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John Sciacca Writes...

Features, Reviews and a Blog by John Sciacca

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Random Thoughts (Blog)

Real life word of mouth trumps the virtual

Posted on July 1, 2011 at 11:12 PM

This moment in time finds me in Columbia – the South Carolina Gamecocks (two college World Series in a row, baby! I say that as if I have any actual investment in the team or even knew they were in the Series to begin with. Or that they had a baseball team at all for that matter.) Columbia, not the Medellin cocaine drug cartel Colombia – for the weekend and have the family in tow.

Normally I’m not much for eating on the road. I figure giant hotel breakfast, go-go-go all day, then see what the night has in store. Or how close the nearest liquor store it. It can go either way. Dana and Lauryn, however, take a much more hard line, regimented, three-squares-a-day approach to food. If you’ll recall from a previous post where I spent a day roaming the streets of DC, I have an “eat as much as you can now, cause there’s no telling when we might eat again” approach to food. With possibly a little sugar pick-me-up in the form of a random hard candy haphazardly discovered resting at the bottom of a backpack. Them? Not so much.

So after a longish day of sitting (we’re here for a 3-day religious convention), we get back to the hotel and Dana proclaims, “I don’t care what you pick, but you need to find where we’re going to go for dinner and do it fast. Lauryn and I are hungry.”

Not being from Columbia (either of them) this seems like the perfect opportunity to bring technology into play. And, technology is already *literally* in play as I happen to be holding the iPad2 and contemplating my move in “Words With Friends,” a kind of Scrabble rip off game where you pretty much play EXACTLY Scrabble with other people. So I bring up Yelp* a restaurant finder app that I’ve yet to actually put into practice in real life.

Yelp (I’m omitting the * from here on out because MS Word just fights me on the grammar of it all. I’m just going to trust you to all mentally add an * every time I type Yelp so we can avoid any name confusion and lest you think I’m not giving Yelp its proper shift-8 status.) looks at your current location, finds all/most of the restaurants nearby and then shows you any user reviews for them. Sounds pretty frickin’ handy. So I Yelp around for a bit and discover some good looking possibilities. A Thai place called the Bangkok Restaurant that is located a scant .6 miles away and has several reviews and like 4.5 star rating.

“I don’t want Thai.”

OK. Saki, a Japanese restaurant that has several reviews and a fo’ shizzle 5 star rating that is only 1.9 miles away.

“I don’t want Japanese either.” (A moment’s pause when I’m finger swiping through Yelp lists followed by...) “And no Chinese either.” (Damn!)

I – begrudgingly—decide not to take Darryl Wilkinson’s advice. Even more surprising, this advice didn’t involve some bizarre combination of copious amounts of absinthe blended with liquor and hookers for a change but was rather to ditch my family and go to Panera and take a seat where I can watch both the door to see people that are coming in and those picking up their food and then relay a Columbia, SC Panera daily hotness report so that we can then later compare scorecards and determine if the Panera hotness phenomena that seems to exist in Darryl’s Missouri Panera is indeed a chainwide occurence or something just uniquely localized to his Panera. (This suggestion was followed by the admonition to go and purchase something called Effen Cucumber Vodka which forced me to remind Darryl that I live in South Carolina where going into a liquor store and inquiring about something as fru-fru as Cucumber Vodka is apt to get them banjos a playin' as you find yourself about to get Deliverance'd...)

Alas, I finally get cursory approval for two potential candidates; a Mexican restaurant called Cantina 76, and a wood, brick oven pizza place, Za’s Wood Brick Oven Pizza. (You can see how little computational power it took on my part to ascertain that it was a wood brick oven pizza place...) They both seem pretty close and are conveniently located like hundreds of yards from each other and Yelp handily dispenses the directions and we jump in the car and set sail.

We drive past Za’s and it looks nice and cool and hip with some outdoor seating to help you fully soak in the 96 degree 7 PM temps but we think we’ll scout out Cantina as well. Perhaps it is even cooler, with perhaps actual open flames to sit next to or a nightly fire dance show. Something. Unfortunately we can’t find it. It might be that I’m driving straight into the blinding sun, it might be that it’s closed, it might be that Yelp got the address wrong, it might be a lot of things. Either way, we invest about 5 minutes of drive down and U-turn back time and go to Za’s. But there, in the same little shopping area as Za’s is a another cool looking place called Momo’s Bistro.

We pretty much know what we’re gonna get at Za’s – I mean, it’s called the Brick Oven Pizza for heaven’s sake! – but Momo’s Bistro sounds sleek and Italian and small-plates and amuse bouche and all that. So we’re walking over to it and we see a group of 8 people walking out. So I say, “Did you guys just come from Momo’s?”

“Yes. Are you thinking of going there?”

“Actually yes. How was it.” And they all start chiming in at once, telling me how not good this place was.

“It was awful! 7 out of 8 entrees were just not good! The tenderloin was dry…”

“I had the crab cakes and they were so spicy my mouth is still on fire!”

“If you’re hungry you should turn around and drive 2 miles that way and go to the Burger King! That would be better!”

Youch! “Well, have you guys been to Za’s? That was out second choice…”



“You’ll love it.”

So, there it is. Though we had never met these people, their real-world encounter, with actual face-to-face word-of-mouth knock against this business trumped an app any day. And had us totally steering clear. And it just goes to show you the all-powerful might which is word-of-mouth press.

When it’s good, you usually know it. Not only are you busy, 'cause, well, people are out there force-mutiplying business your way, but it generally comes back around in the form of, “Oh! So and so told me you did something for them and they recommended that I use you!” We get this at Custom Theater all the time and customer word-of-mouth referrals are by far our biggest source of business.   “I love your system. It’s so easy to use. Mine is so complicated and I hate it. Who did it for you?” “Oh, it was Custom Theater. You should totally call them. They’ll definitely fix you up.”

But unfortunately, you almost never know what people are saying about you when it’s bad. No one comes by and says, “Oh, just a little by-the-way. I’ve decided to go with another company because, well, Mr. Brain said you were a total jerk. And even though he’s a raving lunatic that says EVERYONE is a total jerk, and even though he went off on a profanity laced tangent where he said I was a total jerk, he specifically said you were ‘negetive’ and ‘very un-rulely’ and ‘horroble’ and that people are ‘discussted’ and ‘appauled’ by you. So, we’re going with that other company that has their showroom in the you-box-it we-ship-it store.”

(Seriously. He sent me a certified letter. Can I ask you just one little favor going forward? If you are going to go to the effort to bash me and say how “horroble” I am, please at least go to the trouble of getting your spelling and grammar house in order first. I really don’t think that’s asking too much.)

As for Momo’s...they’ll never know the full reverberations of those 8 unhappy diners. Beyond losing us, how many other people will those 8 people tell? And then who will they tell? How far does the hearsay from one bad encounter travel? And more importantly, what can you do to turn around the bad press that you don’t even know that you’re getting? Food for thought...

As far as actual food goes, the pizza at Za’s was quite good and I'd definitely recommend it. Even Lauryn thought so. And that's no easy customer to please.

Categories: July 2011, Family, CTA

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