Earlier this year there was some brief buzz about high-end restaurants Googling guests in advance of their visit. Most notable of them at the time was Eleven Madison Park, the Michelin-starred New York City restaurant. The maître di meticulously Googles every guest each night in order to become more familiar with them and to provide the best possible dining experience.
I hadn’t been aware of this practice until recently, when it happened to me.
A week ago while I was out with my husband at a favorite fine-dining restaurant, a friend who happened to be on staff stopped by our table and congratulated me on a new project. He let it slip that he learned of the news when the hostess Googled me. At first I was flattered for the compliment and that I was important enough to have been Googled. And yet, as he walked away, it felt a bit creepy. It’s not that the information wasn’t readily available—I had posted the news on my LinkedIn profile. It’s just that how the restaurant found out seemed so covert. It left me wondering, what else did they know and why did they want to know it?
Of course, restaurants have been keeping notes on customers for as long as there have been customers. Typically this information has been gathered by observing and talking to guests in the restaurant, building mutually advantageous relationships over time. Googling takes this information gathering to a new, less personal and one-sided level. But whether or not you agree with researching guests in advance without their consent, the question is this: Is the practice helpful or harmful to restaurants?
Personally, I don’t believe my dining experience was impacted positively or negatively by having been Googled—at least not that I was aware. The service at this establishment is well known for being exceptional, and it was that night. The food was not altered to meet my preferences—we had the prix fixe menu. Neither of us has a special drink to anticipate or stock for our benefit. What did the restaurant get from Googling me? Unfortunately, the owner did not return my call for comment, so I may never know for certain. But I don’t think the effort got them much. Except maybe an anonymous mention in this blog post.
Other restaurants may not be so lucky. With consumers growing more and more concerned about their privacy and continuously seeking new technology to help them keep their information to themselves, they may not look kindly upon establishments that dig up information without their knowledge. While technology most certainly has an important place in restaurants, in this case I wonder if restaurants might be better off learning about their guests the old fashioned way: by talking to them.