By Michael R. Shannon
Paraphrasing William F. Buckley, I'd rather take lifestyle direction from 200 randomly selected people in the phone book than follow the advice found in the 200 most prominent media outlets. Reporters are fad–conscious professionals at the expense of common sense. If they can identify a trend first, they become media experts and their journalistic prestige — if there is such a thing today — increases among their peers.
Since the media has the attention span of Joe Biden, it doesn't matter if the trend makes sense or even exists outside a few malcontent exhibitionists. What matters is novelty. Putting the story in context could only take the luster off a scoop, so it's rarely done.
I fell prey to this as a freelance writer in the 70's. Some eastern media outlet, where I desperately wanted to work, ran a story on a decline in coffee drinkers. The tyranny of the young was making itself known by switching from coffee to carbonated drinks. (What an innocent age. Now the young drink powdered alcohol.)
Consequently coffee beans rotted in the warehouse, cocaine production was looking better and better and Mrs. Olsen was considering switching from Folgers to Metamucil.
Eagerly trend–surfing I contacted a coffee distributor, interviewed the owner of a well–known diner and talked to random customers sitting behind a coffee mug.
I would soon be Oklahoma's caffeine–conversion expert. Only I didn't know Starbucks had opened about three years earlier and was gaining fast on the Bunn complex. Soon a cuppa Joe would be an "Espresso Macchiato," and the trend cycle would resume with carbonated beverages replacing coffee as the liquid on the decline.
A trendy Wall Street Journal story concerning high–end steakhouses is another cycle entry.
You may recall steakhouses, and meat for that matter, were dead just a few years ago as the Kale Revolution swept America. Food that had heretofore only been fit for rabbits was now appearing in the White House as youth (those wretches) traded flavor for regular bowl movements. Since it was a trend other businesses, with superficial easily stampeded management, had to hop aboard or be thought uncool.
Ronald McDonald was so eager to attract skinny herbivores it instituted a new "healthy" menu featuring the McCompost. In spite of McDonald's subsequent sales decline, Subway felt the social pressure and hired a child molester to promote produce in a bun.
Steakhouses weren't eager to serve malnutrition on a cracker, but it didn't matter because a vile cabal of granola–heads and the USDA was busy ruining beef with another fad. Instead of corn–fed beef that produced tender, marbled steaks, anti–fat crusaders gulled beef producers into going back to "natural" grass–fed beef.
Now two generations of Americans have no idea how steak should taste. They try to masticate Florshiem–like steaks from cows that look like the herd in Lonesome Dove and think it's a luxury.
When I was chasing the extinction of Juan Valdez diners could get a fork–tender steak at a mid–priced restaurant. No longer, today you must visit a den of one–percenters and contrary to past predictions, high–end steakhouses are prospering. The WSJ reported: "Eight of the top 15 highest-grossing restaurants among business diners in New York City are steakhouses."
A popular dish — bulk food for bulky people — is the 40–ounce cowboy ribeye that sells for $59.95. This posse–sized meal of meat alone might be good enough for the late Cecil the Lion, but most diners want a side dish or two. Unfortunately all your $60 bucks gets is meat and utensils, everything else is a la carte.
It's like buying a new car and discovering you have to pay extra for "options" the rational would consider basic. (Oh, you want tires with that?) Iceberg lettuce that Whole Foods hides in the Mitt Romney section at the back of the store sells for $9.00 a wedge.
These restaurants aren't obsessed with attracting female customers, running contrary to other trends. Smith & Wollensky founder Alan Stillman explains in a quote that may indicate grammar ignorance is hereditary, ‘"I know a tremendous amount (sic) of women that love to go to our restaurants…but they're the outliers." By contrast, at Quality Meats (sic), developed by his son, around 45% of the customers are women, Mr. Stillman said.'
The moral is take any media lifestyle advice with a large grain of salt, if you're still allowed to do that. As a wave of steakhouse trend stories begins to break over the nation, keep in mind fad stories are a blurry snapshot in time with about the predictive power and relevance of a political survey taken last year.
Michael R. Shannon is a public relations and advertising consultant with corporate, government and political experience around the globe. He is a dynamic and entertaining keynote speaker. He can be reached at mandate.mmpr (at) gmail.com. He is also the author of Conservative Christian's Guidebook for Living in Secular Times (Now with added humor!).