Slick, sleek & slimy

I have fond mem­o­ries, though my cho­les­terol lev­el does not, of eat­ing at D’Best Sand­wich Shop in Boca Raton. It’s been a few years, but as I  recent­ly munched on a Mia­mi Cuban-style cheeses­teak1 my mind start­ed wan­der­ing and I got to won­der­ing if D’Best still exist­ed. As I went look­ing for their web­site, I recalled a few of their region­al twists on the cheeses­teak, like the New York style, a New Jer­sey style… not to men­tion their incred­i­ble non-steak explo­sion of an entire Thanks­giv­ing meal direct­ly onto a bun (D’Pilgrim).

D’Best still exists, alright… but I was tru­ly unpre­pared for what I found.

You see, back when I’d vis­it, D’Best-the-subshop was a place you’d leave coat­ed with a thin lay­er of grill grease. Had to wait in line? You’re wash­ing your hair tonight. The place was by no means messy, but it had a cer­tain unfin­ished qual­i­ty to it… def­i­nite­ly the kind of place where the food mat­ters more than the brand­ing. I’d describe it as feel­ing some­how hon­est… com­plete­ly lack­ing in pre­tense. Kind of blue col­lar? Yeah, I guess.

You can prob­a­bly tell why I was expect­ing the web­site to be endear­ing­ly ter­ri­ble. I was ready for a lit­tle Com­ic Sans, an “under con­struc­tion” GIF, and a scanned paper menu — as a multi-megabyte bitmap, of course. That would seem nor­mal. Kind of quaint.

D’Best-the-website, how­ev­er, looks very pro­fes­sion­al. It’s fast, designed to mod­ern stan­dards, has eye-pleasing amounts of white­space — oh, for fuck’s sake, it’s respon­sive — and is even served over HTTPS. Oh, and did I men­tion that it’s com­plete­ly lack­ing in char­ac­ter? It feels like it should belong to… I don’t know, L’Best Artisi­nal Pani­ni Bistro.2

And it very well could.

But what real­ly raised an eye­brow was this line:

We have an unwa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to fla­vor. Con­nect with us and let us know how we are doing.

And also, this one:

We nev­er stop short of a culi­nary expe­ri­ence you’re sure to enjoy.

D’Best’s fla­vor may not waver, but you’d nev­er hear that out of their mouths. Their sand­wich­es may be deli­cious, but a “culi­nary expe­ri­ence” they are not. This is a place where the meat gets grilled by guys in foot­ball jer­seys, back­wards base­ball caps and maybe a tat­too or two.

Some­thing was rot­ten in the state of Boca, so I plugged the above phras­es into a search engine. And then I did one of these. It turns out there are at least 80,000 restau­rants whose web­sites promise the same “unwa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to fla­vor,” and look more-or-less exact­ly the same as D’Best’s.

All of these, includ­ing D’Best and Hick­o­ry Hut St. Paul, say the’re “Pow­ered by Eat­Street,” a website-in-a-box ser­vice for restau­rants. Eat­Street seems to host these sites, and pro­vides them with a gener­ic design tem­plate as well. All of these dif­fer­ent restau­rants, from all over the coun­try, basi­cal­ly end up with the exact same web­site, with the exact same mes­sag­ing, except for a few small tweaks.

This feels a lit­tle slimy on the sur­face, but is there any­thing wrong with it? After all, restau­rants’ web­sites are of tru­ly hyper­local inter­est. I mean, nobody in DeKalb, Illi­nois is look­ing for D’Best. They’re more inter­est­ed in The Hud­dle Amer­i­can Food… which has the exact same web­site as D’Best. Sigh.

In the inter­est of being hon­est with myself, I tried to explore just which part of me was so offend­ed by this. Was I offend­ed as a food per­son? As a past D’Best devo­tee? Or as a copy­writer who can’t help but see this as a busi­ness get­ting by with­out need­ing the ser­vices of myself or some­one like me?

