Silent Dining: The Latest Restaurant Gimmick?

Silent dining restaurant gimmick
Flickr, Monika Bargmann

Banning cell phones in restaurants is becoming more common, as diners who constantly use their phones to chat or document their meals can be a distraction to other customers. A Brooklyn restaurant is taking things to the next level by banning talk altogether, piloting a “silent dining” event in which no one speaks for a 90 minute meal. Last month there were 17 diners at Eat participating without words in the first of what may become a monthly event, and after a chance to inform servers about allergies, there was total silence. The managing chef was inspired by silent meals at a monastery he visited in India. The restaurant serves only organic local food, with all furniture and decor also made by local artisans.

Is this a welcome concept, or just another gimmick in dining?

A San Francisco restaurant is often silent, but it’s not a gimmick, it’s run by a deaf couple with a some hearing-impaired staff. Patrons can communicate in sign language, or like many of us do in foreign countries, by pointing and writing. Owner Melody Stein wants Mozzeria to be known for its pizza, not as a deaf restaurant, and they have many repeat customers both hearing and deaf.Dining in the dark has been a trend for awhile, with restaurants in the U.S. and in Europe promoting an experience of eating without sight. Many of the restaurants employ blind waiters who are trained in serving sighted customers who are plunged into a pitch black restaurant or blindfolded. The idea is to heighten the other senses, but the reality can be more terrifying than tantalizing.

Like your steak with a side of vertigo? For a thousand bucks or so apiece (plus catering costs), you and 21 friends can be hoisted up in the sky on a crane to try Dining in the Sky. Started in Belgium and France, the table can be rented all over the world.

A truly moveable feast was hosted on a New York City subway for 12 diners. Waiters served six courses at stops between Manhattan and Brooklyn, and the MTA was not amused, but no one was arrested or fined for the meal.

Would you try any of these unusual meals? Share your experiences in the comments.

Instagramming Food: Fun Or Faux Pas?

instagram food - Questlove in TokyoA big topic around the water cooler Twitter this week is a New York Times story on restaurants and food photography. Some chefs like David Bouley encourage snapping photos of your dishes, even going so far as letting you in the kitchen to get the best shot, while others like Momofuku‘s David Chang have outright banned cameras. Restaurateurs argue that constantly whipping out your phone to document each course distracts from the meal, your dining companion, and even the chef. Instagram-loving patrons feel it’s a “tribute” to the chef, and even gives the restaurant free advertising.

We’ve discussed Instagram and travel photography before, and how all those fun filters can be considered “cheating” at getting a great travel picture. You could say the same about food photography, that using effects can alter the presentation of the food, to say nothing of how it alters the dining experience. It’s another symptom of the cult of foodie-ism and the tendency to not live in the moment while you try to share your experience with the world. But are some meals worth remembering past the dessert course?

This week, hip hop legend and Roots drummer Questlove made a pilgrimage to Tokyo‘s Sukiyabashi Jiro restaurant – subject of the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” and the start of Questlove’s obsession – and Instagrammed the whole meal. He respectfully asked permission and even took a pic of another photographer nearby. His photos are nothing groundbreaking, but his refreshingly unpretentious and conversational commentary makes you feel like you are right there with him, enjoying some $300 sushi. It’s eating vicariously through social media at its best.

Do you Instagram your meals? Where do you side on photography in restaurants?

[Photo credit: Instagram user Questlove]

Trek the Colombian Andes in El Cocuy National Park with Mountain Madness

colombia adventure travelAcclaimed Seattle-based adventure travel company and guide service Mountain Madness debuts its newest trip on February 4th: an excursion to Colombia’s El Cocuy National Park. Although Colombia is often characterized as being mostly tropical jungle or coastline, the Andean Cordillera Oriental crosses a significant portion of the country. The El Cocuy trip will allow trekkers to explore glaciers, alpine lakes, and remote colonial villages.

Mountain Madness owner and president Mark Gunlogson has years of experience as a mountaineering guide all over the world, and the company is renowned for its reputable and distinctive trekking trips and alpine climbing schools, particularly in South America and the Himalayas. For this inaugural El Cocuy adventure, Gunglogson will lead five other trekkers and climbers as they “explore this area’s potential for adventure travel. The team hopes to dispel the myth of danger with travel in Colombia and open up a new, cutting-edge trip.”

