They call it “retargeting.” Using cookies to track your Internet shopping and browsing, advertisers bombard you on every page you surf with images and links to the very things you were last considering. Annoying from a consumer’s point of view, sure, but from the advertiser’s perspective it’s smart — and often, I have no doubt, effective.
What does this have to do with restaurants? Well, the most irritating form of retargeting ads online are the ones that try to sell you not only things you’ve considered buying, but also things you’ve actually bought, sometimes mere moments before. It happened to me just last week when I ordered a litter box. An hour later, wasn’t I the very least likely customer for another one?
I thought about all this a few months ago when I ate at Sfoglina, the otherwise-delightful pasta restaurant in Van Ness from the masterminds behind Fiola and Fiola Mare. Practically everywhere I looked reminded me of the name of the place: Sfoglina on the welcome mat in front of the host stand, Sfoglina on the wall, Sfoglina on the lampshades, a bread bag, pillows.
At &pizza, everything down to the employees’ bodies — tattooed with the “&” symbol — reminds you where you’re eating. When the late, great Michel Richard opened Central, he made sure one wall featured a giant portrait of himself, but given his mercurial personality it seemed more charming than anything. Perhaps the most egregious cases involve larger corporations: At Benihana in Bethesda (and I’m sure at other locations, too), you enter to find a huge TV screen playing a looping infomercial — for Benihana.
I can understand the need for branding: a consistent color palette, coordinated materials and finishes, an initial or the logo on a napkin, check or receipt. But the subtler, the better. Too much more, and to me the place, especially an independent one, runs the risk of seeming like a vanity project, even when it’s anything but.
Advertising a restaurant in every way but that one makes sense. Signage outside helps people out there know what’s in here. But in here, what’s the point? As a customer, I not only have found the place, I also am spending money in it already. Consider me the converted, at least for the moment, and stop preaching to me.
Once I’m back outside, I suppose, that’s another story, and I’m fair game for retargeting. Because while I might not need another litter box anytime soon, I’ll be hungry again tomorrow.
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