The Underground Culinary Tour: How The New Metrics Of Today’s Top Restaurants Are Changing How America Eats, by Damian Mogavero
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Jellybooks. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
This particular book presented an experience that was both close to home and somewhat remote at the same time, an experience that was both alien and even a bit on the hostile side given its hipster approach to food  and one that was quite in line with my own experience and interests as a person with a passion for data and evidence . On the one hand, there is a lot about this book’s focus on numbers and data and sound evidence-based reasoning that is appealing. On the other hand, I am not the sort of person that has the sort of income to drop on highbrow dining, the sort of person who is interested in following the fads and fashions of our corrupt contemporary society, nor am I the sort of disloyal customer that the author assumes many of my contemporaries to be. This book left me with the feeling of being both attracted and strongly repelled by aspects of the author’s approach, and left with mixed feelings about the author’s perspective on an industry that matters a great deal to me as a fond customer of restaurants and other entertainment options like the movies and concerts.
In a book that is part a tour diary and part tour through the calculus of the hospitality business, this is a book that operates with a fairly rigid dialectic between old guard business that rely on intuition and a new guard approach that relies on rigorous data and analytics. The book is more or less like Moneyball for the restaurant and entertainment industry, and should be viewed in that sense, with the same degree of built-in opposition to that which is old and established. This ought to increase the book’s appeal but simultaneously makes it less appealing to me personally, since many of the author’s points do not require either a slavish devotion to unstable hipsterish novelty nor do they require a sense of hostility to that which has come before us, but can in fact spring from a great love of preservation and even a restoration of that which is lost, and a devotion to service to others, if the author was less interested being a crusader of novelty and deliberate instability. Two chapters of this book deal with the underground culinary tour that the author runs in New York City, and other chapters deal with case studies of how sound analytics can reduce the threat of microfraud from restaurant employees, how data makes nightclubs and casino-associated restaurants profitable in Las Vegas, and how hipster cities around the United States from New Orleans to Los Angeles are benefitting from a variety of changes that focus on spectacle and that use analytical approaches and a devotion to trends to stay ahead of competition. The end result is a book that feels of the moment but whose short-term focus denies it the sort of lasting impact it would likely want to possess.
Who is this book ultimately for? There are at least a few people who would likely find much to understand about this book. For those who are involved in the entertainment industry and who consider themselves on the cutting edge of the fads and trends this book endorses whole hog, this book is likely the occasion of masturbatory self-congratulation. For those who are being labeled and derided as old guard, this book presents the opportunity for a selective use of data and analytics to better understand one’s business and serve customers without the devotion to novelty that the author endorses, along with the understanding that different people may aim at different audiences, and not everyone can or should chase after the fickle hearts of hipsters like this author and his clients do. For those who are fans of data and analytics, this book offers an example of how not to portray a focus on data-driven business practices by insulting either one’s readers or potential customers or glorying in being an arrogant blowhard like the author does here. Had the author approached his subject and the debate over data and analytics with more graciousness and humility, this would have been a far better book. As it is, there are insights that are worth gaining, but a great deal of material that must be taken with a large grain of pink Himalayan salt.
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