The Curmudgeonly Chef: A Lesson in Social Media Authenticity

Posted by Jennifer Hoppe under Social Media

When CDG Interactive works with business owners or professionals branching out into social media, one of the first questions we get is, “How should I act?” At the risk of sounding like your Mom, the best advice we can give is this: “Just be yourself.” Or, to put it in more buzzy terms: Retain your authenticity.

Authenticity is the currency of social media. Consumers—especially those well-versed in the world social media—can sniff out an inauthentic social media presence quicker than a mouse can zero in on a hunk of Camembert. And nothing irks the social media universe more than an insincere, patronizing, or hypocritical voice.

In fact, customers may react better to an authentic-yet-gruff persona than a falsely sweet one.

Take, for example, Chef Gillian Clark.

For years, this talented Washington, DC chef has garnered a reputation as a fantastic chef with epically atrocious people skills. Her grumpy, stand-offish personality is legendary—just ask anyone who has requested a substitution or an alteration to one of her menu items at The General Store.

This week, Chef Clark kicked the curmudgeon factor up a notch, posting videos on YouTube that mocked her own customers. The videos featured the Chef and her partner acting out bad customer behavior (forgetting the food they ordered, finding “glass” in an entree, etc.). When the general public got wind of the videos, well—let’s just say the blogosphere reached a rolling boil.

But then a funny thing happened. The Washington Post ran a feature on Clark on February 2, and guess what? Instead of using it as an opportunity for damage control, Clark remained true to her rough-around-the-edges self. She didn’t try to come across as remorseful, contrite, or even particularly friendly.

Later in the day, Clark participated in a live Washington Post chat and again her “charm” (or lack thereof) was on heightened display:

“This article really did lean to a charicature [sic].  I found it interesting that he did not include that many of our customers love the videos and came in to tell me so.  It sells papers to create a villain.” 

And although many participants took her to task for posting the videos, a surprising number of people rallied to her defense:

“Anyone who has dealt with the public knows customers, and especially diners, can be incredibly picky, rude and frustrating. She's the chef; why shouldn't she get to say no if she wants to. If you don't like it or her, eat elsewhere. But considering her skill in the kitchen, I'd say you were a fool if you did.”

“A word of support for Gillian . . . It must be terrible to be in any sort of industry where you are expected to serve the general public -- who can often be really obnoxious -- with a ready smile and "yessir" or "yesmaam" no matter what”

 On Twitter, encouragements chimed in as well: “keep ur head high, sweetie. :) Hope to visit ur restaurant one day!”

Now, overt rudeness to customers is not a social media (or general business) strategy that we’d recommend to anyone, but we do applaud Chef Clark for remaining authentic even while coming under fire. Chef Clark’s brand is “the chef you love to hate” and she’s nothing if not true to it. And with a history of running successful restaurants in the Metro DC area, and another on the way, she has the talent to back it up.

So, instead of worrying about how you “should” act on social media, start using it to express your real personality and your real passion for your customers and your business.  It’s so much easier to do something that arises naturally out of who you are—and, by extension, what your business is—than trying to fake it.

Tune in next week when CDG's social media expert Lisa King weighs in with more advice on authenticity.

Need advice on how to approach your social media marketing strategy? Contact CDG.

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