Unless you’ve been under a rock (or don’t read the entertainment and/or food sections of newspapers and websites) you’ve probably heard about how New York Times food critic Pete Wells’ review skewered (and barbequed) Guy Fieri‘s new Times Square restaurant, Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar.
A tidal wave of negative reviews and comments on foodie sites has followed, as well as articles and comments defending Fieri and his restaurant.
Guy Fieri (for the three of you who’ve never heard of him) is a celebrity chef who was discovered by the Food Network during their second season of The Next Food Network Star. Since then, his success has been remarkable. He is one of the most recognizable celebrity chefs (maybe just celebrity) with his signature spiked blond hair and rowdy (almost bordering on bombastic) style.
He’s been far more successful as a TV host than a TV cooking instructor. Whenever I check in on a recent episode of Guy’s Big Bite I’m struck by how much stiffer he seems than when he’s doing hosting duties. His big hit is Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives (shortened, oh-so-cutely, to “Triple D”), a show where he drives around the country visiting, well–diners, drive-ins and dives. People love that show so much that sometimes The Food Network seems more like the Triple D Network, with marathons of the show running many times, especially on weekends.
I have always liked Fieri. In fact, I voted for him when he was a finalist on The Next Food Network Star and was pleased to see him become a breakout star. But it has seemed for a while now that the Food Network has been overusing him, and that he’s been spreading himself out too thin–for instance, hosting a game show called Minute To Win It. Which had nothing to do with food, by the way.
Since I haven’t patronized Fieri’s restaurant, I have no idea if Wells’ review is accurate, though other reviews seem to confirm that the food is mediocre at best and poor at worst.
(Frankly, I usually avoid Times Square restaurants when I’m in New York. Because of the pricey real estate on which they sit they can be very expensive. I prefer to hike over a few blocks west to Hell’s Kitchen, where I can get a burger or pizza for less money and enjoy a more peaceful atmosphere. But I digress.)
One thing that I can’t help noticing is the almost gleeful tone of Wells’ review (which IS funny to read, no doubt about it) and of other people’s negative comments about the restaurant and Fieri himself.
Which brings me to the subject of branding.
As writers, we hear all the time how important it is to develop our brand. Obviously, writers are not the only ones who need to concern themselves with a brand. Fieri’s career is an object lesson on how to brand yourself successfully. He developed a unique, winning persona, with an interesting point of view. If you just showed his spiked hair, you would probably know it was him, that’s how iconic it has become. Until the game show, he stuck to projects that complimented his brand.
I doubt Fieri is going to sink into obscurity because of the poor reception of his restaurant, but his brand has definitely suffered a hit. A hit that probably could have been avoided. Not just by, you know, creating a restaurant that served good food–because most restaurateurs fail at some point or another. Actually, EVERYONE fails at some point or another. But I think Fieri’s overexposure is why some people are relishing the negativity about his newest venture.
I’m kind of surprised the Food Network let this happen again. Remember what happened with Rachael Ray? There was a time when it seemed like The Food Network was The Rachael Ray Network. She also spread herself into a lot of other ventures–a talk show, a magazine (both still doing well, as far as a I know). And people began to get sick of her. People even began to hate on her.
I think the lesson we can cull from these examples is that branding is important, but protecting the brand can be just as important. Ways to protect it are not to overexpose it or spread it too thin, or lend it to the wrong kinds of projects.
As I said, I think Fieri will survive this–he still has legions of fans, he still has his shows, and he has other very successful restaurants. When J.K. Rowling got some terrible reviews for her most recent book, someone on Twitter cracked that she was blotting her tears with hundred dollar bills. Fieri’s probably blotting his with ten dollar bills. But I’m guessing he’s going to be more a bit more careful about protecting his brand from now on.