Activities will include mountaineering, trekking, rock climbing, and cultural exchange, a Mountain Madness hallmark. Check out the company’s blog for dispatches from El Cocuy. Buena suerte, team!

Video: How to self-arrest with an ice ax

How to Self Arrest with an Ice Axe

Top 5 travel fashion trends for summer 2011

speedo fashion trends travel summerWith summer just around the corner, it’s time to take a look at what travelers will be wearing as temperatures rise and vacations abound. Before you know it, schools will be out, beaches will be packed and road trips will be in full effect. So, what are the hot fashion trends for tourists and travelers alike? We attended fashion shows from Milan to Albuquerque so that we could report back on the styles that will have everyone looking chic, sassy and, of course, functional as they hit the road for summer fun. Grab some sunscreen, a good book and your camera because we’re going to have you looking your best. These are the Top 5 travel fashion trends for summer 2011.

1. Mankinis
Long the style in Europe, swim briefs are ready to hit the shores of the good ol’ US of A. They dry fast, allow your thighs to breathe and their snug fit keeps sand away from all of your naughty bits. While most American men used to shy away from these skimpy briefs, sensibilities have changed over the years and the time has come smuggle those Yankee plums.

socks sandals travel fashion trends summer 20112. Socks & Sandals
For years, Germans have understood the secret to comfort during travel. Finally, however, their fashion-forward ways have caught on in the States. Sandals can cause blisters, awkward tan lines and injuries to exposed toes. By adding a sock layer between your feet and the sandals, you eliminate chafing, create one easy-to-manage tan line and protect yourself from injuries. Beyond that, a fashionable pair of socks can dress up any sandals when it’s time to transition into your evening affairs.

3. Fanny Packs
Whether you’re out for a day of sightseeing, on a hike or just hitting the hottest clubs, you’ll want your hands free to take pictures, keep your balance or grind with anonymous dance partners. Fanny packs (or bum bags to many of you) are convenient, practical and suit any fashion sense. There are rugged lumbar packs for hiking, exquisite designer fanny packs from Louis Vuitton for formal occasions and styles for everything in between. Your passport, money, hotel key and map will fit perfectly in a handsome fanny pack and you’ll turn any sidewalk into a fashion runway.

4. Shirts emblazoned with the name of the place you’re visiting
People love to get souvenirs but most of what we bring home is just schlock that takes up room in our homes. The most practical souvenir is the one that you can wear at any time – including during that very trip. That’s why fashionistas the world over are sporting stylish shirts purchased at airports, gift shops and amusement parks. Showing off logos and name brands is so passé. Today, it’s not about who you’re wearing, it’s about where you’ve been. Do you love NY? Then show it off! Been to DisneyWorld? Let the world know! Checked out the Anne Frank House? Good for you.

5. Everything that these ladies are wearing

travel fashion trends visor bathingsuit

Gadling Q & A with Daniel Edward Craig, author and hotel consultant

Daniel Edward Craig shares a name with the current James Bond, and like 007, he’s a world traveler and a man of many hats. He’s taken a career in hotel management and a keen ear for storytelling and parlayed it into a murder mystery book series, an engaging industry blog, and a hotel and social media consultancy. Here he tells Gadling about his history in the travel world, who’s providing the best social media content for travelers, and what’s next in hotel trends.

Tell me about your history in the hotel and travel business.

I’ve worked in hotels off and on for about twenty years. I started on the front desk at the Delta Chelsea Inn in Toronto and went on to work for a range of hotels, from big-box to boutique, in positions ranging from duty manager to vice president. Most recently, I was vice president and general manager of Opus Hotels in Vancouver and Montreal.

What title do you think best captures your profession these days
?

These days I work as an author and hotel consultant. I left Opus at the end of 2007, shortly after my first novel was published, to complete the second and third novels in the Five-Star Mystery series. Now I am working on a fourth book as well as various consulting projects for the hotel industry, ranging from social media strategy to executive coaching. I also continue to write my blog and articles about the hotel industry. It’s been a rough few years for hotels, and I think we could all use some levity, so in my writing I try to take a lighthearted look at issues.

Do you think you’ll ever go back to managing a hotel?

