This week, an ornate box landed on my desk. Inside was an even more ornate box, a box with heft and gold accents and rich blue velvet lining. Inside that box: a gold enamel stationery set with an enamel invitation to a party at the forthcoming Bullion restaurant. Bullion, led by former Mansion chef Bruno Davaillon, will start serving "French-inspired" cuisine at 400 S. Record St. this fall.
A Google search reveals that the stationery set's Tom Dixon pen alone retails for $50. Bullion sent my office (and others) several of these boxes, the contents of which will be likely be thrown away or handed off to someone else, who, after a few days of wondering why he or she accepted such a trinket in the first place, will throw it away.
The day after the Bullion packages arrived, more armfuls of soon-to-be garbage landed on my desk, this time from the forthcoming Bottled Blonde, an Arizona franchise opening in Deep Ellum this month. Trinkets spilled all over my desk: cheap T-shirts, bandannas and koozies. A strange backpack filled with tacky sunglasses, miniature Jenga and cornhole sets, a tiny tabletop beer pong setup. Candy, a bottle opener, a couple of bottles of Revolver beer.
I will never wear that T-shirt. I will never eat that candy. I did not want these things, and now I feel like a wasteful jerk for throwing them all away.
It's not uncommon for restaurant public relations people to send this branded graft to every journalist in town in an effort to curry favor or receive attention. But here's the thing: Real journalists don't want this stuff. We don't need this stuff. We actually throw this stuff away, which, as an aging hippie, just makes me angry at the obscene level of waste. These gifts do not increase the likelihood of me visiting or writing about your restaurant, but they do tell me something about it.
In the case of Bullion, the $50 gold pen and fancy invitation tell me this restaurant has so much money, it's willing to spend it on ornate, personalized garbage. They also tell me that Bullion isn't likely to be a good steward of that money and that the restaurant cares greatly about its image as a "spared no expense" destination. It tells me nothing, however, about the quality of the food or about Bullion's ability to contribute positively to the city's restaurant scene.
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As for Bottled Blonde, an already dubious franchise, these trinkets scream desperation. "Look how cool we are!" this pile shouts from a messy heap on my desk. In trying too hard, these establishments are doing little more than wasting money and putting a bad taste in my mouth before I've even set foot in their front doors.
Perhaps these sad attempts are effective when dealing with "influencers," the social media-obsessed hot-spot hoppers who revel in free meals and invitations to stuffy preview parties. But journalists are bound by ethics that preclude us from receiving expensive gifts. Aside from that, we're well trained in the art of spotting bullshit. These cheesy bribes do not make me excited about your restaurant — they actually do just the opposite.
How do you get press coverage for your hot new restaurant? Serve great food. Treat your employees and customers like human beings. Become a positive, productive addition to our city. Maybe, instead of wasting hundreds or thousands of dollars sending trash to local media outlets, use that money to pay your employees well, making them feel as if the company they have invested their lives in is equally invested in them.
Granted, you're entitled to spend your money however you please, but this city's restaurant industry is buckling under the weight of financial impropriety and needless waste, and I can't help but think of that every time I dump a load of this garbage into the recycling bin.