Getting an online look into the nation’s busiest restaurants can be addictive

Getting an online look into the nation’s busiest restaurants can be addictive

It took about six months—from last spring to the NCAA football bowl games in January—for me to turn into a hardcore YouTube.com junkie.

Not being the most Internet-savvy individual in the world and having given up on television since “Lost” lost me two years ago, I was an easy mark.

I came to use YouTube the way most folks use TiVo: to catch up with “American Idol” shows I missed or to replay the last five minutes of the Fiesta Bowl, easily the most heart-stopping, come-from-behind-victory in football history.

I thought I had my addiction under control, however, until recently when a friend wanted to have dinner at the Hawaiian Tropic Zone [3] in Times Square in New York.

Hawaiian Tropic Zone’s website is one of a growing number of restaurant sites that use streaming video to let guests see what’s going on inside. But Hawaiian Tropic Zone does one better—it offers real-time, streaming video at www.earthcam.com/events/ht/htzone .

What methadone is to heroin, streaming video at restaurant websites is to YouTube. Think of it: Whether it’s the hottest restaurants on the other side of the globe or around the block, you can honestly say, “I’ve been there.”

Operated by the Riese Organization with marketing support from the suntan lotion of the same name and an eclectic, Asian menu conceived by chef David Burke, Hawaiian Tropic Zone offers videos from five cameras. It literally turns you into an Internet Peeping Tom.

The cameras stream live video to the website from different points in the three-story, 16,000-square-foot, tropical-theme restaurant from the time it opens until the time it closes at about 2 a.m. One camera operates 24/7, showing the pedestrian and auto traffic through the glass doors at 49th Street and Seventh Avenue.

Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group [4] made big headlines last year when its Shake Shack, a stand in Madison Square Park serving burgers, hot dogs and milk shakes, installed time-lapsed photos of the customers waiting in line to order. With such taglines as “Plan your time, check out the line,” Shake Shack’s streaming photos are presented as a kind of public service, as customers have been known to wait in line as long as two hours before ordering.

Down south, there’s a “Bourbon Street cam” where three cameras show the activities in real time of all the happenings on New Orleans’ most famous street.

And, not to be outdone, the Dominican Republic’s official tourism website offers a “jealousy cam” that cobbles together beautiful people enjoying themselves at beachfront restaurants.

It’s a crafty use of technology, allowing guests to see inside the restaurant before they arrive to get a sense of how busy the place is.

But I think they ought to put a time limit on how long you can view these sites. They are too addictive.