"Booking line now open!” tweeted a fan. “Anyone else trying to get through?” asked one well-known critic on Twitter. Others added that they were all booked up to go. “CANNOT WAIT,” someone bragged. But last week’s scramble for reservations and the subsequent showing-off at having succeeded was not for tickets to the latest reunion of rock giants at the O2 Arena, but securing a table at Jason Atherton’s new restaurant, Little Social, which started taking reservations on Friday.
It has been said that food is the new rock’n’roll, and the restaurant industry is certainly taking notes on how the music business hypes their product. Witness the PR strategy of Story, the debut eatery from 26-year-old Tom Sellers, who has previously worked for Thomas Keller at the French Laundry and René Redzepi at Noma. A release arrived on Friday to confirm that the reservation line would be opening at 9am on Saturday, before warning that “diners will have to move quickly to secure a table at one of this year’s most-anticipated restaurant openings”. I’ve heard about people waiting by the phone to book Glastonbury tickets, but a new restaurant? I think not.
The more buzz the people behind an establishment try to create, the more they’re at risk of irritating punters before the first lick of soup has been served. John Salt had a similar over-the-top approach before it opened last November, and which rather backfired when the head chef left a month later.
Balthazar has secured its place as being the hottest joint in London, in part due to a bookings policy that tells customers they keep a number of tables free for walk-ins, meaning everyone turns up to try their luck, and the bar is rammed with hungry bodies. Buzz created. Other happening places such as Bubbledogs’ Kitchen Table and the Clove Club consistently tweet that there’s an AVAILABLE TABLE FOR TWO AT 5.30PM as if it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Mikael Jonsson, the head chef at the Michelin-starred Hedone, wrote in a blog post that when it launched a year and a half ago, it didn’t even have a PR section. Despite that, Hedone has gone on to be one of the most critically acclaimed restaurants in London, which goes to show that masses of forced hype isn’t an essential factor in opening a successful restaurant.
Food might be the new rock’n’roll but guys, you could calm down a bit. It’s no good having us clamouring for a table in week one, then giving up and going back to the little Vietnamese down the road. Don’t you want to be in it for the long haul? Buzz kills, sometimes.