Food Businesses and the Social Web

Black, White, Red, Eaten
October 30, 2017
Chocolate Peppermint Bark Cookies
October 30, 2017

Food Businesses and the Social Web

Over the last two weeks, online controversy has raged about a new business operating in the miniscule Strip District location that used to be home to Caffe Intermezzo. It brings up some important questions about the PR side of running a foodie business, business questions of maintaining a personal presence on the web, and the politics of where we choose to spend our money.

Ron Razete had blog on which he espoused his political beliefs, alignment with the religious right, and disapproval of homosexuality. Much of the political content was vitriolic. After posting for about 18 months, he opened a food business named Peace, Love and Little Donuts, with the tagline, “Feed your inner hippie.” Foodies patronized the business happily for about 6 weeks. But then, some foodies who really liked the donuts but also happen to be gay found his blog.

The gay foodies were pretty upset. They felt betrayed that someone with a hippie-themed donut shop could actually be, well, anti-hippie. They began a public campaign to discourage patronage of Razete’s business. The campaign included using the site Urbanspoon to make (legitimate, supported) claims about his beliefs. Razete felt unfairly targeted, and said he didn’t think that his political and religious beliefs should be brought into a conversation about the food he makes and the business he runs. He took down the blog and petitioned Urban Spoon to remove negative comments, a move that only fueled the debate.

Now, I am certainly in a quandary. I want locally-owned food businesses to succeed, but I’d rather not buy anything from people who broadcast hatred for the GLBT community and say that people with my political beliefs are stupid, evil, un-American and/or immoral. Do I want his business to fail? Not really. But I can’t say I’m excited for his success now, either.

So since I can’t have it both ways, I think what I really wish is for business owners to be more responsible for their online persona. Then I wouldn’t have to make anti-donut choices. I’m a publicist and marketer by trade, and my first thought on reading Razete’s blog was OMG Dude should have deleted this blog as soon as he decided to start a business.* For about 50 reasons.

But I get the other side, too: why should I be expected to build a brick wall between my personal life and my business life? And after attending an awesome Podcamp Pittsburgh 4 last weekend, I’ve come to this conclusion: You can do anything you want online, but you’ve got to be prepared for the consequences.

If you want to have separate professional and personal lives on the web, you can do that. Keep your blog private or blog anonymously.** Protect your Twitter updates. Use super-secret security settings on Facebook. Confine conversation topics that could alienate customers to face-to-face interactions with close friends. Generally avoid saying things online that could negatively impact your business. Strive for your product – in this case, donuts – to be the focus of conversations about your business.*** Remove the static about your personal life.

If you want to bare your soul online, you can do that, too. You can, as Ron Razete did, broadcast your political opinions to the world (thanks, First Amendment!). It’s totally legal to say things that offend people. But you have to realize that some of those people might be your customers, and that they have no obligation to support your business if you have offended them. If you choose not to compartmentalize your personal life and your business, you can’t be angry when others don’t compartmentalize it for you. And on the web, your detractors have just as much of a right to say their piece as you had to say yours.

Dear readers, I’m very interested in hearing from you about this (new and rare) intersection of food, business and politics here on Burghilicious. What responsibility do restaurant owners have to maintaining their online presence? I’m particularly interested in how other restaurants and food businesses manage their online presence, and if they think about these issues.

And then we’ll be back to our regularly-scheduled navel-gazing gluttony. I’m wondering if homemade donuts might be in order.

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