Dealing with stuff that sucks  OCT 02 2006

If you've ever used any of the various menu sites out there, you may have noticed that the menus are occasionally not as up-to-date or complete as they could be. A typical response in the blogosphere to a situation like this is to fire off a snarky missive about how menu sites suck, wish harm on the site's owners and their children, and why don't they just die already, those sucking bastards, and basically overreact in such a way as to make the writer feel temporarily better and all but ensures that nothing constructive comes of it.

Since its launch last year, I've admired the tone of Eater, a site about New York city food and dining. The site strikes the right balance between criticism, enthusiasm, insider knowledge, and detatched reportage while covering a topic where too much of any one of these is deadly for the reader. Last week, Eater took note of the menu site situation, but instead of just complaining, they went looking for some evidence and reported the results:

Last week, Eater began an exhaustive investigative series called MenuGate. For those who think we'd forgotten about it, ten-hut. Tomorrow morning, we'll be conducting a SPOT INSPECTION of the major menu site players, then scoring them on how accurate (or inaccurate) their menus are. The benchmark will be the menu that's freely available, at this very moment, on the restaurant's official website.

In canning the snark, offering fair criticism, and letting the results speak for themselves, Eater made it possible for the menu sites to respond in a congenial fashion:

We saw you chose 11 Madison Park this morning to do a menu comparison and our menu was out of date. To be fair, we waited to let you investigate the differences before we updated the menu, even though we noticed the menu had changed. In any event, now that you've written your piece, we have updated the menu as we do for restaurants everyday. We have a team specifically assigned to update menus and we receive user submissions as well to let us know about restaurant changes.

The end result? The situation improved for everyone. A small improvement perhaps, but MenuGate is an ongoing Eater feature so we can expect future improvements. And perhaps when the menu sites get tired of taking their lumps each time around, MenuGate may lead them to think of better ways to keep their menus up-to-date and useful. Anil Dash wrote a post two years ago about how bloggers could take positive action against "Stuff That Sucks":

I'm proud of what [bloggers have] done in creating so many different weblog communities, and I don't want our legacy to be one of having the positives overshadowed by our frequent, though understandable, tendency to be unkind or uncivil to those we're communicating with.

The way Eater has approached the menu sites issue is certainly a good example of what Anil was talking about. Good show.

Read more posts on kottke.org about:
Anil Dash   eater   food   NYC   restaurants   weblog

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