I hope so. Hotels are my first love; writing is secondary. As a hotel manager, I feel fully engaged and at my best, whereas as a writer all my neurotic tendencies come out. Writing is a solitary profession, and I’m better as part of a team. Once I finish my current book at the end of this year, I’ll decide what’s next, and that could very well involve a return to hotels full-time. I’ll always write, but after a year of 4:00 AM mornings and late nights, I promised myself never to write books and manage a hotel at the same time.

What are you most critical of as a hotel guest?

I’m extremely service oriented. I’ll cut a property a lot of slack if it isn’t my style or if facilities are limited, but bad service can ruin my trip. In particular, I dislike overly scripted, apathetic service. I love a hotel with originality and a lot of life in the lobby. And I look for soul, a combination of design, culture, clientele and spirit, that intangible feeling that I’m in the right place. That’s why I prefer independent boutique hotels – it’s easier for them to do these things well.

What’s your favorite hotel?

Don’t make me choose! It depends on my mood and the nature of travel. I was just in Chicago and was blown away by the new Elysian Hotel. If I’m relaxing or working, I like the Four Seasons. I can’t always afford to stay in them, but I will splurge on a drink in the lounge and will hang around until I’m asked to leave. My favorite is the Four Seasons Georges V in Paris. But I also love contemporary boutique hotels. I’m a city boy, and when I feel like socializing I want to stay in a hotel with a scene, like the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York, the Mondrian in Los Angeles, and the Clift in San Francisco. XV Beacon in Boston is also one of my faves.

Given the many social media experts today, how do you stand apart?

I’d never call myself a social media expert. Who can keep up? I’m a hotelier first, who happens to know a lot about social media and reputation management. Social media allows me to combine my two professions as a hotelier and an author, because essentially it’s about storytelling. Social media touches every department in a hotel, and as a former general manager I understand the interplay and interdependence involved, and to rise above individual departmental interests to develop a strategy that benefits the hotel as a whole.

What hotels/travel companies do you think are doing social media “well”?

I think there are a number of hotel companies that do certain aspects of social media well, but nobody is doing anything particularly innovative. HKHotels in New York are doing a great job of reputation management. Best Western runs a good Facebook page. InterContinental Hotel Group makes great concierge videos. The Iron Horse Hotel in Milwaukee manages Twitter well. Red Carnation Hotels in London and Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver have good blogs. Joie de Vivre Hotels does great contests.

Hoteliers are great storytellers, and with all the comings and goings of guests we have a rich resource of content to draw from, and yet this isn’t translating to social media. A lot of hotel content is trite and uninspiring, and most of the voices sound the same: perky and vaguely annoying. Hotels can learn a lot from online reviewers, who spin the best stories, with strong points of view, hooks, humor, trivia and facts. I think there are huge opportunities for the hotel industry, and I’d love to help a hotel become the social media hotel in a given destination.

What made you start writing murder mysteries?

I always wanted to write, and naively thought that writing a mystery would be fun and easy. They say write what you know, and at the time I was working as a duty manager, so I set it in a hotel. Ten years later, Murder at the Universe was published. For me it was a one-off, but my publisher liked the idea of a hotel manager who writes mysteries set in hotels, so they contracted me to develop it into a series. Since then I’ve published Murder at Hotel Cinema and Murder at Graverly Manor.

After three novels, I started to get bored with my protagonist, the hapless hotelier Trevor Lambert, and all that whining. And there could only be so many murders in his hotels before people started suspecting him. The book I’m finishing up now is non-fiction, an irreverent insider’s look at hotels, written for travelers.

What do you see as the next big trends in hotels?

Mobile is huge. Increasingly, people are researching, booking and recommending travel via smart phones. Social media will grow as people continue to bypass travel journalists and hotels for travel information in favor of travelers, friends and social networks, all from the palm of the hand. When it comes down to it, however, above all hotel guests still want comfort, convenience and value. They just have much larger audiences to air their grievances to when they don’t get what they want.

What’s next for you?

After I finish the book, I’ll put book writing on hold for now and will continue to work on hotel projects, to blog, and to write articles. I’m starting to book quite a few speaking engagements in 2011. My platform as an author and hotelier is quite unique, and social media reputation management are hot topics. If I find a good job with a progressive hotel company, great, but until then I have no shortage of things to keep me occupied.

Read all about Daniel Edward Craig, his books, and his blog at his website, www.danieledwardcraig.com