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Jun 25, 2007 02:55 PM

Phantom Gourmet and Advertisers. [split from Boston]

[Note: These posts were split from the Boston board at: -- The Chowhound Team

They likely had only Bud and Bud Light available at the beer tent because Bud has been advertising heavily on the Phantom Gourmet's program over the last several weeks. And the PG folks seem to go out of their way to accommodate their advertisers.

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  1. When A-B (aka Budweiser) is paying your toll then you kiss them where the sun don't shine I guess, I know this because I make the bottles for Budweiser and with our contract we cannot make another bottle by any other competitor. I think this works out great for the holier than thou Andelcronies. They dont pay a dime and Bud pays thier way...Perfect !!! Do they really care what type of BBQ you are getting when you are padding thier pockets? I think I seen the mayor looking for scraps this morning ;-)

    1. Accommodate their advertisers? The standard way you put together an event of any size is to get sponsors. Everyone does that. A-B probably paid a fee to be the beer partner.

      Would the PG people do it differently? My guess is that they were worried about the costs of this event and laid as much off as possible. If the event was financially successful, they'll certainly think of ways to improve because their brand is important to them. My assumption is they made their money from ticket sales and that they didn't have the clout to charge BBQ and other providers for their spaces. If you run an art fair, for example, you rent the spaces and that lets you either charge less or nothing. Having an admission charge is not only revenue but also keeps the crowd manageable.

      Could they bring in more brands of beer? If they made enough money, then they have more clout and don't have to give an exclusive. They could, for example, have one national brand and then have some regional or local brands. You won't see A-B and Miller together though.

      12 Replies
      1. re: lergnom

        I think you give the PG folks way too much credit. They are all about the money and the personal cache. They have little or no interest in quality Witness the dumb fast-food extravaganzas they do on a regular basis if you need a basis for my position.

        1. re: AHan

          When this event was first annouced I saw that they were charging for children as young as 2 years old. Seeing this and knowing that I had to bring the kids if I wanted to go I decided to pass. I posted on the PG forum my displeasure that they were charging for toddlers or should I say I tried to post it, my message was never approved by the forum mod. I guess they didn't like what I had to say.

          Hearing from the folks that did go which included a friend of mine, I'm glad I didn't go. Charging a cover charge to get in and then having to wait hours for food that was priced rather high according to most folks is a joke.

          Next time plan better so your paying customers have the sweet after taste of great BBQ in thier mouths rather than just a bad taste.

          1. re: AHan

            It's somewhere in the middle. While the PG does trot out a fast food show once in a while, they also do review real restaurants, and even occasionally give bad reviews.

            However, they are also shills for their advertisers. With the television show, it's a good bet that the reviews are on the straight and narrow, but the non-review puff pieces, interviews, and features are pretty much just ass kissing to advertisers or potential advertisers. Never have I seen anyone worship the Kowloon so shamelessly.

            1. re: AHan

              They have a specific approach that's aimed at the mass market. They don't hide that. They aren't Zagat.

              If you speak to one of the Andelmans, they will tell you straight-forwardly that their viewers are middle-of-the-road eaters who are looking for a mix of "food and fun." They thus combine shtick (entertainment) and old-fashioned TV (being nice to sponsors) with real reviews (for credibility). It's a TV show, not Gourmet magazine.

              As for Kowloon, they grew up eating there. They say that. It's not like they hide their relationship.

              With ANY show, but particularly any show which covers its own sponsors, you have to listen carefully. They'll never say that Kowloon has great Chinese food, but they'll talk about their wings or their large number of lobster specials. They may say that if you're in the mood for traditional Chinese - meaning old style Chinese-American - then . . . but they won't say that Kowloon is a great restaurant with great food.

              When they run a Phantom review, which they do at least 2 times a show, they don't pull punches. The average rating is a 78 and the reviews are pretty darn accurate.

              The rest of the show isn't a review. They don't hide that. The rest of the show is profiles of places that they think their viewers might like. That means a heavy dose of really sweet things and huge portions or any place with a "fun" gimmick. If you go to a place like Trani that's been featured, they'll tell you bluntly that a lot of business walks in the door because PG did a feature.

              You try to put on a TV show, get advertising and ratings. PG has tried to balance the commercial aspects with criticism, which is a fine line.

              1. re: lergnom

                They say Fuddruckers is the best burger...almost every show.

                1. re: Trumpetguy

                  hahaha, I notice that every single time.

