A Selling Eating newsletter? Why not?

Olive Garden releases its brand into the hands of a man named Vino. Could be worse.

Well, when you come up with a concept like issuing a thousand passes to eat as much food as you want during the “Never Ending Pasta” promotion, you’ve got to be prepared for whatever publicity the internet produces.

Here you go, Olive Garden: the man you invited into your brand. He’s going to eat everything on your menu within the 49 days allotted, he says.

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 5.11.19 PM Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 5.11.34 PM

Seems like an all-right guy. He’s one-and-one for puns: the name of his little site there, “All of Garden,” is pretty respectable. But unfortunately he goes for “im-pasta-able” toward the end of this video and even if he’s going for a groaner, well, it’s a mark against his character, I’m afraid.

So, he’s two weeks into it. Good news so far: no ill health effects.

Stay tuned—will Olive Garden live to regret this? You do have to admire a major brand showing this much freewheelin’ chutzpah. Wait, that’s not an Italian word, is it?

Denny’s chases Millennials, but can’t tell yet if the feeling is mutual.

Somebody at Denny’s has been paying attention to what Millennials apparently like: Adult Swim on Cartoon Network, comedians being random, goofy-ass references to pop culture, and spontaneous Twitter conversations between brands and other brands (in this case a TV show).

Denny’s vs. Parks n Rec

They also know that Millennials don’t like you to attack Obamacare, mostly.

So they get a big A+ for trying to engage a younger target where and how and when that target likes to engage. Here’s their latest effort to engage Millennials, from the creators of Cartoon Network’s Robot Chicken:

Two things. One, of course, is measurement. How does Denny’s know that any of this works?

“We are working toward measuring the impact of our approach on sales, evaluating different methods of incorporating social into attribution modeling,” said the Senior VP of Digital Strategy at the agency that leads Denny’s social team. “We try to understand how it is affecting the brand: does our social audience have a higher favorability, willingness to recommend, etc.?”

So way to proceed boldly without knowing exactly what your results are going to be, Denny’s. They’re one of the restaurants that appears most confident that this is the way to convert new fans.

But secondly, I guess, there’s the “But is it really engaging, or is it just clearly an advertising wolf in sheep’s clothing, pretending to be worthwhile opt-in content?” I’ll hold off before I judge this “Meet the Slams” effort—those Robot Chicken people might make it work. But mostly, there’s a smell of sweat from straining to be hip that permeates most of Denny’s social efforts. I’m on record (in my book Selling Eating among other places) against putting googly eyes on food. But these are ironic googly eyes, I get that.

Still, it may be that Denny’s best non-traditional media moment of the last couple years was actually their good luck of co-starring in Breaking Bad.

While you were worrying about Yelp, Twitter potentially turned into your most useful social media tool.

On Twitter, 78% of negative posts come while the tweeter is inside the restaurant.

Admittedly, this news is coming from a Twitter representative.

But it just reinforces one of social media’s big opportunities: people are broadcasting how you can improve your service while there’s still time to do something about it. You just have to notice.

Really, nobody has social media 100% figured out, as came out in last spring’s forum at NRA in Chicago (which I blogged about on the NRA’s “Brainfeed” blog). You just have to pay attention, and choose when to respond and when not to, in real time.

Fortunately, that’s another bit of advice that came out of the Digital Innovation Forum in London last week: stay loose, fun, connected, and spontaneously using Twitter (and Instagram) instead of programmatically scheduling tone-deaf auto-tweets.

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 6.05.59 PM Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 5.58.12 PMPizza Pilgrims TweetsPizza Pilgrims TweetsPizza Pilgrims Tweets

Basically, if you’re using Twitter, and/or Instagram, and/or Facebook, the way they’re best used—to join and participate in an actual community that happens to be online, and to push out the personality of your restaurant, whatever it is—then you’re also more likely to catch the complaints when you can fix them.

Taco Bell thinks chasing serial numbers might be “fun.”

Taco Bell will feed you for life, sort of.Is it fun to hunt for serial numbers, so that you can spend $216 a year for 46 years at Taco Bell (which is what the prize dubbed “Taco Bell Food for Life” works out to)?

Maybe it looks a little bit fun.

It’s certainly easy to mock, starting with the implied 46-year life expectancy. It also might just seem like too much work for a nation full of busy people. That same nation rejected a nationwide hunt when Burger King tried it years ago. Maybe things have changed since then. It’s only worth mentioning because IT IS A TERRIFYING TALE THAT CAUSED BURGER KING PROFITS TO DROP 40% which even if it’s ancient history is worth learning a lesson from, maybe.

