I almost got (another) 15 minutes of fame last night. KPIX, the CBS affiliate in San Francisco, called to talk to me about my role in helping take down the website that was scalping Valentine’s Day reservations. I spent about 20 minutes on the phone with an editor, telling him what, when, where, why, etc. But I guess the rain, traffic and other stories took precedence, as no Satellite Up-Link Truck showed, no Klieg lights were lit to put the spotlight on this story for the public-at-large.
This is pretty disappointing to me, not just because I didn’t get my ugly mug and some footage of our restaurant on the Toob, but also because no “non-internet” based news agency in The Bay Area has mentioned squat about a story that is troubling on so many levels.
The last year has just plain sucked the weenie for restaurants across the country. Places here and in SF were folding like lawn chairs; but, recently we have seen a definite up-tick in business, both in cover counts and check average. So people are starting to return and they are spending money again (although corkage incidents are still out of control, but all in good time my pretty, all in good time…). Many places, who have been hanging by a thread for the last 18 months or so, since Bernie Madoff, AIG and all the rest floated their big turds in the economy’s punchbowl, are now faced with the prospect of empty tables on the one and only really busy weekend in the Winter slow season. Many local restaurants are depending on Valentine’s/President’s Weekend to pay their February bills. And now they may be faced not only with empty tables when these fake reservations no-show, but also they have probably turned down a dozen legitimate parties for each of these slots by now.
So it is disappointing that no one with any reach in the “Mainstream Media” is concerned enough with this story to air it, or even publish it on their websites.
So, in addition to KPIX no-showing last night (the CBS affiliate in Atlanta did a piece on the scam on Thursday night’s news), e-mails sent, by me, to Michael Bauer and Grace Ann Walden at the SF Chronicle’s Food section have gone unanswered, unpublished and apparently unnoticed; and I have to think I am not the only one who sent one. So, two local writers who make their living on the backs of the Bay Area’s restaurant community, did not see fit to use their reach and influence to help get the word out. And it’s not just the owners of the restaurants that lose out on a scam like 911Reservations.com was trying to pull, it’s the servers, hosts and bartenders who will have empty stools and tables, and all the would-be patrons who can’t get in because these bogus reservations have clogged up the pipeline. I had a sheepish Voice Mail message at the restaurant yesterday from someone calling to cancel a reservation they had obviously “purchased” from 911Reservations.com before their site went down. They probably saw the internet buzz generated by the story and correctly figured we would, how should I put this, cut their balls off? if they showed their faces and claimed to be “Bruce Banner, party of 2, 6:30…”
The Golden Gate Restaurant Association boasts over 1000 members, yet has not mentioned Word One about this story. Multiply that by just two fake reservations for each restaurant (many had more), and multiply that by even a modest $25 check average per guest (many are much, much higher), and you have a substantial bag of cash that was lost. By contrast, the Georgia Restaurant Association had the story on their homepage on Thursday night, and it was picked up by UPI, Associated Press, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, etc. Granted the scam originated there, and was much more widespread in the ATL, so it was a much hotter topic for them. But still, a pretty weak showing by a local trade group who is supposed to have our best interests at heart.
I am, however, very pleased with the spirit of cooperation shown by our local restaurant community in helping sound the alarm, and alerting everyone they could by phone, emails, Facebook, Twitter, and personal blogs. The pyramid of contacts started by just a few of us here and in Atlanta, took these A-Holes down in a matter of hours.
This has always been the case, especially here in our incestuous little gang in Napa Valley. If one of us needs linen, coffee, or printer paper for our POS systems on a busy weekend, all we need do is call our neighbors; and if they have supplies enough to help us out, they always will. If we have a catering gig and need servers or cooks, we call around and see who has staff that need or want some extra hours. Plus, there is about 2 1/2 degrees of separation in our business, so we all know/have worked for/party/sleep with each other. We may all be in competition for the diner’s dollars, but we really know how to circle the wagons when someone fucks with us.
So, props to Elizabeth at Auberge, Tony at Bouchon, and to John and Rob at Martini House for their assistance; to my old boss Kevin Brown at Chops/Lobster Bar in Buckhead, who was truly the first to sound the alarm there; to Don Hart, former Napkin and server with me at Piatti and the old California Cafe in Yountville, who is now Director of Operations at JCT Kitchen in Atlanta’s Westside, for getting the word out via Facebook. Thanks to foodiebuddha.com and Eater SF for posting, and continuing to update, the lists of fake names and phone numbers used.
Nice to know somebody is listening.