                  I'd rather get a whopper

                  1. re: bitsubeats

                    I don't eat burgers, let alone know the best--but I get pissed at that mentality of 'lies are OK in advertising"...American way? Their show seems to advocate that mentality.

                    1. re: bitsubeats

                      oh come on, Fuddruckers is about 1000 times better than a whopper.

                        1. re: bitsubeats

                          well, I won't turn up my nose at a whopper, but at least a Fuddrucker's burger is fresh, not frozen, cooked to order on a griddle to your desired temperature. try asking for a medium rare whopper!

                          1. re: tamerlanenj

                            Unless you get one from the Logan airport location - then, yes, I would rather have a whopper.

              2. re: lergnom

                Don't kid yourself, the Andelmans are laughing all the way to the bank.

              3. The Phantom Gourmet guys are hucksters, and they know how to make a buck. I disagree with lergnom's assertion that their reviews are accurate or unbiased: in recent weeks, I've seen several places I consider plain awful, e.g., Ciao Bella, getting "Great" recommendations.

                If you're in the demographic that rates portion size above all else, they might steer you right, but I don't think you have to be very discriminating to be disappointed by a lot of their recommendations. They fill a lowbrow niche well; I suppose someone has to do it. But I think you're naive or overly sympathetic to the Andelmans if you don't think their opinions are for sale.

                25 Replies
                1. re: MC Slim JB

                  I dont think Ciao Bella has ever been reviewed, but they did recommend it as a date place to see and be seen. I guess that's fair. They also said the chops were good: they never once mentioned a good pasta. I guess if there's one thnig I've heard about CB, it's that some people like the veal chop... Don't know why I'm defendnig PG but I just thought I'd point it out for the sake of fairness. From the Great Ate spot: "When it comes to cooking, there are just three things to remember: chops, chops, and chops..."

                  In Phantom Gourmet speak, that says to me: for the love of god don't order any pasta!

                  haha. I still remember the time the Phantom BLASTED piccolo nido...and the owner was so upset they let him come on the show to rebut the phantom.

                  1. re: tamerlanenj

                    didn't they do the same thing recently with that pizza place on rt. 1 in saugus? prince's pizza?

                    1. re: tamerlanenj

                      Ciao Bella was part of a "Great Ate" (Phantom's favorite eight places in a catetgory) for date restaurants.

                      Is it just me, or should a place identified as a "great date place" have more than one dish on the menu worth eating? Whether this is a rave in one of their 100-point-scale reviews or a "best eight places" list, they're endorsing those restaurants as worthy. Is the casual viewer supposed to guess that they mean, "worthy, except for most of the food"?

                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                        But Ciao Bella IS a date place. It has date atmosphere. It has a patio on Newbury. The food, in my experience, is similar in quality to most Newbury Street restaurants, worse than a few and better than some. It's a shopping street with on the whole mediocre and somewhat over-priced places, but it is a place where people go on dates and to people watch. Their criteria may not be yours but it's not like they listed a biker bar and said it was like L'Espalier.

                        And as noted above, it wasn't reviewed in a Phantom review.

                        I'm sorry, dude, but I can tell the difference between a review with a scorecard and a listing or promo piece.

                        Having an owner on because he got a bad review is called "making good TV." They get to look credible because they don't hide their review or back off it but they send a message to their restaurant advertisers that they aren't out to cut throats.

                        1. re: lergnom

                          I think it's interesting that, as you seem to interpret it, viewers have to decipher which pieces Phantom actually means as serious restaurant criticism, and which he's just kidding about, because "dude, they're sponsors -- you should just be able to figure that out!"

                          For me, it boils down to trustworthiness. I have people -- a few pros, a number of friends, many Chowhounds. -- whose opinions I trust, folks whose taste or expertise or passions about food make me respect and want to listen to their opinions. I don't trust Phantom nor any other critic who is willing to whore out some of their opinions, leaving me to figure out which perspectives are legit and which ones are thinly-disguised ads.

                          Ciao Bella is an illustrative example. Phantom cites it as one of his eight "great" date restaurants in Boston. It's hard to argue that it meets the criteria for a date place, especially with that great Newbury Street patio. Is it okay by Newbury Street standards? Maybe -- though I consider it well below average, myself. The bigger question is: is Newbury Street your baseline for worthy restaurants of *any* stripe? If that's true, the Phantom is definitely a useful source of restaurant guidance. But if you're spending time on Chowhound, hopefully you can do better than, "It's okay by Newbury Street standards."

                          If there's anything that Chowhound demonstrates, it's that you don't have to settle for the kind of mediocre crap advocated by bogus "critics" who are in fact just paid PR agents for their sponsoring restaurants. That's how I rate Phantom: about as reliable and trustworthy as that free magazine you find in your hotel room.

