If you’re in the food-journalism biz, you get bombarded on a daily basis with press releases, often as many as 30 per day. Some are faintly rational, but others immediately provoke guffaws with their wild assertions. Here’s the best one I’ve received so far today.
According to the National Restaurant Association: “While dining out remains a popular choice for Americans to celebrate Valentine’s Day, new National Restaurant Association research shows that nearly one-third would also like to receive a restaurant gift card on February 14.”
What’s wrong with this opening sentence? What isn’t wrong with it! To begin with, are you going to trust an organization called the National Restaurant Association to deliver unbiased research about restaurant behavior? Definitely not! In fact, this little bit of “research” is self-serving in every way. You can only imagine the leading questions on the questionnaire, and how the sample was arrived at. This is the kind of research model that gives professional researchers who value their own credibility nightmares.
Question #1: Wouldn’t you like to give someone you love a restaurant gift card?
Question #2: Wouldn’t a restaurant gift card be a perfect gift for Valentine’s Day?
Question #3: You’re going out to dinner for Valentine’s Day, right? Who’d stay home on a holiday like that? VD is all about going to a restaurant; the holiday has nothing to do with love. We know, because we’re the National Restaurant Association.
(I’m just making fun here, but the actual questions, which can be viewed online, are leading in more devious ways. An expert on research statistics would pull them apart immediately.)
This press release strikes while the iron is hot, given that the holiday is almost upon us. The organization has already striven to convince consumers that going to a restaurant on Valentine’s Day is your number-one priority, even though empirical evidence suggests that it’s absolutely the worst day to go to a restaurant (dumbed-down prix fixes featuring red foodstuffs, jacked-up prices, overcrowded and overbooked restaurants, deafening noise levels), with the possible exception of New Year’s Eve.
It’s just a small piece of paper — unless you can manage to fully use it.
So it was a stroke of genius on the NRA’s part (no accident here that the initials are the same as the National Rifle Association’s) to also suggest that you should buy a restaurant gift card in addition to simply dining out. It goes on to assert that a gift card is a particularly good gift for a man: “‘Restaurant gift cards are popular gifts at any occasion, but we found that they are an especially good choice as a gift option for adult males this Valentine’s Day,’ said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the Research and Knowledge Group for the National Restaurant Association.” Note that, since a large proportion of VD restaurant meals are probably purchased by men for women, here’s the perfect way to pick the female’s pocket, too.
But there are certain problems with giving a gift card to a guy:
1. Most guys, if I can judge by my own disorganized personal life, are likely to simply misplace it. Pure profit for the restaurant.
2. It locks you into eating at a certain restaurant, which you may have lost interest in by the time you’re ready to go. Or it may have simply closed by the time you get there, given today’s volatile restaurant scene.
3. You can never spend the exact amount on the card, and you end up underspending if you’re frugal, leaving, say, $11.73 on the card, which the restaurant then gets to keep, unless you come back later (having managed to keep track of the card), and blow another wad. Or you spend more of your own money when the amount on the card is surpassed. Extra profit for the restaurant.
4. According to Consumer Reports, many gift cards expire, or carry penalties if not used within a certain time frame. So if you still want to get a restaurant gift card for Valentine’s Day, read the fine print carefully.