NOTE: When this blog post was first written, we provided a link to the post at LA Weekly. As the comments on that blog are not moderated, we have chosen to delete the link, as some of the anonymous comments have surpassed the limits of acceptable adult behavior. If you would like to read the post, you may search the LA Weekly Squid Ink blog. Guacamole, anyone?
We try to live and work by an ethical code of conduct. That is a very unusual quality in Public Relations. Our goal is to project a spotlight onto our clients, not ourselves. We even have a policy of stepping out of the picture, so that the glossy magazine spread will be for our clients to enjoy and benefit, not our own egos. That’s the goal.
The goal, however, became blurred today, as we were quoted in an LA Weekly story about Rick Bayless’ new Red O Restaurant on Melrose Avenue. We arrived last weekend to a very busy, highly publicized restaurant without a reservation. What were we thinking? We were thinking that we could nab a seat at the bar, have a few bites, and see the new spot – a tradition that we enjoy with every restaurant that opens in LA. Unfortunately, a few dozen others had the same idea, and they all managed to arrive before us, leaving us to be turned away at the door. We tweeted, and we moved down the avenue a few blocks to another great restaurant. The night was salvaged and I tasted THE MOST DELICIOUS spinach & crab dip EVER, as a result.
The next day, we found that we had received quite a few responses to our tweet. Others in the food world had arrived at Red O and were similarly turned away by the doorman. Their experiences, however, were clearly much more dramatic than our own. A few hours later, an email arrives from a writer with LA Weekly, asking for a comment.
Having been turned away at the door, I suspect that my comments were surprising to the writer. And we shared several emails back and forth while the story was being written. Since no one ever cares to quote a publicist – and, frankly, WHY WOULD THEY? – I was simply giving my honest thoughts on the situation. Today, the link to the story arrived. And there, against all of our desires to NOT become the story, we were, in fact, very deeply entrenched in the story. LA Weekly did contact the restaurant’s PR firm for comment, and I do believe that the writer showed fairness to everyone involved. However, our two quotes, in which we essentially agreed with the restaurant’s policy, were actually only a very few words that were shared. Here, we provide the full answer that we gave. Our answers did not condone the restaurant for somehow managing to alienate customers (including a restaurant professional that we know, and respect, very well), but we did attempt to provide some answers that might have otherwise slipped by.
Our response, in it’s entirety:
I did stop into Red O this weekend with a small group of people. And, we did run into the very large gentlemen guarding the doors. However, I must say that everyone did NOT view the door policy the same way…
I really WAS NOT OFFENDED by the guys being there, or by how they handled the “door policy.” However, I do understand why they were forced to position these gents at the door. It does seem to be a contradiction for a restaurant to have doormen, but it is not new and it WILL happen again in LA, just by virtue of LA’s celebrity culture. Trust me, it is SO EXPENSIVE to hire that many extra full time employees, there is NO PLACE IN TOWN that would do so if it weren’t necessary.
I might note that the exact same thing happened with the opening of Cecconi’s. As soon as the bar filled up, they had to position doormen to stop letting people in. Legally, there are only so many people that can come into a space at one time, and there are only so many guests that any bar/restaurant is capable of serving. Also, a space that opens as a restaurant must legally serve a specific percentage of food to be licensed as a restaurant…if everyone only wants to drink, they do have to somehow deal with it, either with food minimums, or by controlling the number of people in the bar area. When a space opens white hot in LA, it will happen every time. (I remember sending Chef Mirko several messages that “we stopped by but couldn’t get in.”) The fact that it is a restaurant is unusual, but it does happen fairly often. When I began working with Falcon on Sunset, they also had doormen, for several reasons. Just like Red O, they had to guide guests that had dinner reservations past the crowds (which Red O DOES DO…the doormen at Red O DO ASK if you have a reservation and escort those diners directly to the hostess) and they had to control the number of people that can get into the bar area. (No one, including us, that wanted to go to the bar had a reservation!) The problem in LA is that everyone assumes that “if there is a doorman, they must be deciding who does/does not get in” and that some people will be automatically be insulted, simply by virtue of the fact that the doorman is there. I know firsthand that that was never the intention of anyone at Falcon – to choose WHO gets in – but rather to control the NUMBER of people getting in. It appears to me that the doormen at Red O were doing the same thing, as best they could. In LA, however, after you’ve finally gotten a group to agree on a place for the night, driven to the space, found parking, etc…no one wants to hear the word ‘NO.’
It is important to note that a bar/restaurant can NOT CHOOSE IT’S AUDIENCE. The audience chooses you. If Red O were not busy, they would not have this problem. (The bar was full 15-20 minutes after they opened at 6pm! 6PM!!!). Although they might have intended to open as a serious restaurant with a menu by Rick Bayless, the bar crowd has clearly chosen them as a cool place to hang out, and they are forced to deal with this huge influx of people as best they can. Same with Cecconi’s, same with Falcon, with all three intending to open as a restaurant, with a serious chef committed to cooking good food. For foodies, the same could be said for the opening of Pizzeria Mozza – long lines, everyone doing whatever they could to get in, and the poor hostesses taking the heat for MONTHS after they opened on how they handled the “door policy”…and this was a restaurant opening by some of the country’s most seasoned restaurant professionals. It is never easy.
The huge downside to all of this bar popularity? Foodies get angry. Foodies are not used to lines, and they are not accustomed to dealing with doormen, much less being questioned by them or, worse, being sent away. People WHO HAVE NOT BEEN TO THE RESTAURANT made comments about the quality of the food and drinks ON YOUR FACEBOOK! Food blogs that allow anonymous comments tend to encourage people to make snap judgments on how a restaurant handles situations like this, without a full understanding of why it happens. From Your own FB – Quote: “I haven’t been and don’t intend to go…” That’s a pretty quick judgment, huh? And, that’s a shame because it could very well be an excellent restaurant.
I would only finish by commenting on your statement “especially in this economy.” In this economy, Red O is busy from the minute that they open the doors. Even though they did not “choose” a bar crowd, they are busy because of them, even “in this economy.” I say “good for them!” Interestingly, the exact same thing has happened at Michael Mina’s XIV…drive by on a Sunday afternoon and see hundreds of kids buying bottle service, with lines out the door waiting to get in…and this, at the restaurant of one of LA’s most celebrated chefs! It’s just the nature of the business, and they, too, are likely grateful for the sales. Although it did throw a wrench into our plans a bit this weekend, I’ll definitely be back when I am smart enough to plan in advance by making a reservation, or when that bar crowd moves on to the next hot spot. It’s just how it works in LA, and it likely always will.
Hope this helps,
Postscript: And, FOR THE RECORD, we would love to go back into Red O. We await your invitation, Chef Bayless!