Ryan Sutton, food critic for Bloomberg News, can now add crusader to his resume. While the rest of us sit idly by, watching our inboxes fill up with offers to suspicious-sounding restaurants no one’s ever heard of and spas where we wouldn’t dare disrobe, Mr. Sutton is doing something about it.
Two months ago, he launched a Tumblr called The Bad Deal devoted to “highlighting BAD DEALS on Groupon, Gilt, Living Social, Savored and elsewhere,” in the hopes of saving consumers from “wasting their disposable income on crummy offers that are never redeemed.”
Exposing poor bangs for one’s buck is such a passion project for Mr. Sutton, that when Eater requested an interview about why he launched the site, he insisted on manning both the question and answer portion of the Q&A. We have to say, he really asked himself all the right questions.
As a foodie, Mr. Sutton’s concern lies, in part, with the missed opportunity for American palates:
So it’s shitshow week here at Eater, and we were wondering if you’d tell us about the worst deals you’ve seen. Have you ever heard of Amber on the Upper East Side or Mambo in the West Village? Nope. Yeah, well neither have I. They’re just two random sushi joints. But Groupon ran a special on both last week, and they sold over $85,000 in California rolls, tuna rolls and other fake forms of sushi. That in itself is a travesty that the public wasted nearly $100K on average food because Groupon told them to.
So, rather than Groupon and its ilk promoting some local treasure of a restaurant, Mr. Sutton argues (to himself) that:
“With Groupon, a national brand is giving national attention to a local joint that doesn’t deserve it, and as a result, a lot of people’s money is being misallocated. It’s anti-economic. Groupon is the invisible hand of capitalism sucker punching good restaurants that deserve to succeed and helping out mediocre venues that deserve to fail.”
But, Mr. Sutton’s larger issue lies with the industry itself. In addition to promoting the myth of scarcity and commoditizing the dining experience (which we here at Betabeat aren’t inherently opposed to), Mr. Sutton says:
“Deal sites are bringing the disingenuous culture of electronics retailing to the restaurant industry, where heavy discounting in the norm and consumers won’t buy a tasting menu unless they know how much they’re saving over the manufacturer’s suggested retail price.
Groupon and Gilt want readers to find value in deals and fictional savings. But the value isn’t in the deal; the value is in the food and service. I can actually see a future where consumers are so addicted to deals that every price on a restaurant menu will be crossed off Wal-Mart style and then there will be an alternate, cheaper price next to it, to show how much you’re “saving.”
No need to bring Walmart into this, Mr. Sutton. You had us at “deserved to fail.”