To reach the answer, I tried to put myself in the shoes of the own­er of D’Best, and I real­ized that, you know, it must have been a whole lot nicer to run not just restau­rants, but most kinds of local busi­ness­es before the Inter­net. Some per­son who real­ly needs to be wor­ry­ing about keep­ing rats out of the kitchen doesn’t want to think about about build­ing and secur­ing a web­site, plus deal­ing with all the Inter­net necessary-evils (Yelp, Google, Face­book, OpenTable, Square, Foursquare, etc.) that sup­pos­ed­ly exist to bring them cus­tomers, but instead use their stature to inter­me­di­ate the cus­tomer rela­tion­ship, and extract a recur­ring fee for doing so for the rest of for­ev­er. (Actu­al­ly, a few of those com­pa­nies would love it if D’Best decid­ed to give up on run­ning a stand­alone web­site.)

If Eat­Street can keep a sim­ple site up and run­ning smooth­ly, plus keep it more secure than the prover­bial site-by-nephew, is that real­ly such a bad thing? After all, a few decades in, the Inter­net is still not made for nor­mal peo­ple; there’s just too much that can go wrong if one doesn’t have the spe­cial­ized knowl­edge to do tech­ni­cal stuff prop­er­ly. There’s def­i­nite­ly val­ue in sim­pli­fy­ing things for a nor­mal per­son who just want to run their damn busi­ness­es. So even if Eat­Street is yet anoth­er friend­ly inter­me­di­ary, thanks to them one can order a D’Best Philly style online — con­sid­er my mind blown. Could that func­tion­al­i­ty exist with­out some cen­tral­ized ser­vice keep­ing the Inter­net gears run­ning smooth­ly in the back­ground, han­dling the cred­it cards and tak­ing a cut?

For all the upside they deliv­er in func­tion­al­i­ty and secu­ri­ty, how­ev­er, Eat­Sreet sure has their ten­drils into D’Best in an inadvisably-deep man­ner — a quick whois check shows that Eat­Street actu­al­ly owns D’Best’s domain name. Or should I say their new domain name. I found this oth­er domain that still con­tains an old­er D’Best web­site. While this site is still slick­er than it should be — remem­ber, my cheeses­teak place’s site should look a lit­tle like their paper menus, minus the grease stains — this site’s a lot clos­er to what I would expect. There are some typos. It’s got a page where you can meet the team. It has a freakin’ FAQ page where they tell you how to reheat a cheeses­teak (which, by the way, they say you shouldn’t do).

This Inter­net archae­o­log­i­cal find is a sign that some­one once cared about and hand-crafted D’Best’s web pres­ence… but at some point said “fuck it, this Eat­Street thing doesn’t make me think.” Thanks to their scale, Eat­Street can cen­tral­ize best prac­tices for all of their cus­tomers, but they can’t cen­tral­ize the déclassé char­ac­ter, the local fla­vor, the unique greasy fin­ger­prints that inevitably end up on the web­site when it’s made by the owner’s prover­bial teenage nephew.3

While those at the helm of D’Best can do what they think works for them, it just sucks to see a place with so much fla­vor take the path lack­ing in taste. But they have cheeses­teaks to make, and as long as peo­ple keep com­ing through the door to order these greasy won­ders on bread, they don’t have any­thing to wor­ry about.

Ulti­mate­ly, I guess I’m just writ­ing about myself and my pref­er­ences. While you couldn’t stop me from grab­bing a cheeses­teak if I hap­pened to be in the neigh­bor­hood, from where I’m stand­ing I can’t help but see big, lazy cen­tral­iza­tion as the sworn ene­my of good­ness. May I nev­er get too big to have taste.

  1. For the curi­ous: a sin­gle slab of steak topped with swiss cheese, mayo and pota­to sticks — a rather unhealthy twist on the ubiq­ui­tous pan con bis­tec, and also not a cheeses­teak.
  2. A hypo­thet­i­cal restau­rant I’d also total­ly eat at, by the way.
  3. Just kid­ding! Kids these days don’t actu­al­ly know how to use com­put­ers. They’d just set up a Face­book page.

2 thoughts on “Slick, sleek & slimy”

  1. Respon­sive, online order­ing, and hours and address as selec­table text on the front page? I’ll take that over 90% of restau­rant web­sites out there.

    And I do kind of miss d’Best. We have a cheeses­teak truck out here that gives them a run for their mon­ey, though.

  2. Just see­ing the cur­rent site now and hav­ing nev­er heard of this place before, there’s noth­ing spe­cial that makes me want to go there. The old site has so much char­ac­ter. I won­der how cus­tomiz­able the Eat Street web pages can be.

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