Table For One

10 11 2011

A decade ago, Robert Putnam wrote what has become one of the premier critiques of modern American culture. Bowling Alone examines what Putnam calls a crisis in American community. And while bowling solo is used more as metaphor, it does capture the ethos of the 21C. We may be connected (and Putnam had no way of predicting Facebook back then), but really we are just alone together.

As a result of my chosen occupational pursuits and lifestyle, I often find myself dining alone in restaurants. It’s not for lack of trying, of course, but my family and I just seem to pass each other going opposite directions on the highway. For years I would relish the quiet time alone, and take a good book or magazine with me to dinner. But now I find myself toting my iPad to the table. Or, in many cases, just dropping my iPhone on the table.

So how do you occupy your time when dining alone?

I have had some very interesting experiences while dining alone, mostly the result of posting reflective FB topics and inviting friends from the last 40 years of my life to join the conversation. It’s kind of like inviting the cast and characters from the play of my life to come together for tapas and drinks.

But I’ve been thinking. With so many of us finding ourselves dining solo (take a look around you next time…it’s more than you realize), why not turn this into a grassroots marketing opportunity?

Strangely, I am kind of already on that page. I am an incessant iPhone photographer. I often shoot pics of my food and post them to Foodspotting (check out Eatly.com for a similar site). I post restaurant reviews along with the pics. But I seldom if ever engage in such stuff if I am with others. Let’s face it. It’s a little weird to be dining with someone who wants to interrupt conversation so they can post their dinner.

Yet if you are alone, there’s nothing wrong with it. And that’s where I see opportunity. While it’s an opportunity everyone could do regardless of number in the party, it is perfectly suited for those flying solo.

So why not leverage the social and techno media aspects of the day by rewarding people for posting pics of their meal? A few weeks ago I was at Red Robin (dining and working alone, of course), and I checked in via FB (with a pics, of course). Upon posting it, I got a special coupon page announcing special happy hour prices. But this was just a generic screen that went to anyone who checked in.

Now what about taking it a step further by really incentivizing people…people who have nothing to do because they are alone…by rewarding them with dessert samplers or return visit coupons in return to really showcasing the restaurant’s products?

Basically, I am saying let’s combine the restaurant reviews of Yelp.com with Facebook (or Gowalla or FourSquare) check-ins, and the visuals of Foodspotting.

Now we’ve got something.

And, of course, once this stuff goes viral via our FBs and Twitters, it amounts to scads of free advertising for the restaurant.

You know, I could really go for this new gig as restaurant critic/photog. It would make dining alone a lot more fun. While I still enjoy my books and mags, as well as philosophical FB dialogues, I could be all of this new idea. Especially if the place serving me my fare were in on it.

Sure, we could argue that people will do this without the incentive. We already willingly provide so much free word-of-Facebook commentary as it is. But I bet could find it in me to post a lot more pics and raves if my hosts were in it with me.

After all, I have nothing else to do while dining alone. Anyone want to go bowl a few frames?

Dr “That’s How I Roll” Gerlich

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