could be your best friend.

The more layers of data you have, the more you learn, the more useful your advice can be: People who like this also like that. Or here are the popular dishes among runners (a proxy for the health-minded) or people who order expensive wines (a proxy for good taste, perhaps).
If you know about your crowd’s taste in wine, why not crowdsource the job of sommelier? Have customers rate and describe every bottle. Show which wines were ordered with which dishes and what made diners happy. If this collection of data were valuable in one restaurant, it would be exponentially more valuable across many. Thinking openly, why not compile and link information from many establishments so diners can learn which wines go best with many kinds of spicy dishes? If you want to be courageous, why not reveal that people who like this restaurant also like that one? Sure, that sends the other guys business—it’s linking to them—but in an open pool of information, they will also send business back. Nobody eats at the same place every night (well, there was the time when I went to McDonald’s entirely too often). Even a restaurant can think as a member of a network in a linked information economy.

Networks force specialization. In a linked world, you don’t want to be all things to all people. You want to stand out for what you do best. That’s why chef Gordon Ramsey focuses the menus of the restaurants he fixes on his show, Kitchen Nightmares, so they know the business they’re in. Serve your niche instead of the mass. Do what you do best.

Now, as Emeril would say, let’s kick it up a notch: Open-source the restaurant. Put recipes online and invite the public to make suggestions and even to edit them on a wiki. Maybe they’ll suggest more salt. Maybe they’ll go to the trouble of cooking the dish at home, trying variations, and reporting back. In the early days of the web, I worked on the launch of Epicurious?.com, the online site for Gourmet and Bon Appétit magazines, where I was amazed to see people share their own recipes—there’s the gift economy—and also share their comments and variations on the magazines’ recipes. For example, a Gourmet adaptation of a bakery’s recipe for Mexican chocolate cake brought suggestions to replace the water with espresso (many commenting cooks liked that idea, tried it, and shared their endorsements); double the cinnamon; add Kahlua or rum to the glaze; use cream-cheese frosting instead of the glaze; use neither topping but serve it with whipped cream and berries; toast the nuts; substitute milk and orange juice for buttermilk; coat the cake pan with cocoa powder (helps with the sticking, you see); and even add cayenne pepper (pepper?). With these adaptations, you could argue the dish is no longer the same; could be better, could be worse. I’m not suggesting that recipes or menus become ballots; see the preGoogle rule about too many chefs spoiling the broth. It’s the chef, not the public, who will be held to account if the cake is too peppery. So I’ll violate Jarvis’ First Law—I won’t hand over complete control. But why not gather and use the wisdom of the dining room? A good restaurant has people who appreciate and know good food. It should respect their taste and knowledge, the Google way. . . .