                          Even when I think Phantom might be serious, he's way too willing to settle for mediocrity. To the Chowhound in me, that's almost as unforgiveable as the kind of prostitution that comprises at least half of every Phantom Gourmet show.

                          1. re: MC Slim JB

                            It's a TV show. Food is not an objective experience. I know that you like Brasserie Jo, which is fine, but I've not only never had a good meal there but I've had the waiter fill water glasses with Evian without telling us it was bottled water (while forgetting place settings). Your experiences are yours.

                            I don't believe you have to translate PG any more than you have to translate any TV show. Having grown up in a media saturated world, I take everything with a grain of salt.

                            I've heard people ask Dan Andelman about ethnic foods. He said honestly that their viewership is not foodies and is broad-based. He was saying, in essence, their viewers don't want school teacher critics who'll teach them to eat cold tendon in chili sauce (my favorite dish). While Bostonites may want Indian, their viewers want chicken parm, sweet-tasting wings and big sandwiches. Odd as it sounds, most people haven't tried even Thai food and if they have they haven't ventured past pad thai - not even to pad see yuw. They felt it was a reach to include the Chilean sandwich place but that it fit the definition of a "deal" and that appeals to people.

                            I think they should include a more discerning segment on their show, if only to see how it flies. They apparently find, however, they get more feedback from talking about ordinary places with big portions and stories (like the Greek family that makes roast beef sandwiches in Beverly) than when they review Sorrelina.

                            1. re: lergnom

                              That Brasserie Jo story about the water is appalling. I'd have raised a stink about that one, made sure it got taken off the bill. It's patently deceptive, the kind of thing that makes people want to never return.

                              I think most folks are media-savvy enough to have a certain cynicism: "Hmmm, maybe that infomercial is exaggerating when it suggests that owning a countertop rotisserie is going to change my life." I also understand that Phantom is targeting a comparatively unsophisticated -- maybe mainstream is a better word -- demographic. Not many Chowhounds are looking for someone to taste-test Pringles to determine the best flavor, or recommend the best national fast-food franchise sub.

                              The biggest problem I have with the Phantom Gourmet is the undifferentiated mixing of ostensibly unbiased food-critic reviewing and what is essentially sponsor-paid content. There's a segment where they're objectively reviewing a place, followed by one where they're enthusiastically endorsing places as part of a best-of list ("Great Ate"). By the way, that last one is actually shilling for sponsors, not an objective critique.

                              Should savvy viewers be able to tell which reviews/endorsements are honest and which are whoring? Maybe. But I believe that without full disclosure as to which segments are unbiased critiques, and which are in essence paid ads, the Phantom is being inherently dishonest. It's like pouring your water, which you reasonably expect to be free, and then charging you for it afterwards. Viewers can't be certain which reviews they're paying for (spending their time viewing ads) and which they're getting value for (getting advice free from advertiser influence). It's sneaky, and it undermines any value they might be delivering with their honest reviewing.

                              1. re: MC Slim JB

                                I just saw that there are now Dave Andelman Sliders available at Firefly's. I'm guessing you won't see any negative reviews of that place anytime soon!

                                Anyone ever had the Eddy Andelman lo mein at kowloon?

                                1. re: MC Slim JB

                                  Anyone who has watched thier show more than once knows what is a review of a restaurant vs. an advertisement. First, they issue a score on atmosphere, location, food, service etc. No such thing with ads. I think that there are a variety of tv shows out there and if you don't like it, don't watch it. I am puzzled by the constant slamming of the Andelmans. There are alot of people who enjoy their shows and like them. Just because you don't like them doesn;t mean that they are dishonest, sneaky shills.

                                  1. re: emilief

                                    One of the defenses being made here on behalf of the Andelmans is that anyone can tell what's a review and what isn't. (I'm not talking about the obvious 30- and 60-second spots for Sal's Pizza, R.F. O'Sullivan & Sons, and the like: those clearly are ads, with no Phantom involvement at all.)

                                    So help me out here. Is the Great 8 an obvious ad, or is it a kind of review, or what? Yes, the Great 8 segment does not use the same 0-100 scale they use for their more detailed reviews, but it clearly describes their eight selections as the "best of the best". That sure sounds like a critical endorsement to me. Am I supposed to understand that it's really shilling for sponsors? What else on the show is honest reviewing, and what opinions are bought and paid for?