Or maybe human nature is still guiding us toward the path of least resistance when it comes to sweepstakes and prizes. McDonald’s Monopoly is still probably the gold standard for slightly-involving-but-mostly-passive games. I expect there are a few lessons this Taco Bell “fun” might end up teaching us:

1. Make sure your prize is relevant—which “Taco Bell for Life” is.

2. Make sure your prize is appealing—which “Taco Bell for Life” is for their die-hard fans, but how many die-hard-and-sooner-than-necessary fans (see? it’s an easy joke; cross-reference the following lesson) really exist, who have time to search for serial numbers on dollar bills?

3. Make sure your prize or set-up doesn’t give people an opportunity to mock you. Or else be ready for it and totally at ease with it. I assume a hip brand like Taco Bell is.

4. Make sure both your window of time and your geographic locations are sufficiently controlled, so it doesn’t drag out. Taco Bell has done pretty well here: 11 days, and focussed on 11 cities. Having it mostly play out on YouTube is a decent choice for the people who have the time and drive to search for these bills, and if it goes all BK-Herb, the damage is somewhat limited (as long as it gets shared enough to get the word out, which only time will tell if that’s happening).

5. Make sure it sounds like fun. In the end, I’m dubious about this—the prize is fun/funny in that easy-to-make-jokes-about way, I suppose, but looking for serial numbers seems awfully tedious. It sounds like investigative journalism.

I’ll bet you a week’s worth of Taco Bell food (a little less than five bucks, according to their calculus) that this whole thing just quietly fades away.

Personality Test – Please React To The Following Statement About Five Guys:

“Five Guys is testing milk shakes with mix-ins, and one of the mix-ins is bacon.”

Wait at least seven seconds, while looking at this chart.

Five Guys Tests Milk Shake Mix-Ins. Or is it Milkshake?

Now, choose one of these predetermined responses, which by my calculations are the only possible reactions to the news:

1. Those five clever guys have blown the doors off the milk shake category with this revolutionary concept of adding bacon to an ice cream product.

2. Bacon is funny. Haha. No, I would not like to try some.

3. I would try it right now, standing right where I am today. I would drink it all. I cannot have enough bacon in my life/gut.

4. I suppose it’s interesting but I don’t want meat in my shake.

5. It’s been done, but okay. I bet they do a good job with it.

6. Are we still talking about bacon? I’m bored.

If you answered #1, you’re possibly not paying very much attention to the fast food category, which means your personality type is “spacey enthusiast.”

If you’re saying your answer is #2, then your barometer for when a joke has run its course is very broken, and you probably listen to classic rock stations that play the same 20 songs every day without explanation or apology. Your personality is “friendly but insensitive.”

Three, I gotta respect. Your personality type is “unwavering obsessive” and that probably isn’t limited to bacon. Rock on, although I’m hoping said rock isn’t segueing right now between .38 Special and Skynyrd, with “More Than A Feeling” by the fresh new faces of Boston coming up after the commercials to kick off another ten song rock block.

Number #4 answerers are probably healthy and often have the expression on their face like they smell something rotting. Their personality type is “restrained conservative.”

Number #5, you’re probably the most well-adjusted person on this test. Because you’re right, bacon is done to death, but yeah, these five fellows know a thing or two about bacon and serving food people like. So your personality type is “fully aware yet tolerant optimist.”

But Number #6, you have the most of my sympathy. When I wrote this article for Food & Drink magazine, then recycled it for the blog, then recycled it for my book, the guy helping me keep my book on track—friend of the blog Adam—wondered aloud, “Hasn’t the bacon thing run its course?” And because there’s good advice in that Food & Drink article besides making bacon jokes, I said, ”Maybe, but I think it’s still got good advice besides making bacon jokes.” And his expression back at me translated as, “I disagree, but I’ve made my point, and since I’m a Fully Aware Yet Tolerant Optimist then I guess I just gotta let you do what you wanna do.” That was over a year ago. I’d probably still put the list in the book, but that’s because #6 personality types are kind of lazy sometimes. But overall, today, I’m bored with all the bacon jokes I used to find amusing.

Sorry, Personality Type #2. I am.

I bet Personality Types #1, #3, and #5 would drive with you to a location where Five Guys is testing this, and you guys could jam to Foreigner 8-track tapes all the way there.