Man vs. Food is one of those shows that I really like, just not enough to set the DVR for. I stumbled upon it by accident last week and was delighted to find out one of the featured establishments in that episode is located in gorgeous San Luis Obispo, Calif., site of my latest business trip.
The food was amazing, as expected, the fresh cornbread serving as an added bonus. But the setup was a surprise. The joint is located in a strip mall (how California of them) and consists of maybe six tables with four of them being outside on the sidewalk. Nothing fancy at all. At the risk of making a big assumption, the place seems to be doing well enough rather than raking it in based on its digs.
Well, that might be about to change.
I showed up at about 3 p.m. on a Friday afternoon and they were already out of pulled pork and fries. By the time I left, they were also out of tri-tip and had to shut down for the day. Why the sudden rush of business? The exposure of being on a nationally televised show, of course.
To be clear, this is not the norm. I polled two SLO locals (one current, one former; one a professional, the other a former college student) and neither of them had ever been to The Rib Line. One hadn’t so much as hear of the place. And now both have plans to check it out.
This incident was in line with something I’ve been thinking about lately, the fact that merely being a really good small business (or individual employee) isn’t necessarily a recipe for success. The Rib Line’s food didn’t get better by being on TV. Rather the appearance generated a new public awareness and it was validated by an expert.
Awareness and validation – those are crucial concepts.
Similarly, an old high school buddy of mine, And Richards, got a plug and an attaboy from a Rolling Stone writer via the Huffington Post. Those are two huge and influential publications. Predictably, his web site traffic increased, he made some extra sales and he gained an endorsement for use in future bio materials.
Like The Rib Line, the exposure didn’t improve his product, it merely brought it to light.
There are (at least) two ways to look at this. On one hand, there are so many bands, writers, chiefs in this do-it-yourself era that sometimes we need help finding the good ones. In that regard, endorsements can serve an important purpose. But on the flipside, are we too willing to let other people (critics and media) dictate what we like? That seems to put a lot of power in their hands, making them almost like lobbyists on Capital Hill – and who’s to say they’re being objective?
I would have enjoyed the tri-tip from The Rib Line if I had merely stumbled on it by accident. But what are the odds that would have happened?