                                    On a show where at least some of the opinions are being presented as unbiased, I think it's inherently dishonest to air others that are paid for without being explicit that they are advertorials. I suspect a lot of Phantom's viewers don't really know this is going on. You don't have to be an especially sophisticated Chowhound to figure out that some of the horrific places they're endorsing must be buying those raves, but for the benefit of folks that otherwise trust them, it's unethical not to make the distinction explicit.

                                    So yes, from my perspective as a marketing professional, I do think the Phantom Gourmet is essentially sneaky and dishonest. And that has nothing to do with my personal like or dislike of the Andelmans. With repeated viewings of PG, Dave's smarmy schtick is actually growing on me a bit, though I still find Dan and the idiot Other Brother unfathomably awful.

                                    1. re: MC Slim JB

                                      I watched today's episode and laughed when they said that everything at Ciao Bella is "DELICIOUS." In fairness to the Phantom, they were talking about reader suggestions, I think....but I still thought of you.

                                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                                        I agree that if the "Great Ate" endorsements are paid for, that is not obvious and could be characterized as dishonest. Do you know that the Great Ate selections pay for that and if so, how do you know?

                                        1. re: emilief

                                          That's the problem, isn't it? Lots of people here besides me take it as a given that the Phantom is selling at least some of his opinions, but no one is sure which is unbiased reviewing and what is paid advertorial. I'm just applying Occam's Razor: the simpler, more credible explanation to me is that their opinions are for sale, rather than that they might actually love some of the horrible places they profess to love. But I have no inside information that confirms this.

                                          1. re: MC Slim JB

                                            If they're not paid for, it's then obvious that Phantom Gourmet needs a complete palate transplant. Some of the "Great 8" are so vile that they should be closed.

                                        2. re: MC Slim JB

                                          One additional note about those "obvious 30- and 60-second spots for Sal's Pizza, R.F. O'Sullivan & Sons, and the like...with no Phantom involvement at all":

                                          Maybe Phantom Gourmet has no direct involvement, but many of those spots are clearly produced by the same company producing Phantom Gourmet itself. Same look, same feel, often the same Andelman voices on the voice-overs.

                                          I have no inside information either, but I envision the PG sales team offering a whole spectrum of package deals to restaurateurs, from plugs in the Great Ate to mentions in the casual inter-segment banter to producing ad spots. While I need to believe that the actual reviews are unbiased, I've often wondered if restaurants pay to get that review on the air, even if agreeing in a contract that the content of that review can't be bought.

                                          1. re: finlero

                                            It's quite simple. Restaurants go to the Phantom Gourmet for good reviews. They are paid reviews to attract customers to restaurants that essentially serve swill on a plate. The Phantom gourmet has no credibility as a restaurant reviewer. At best, they are cheap entertainment for the 20 - 30 year old crowd nursing hang overs on a Saturday morning. Anyone that takes a Phantom Gourmet review seriously should probably seek some sort of psychiatric counseling. They are obviously delusional or under the influence of illegal narcotics.

                                            1. re: jjbourgeois

                                              I'm obviously not a fan of the Phantom, but even I think your assessment is a little harsh. As the expression goes, even a broken clock tells the right time twice a day, and I think the Phantom occasionally (very occasionally) gets it right. For example, I recall a recent show that praised Carlo's Cucina Italiana in Allston, which I too consider a worthy little Italian-American storefront.

                                              Call it lucky guessing if you must, but not everything the Phantom recommends is suitable only for drunken--idiot undergraduates (just most of it).

                                              1. re: MC Slim JB

                                                An example, I tuned in for a few minutes this am and they were doing the "best of the best" and many of the places mentioned were chowhound favorites (e.g. Oleana for baked alaska). The show was reasonably informative and pretty accurate.

                                                1. re: emilief

                                                  I also know for a fact that the highest reviewed restaurant in Phantom Gourmet history is Arrows. Not an obvious choice, but a good one.

                                                  1. re: tamerlanenj

                                                    Like MC Slim JB said, even a broken clock is right twice a day. At least they've stopped posting reviews on their website. I'm guessing their creative writer left the staff. But we're still able to chuckle at some of the old ones.

                              2. re: MC Slim JB

                                Some of their "Great Ate" are truly infuriating to me. Like the Chinese food one...If I was Chinese I'd be even more angry :)

                                1. re: Trumpetguy

                                  didn't you know that pg watchers only want sweet and sour chicken and spareribs?

                                  1. re: bitsubeats

                                    Oh-oh and those pu-pu platters too! Deep fried crud...Their schtick is not for me, I guess---cutesy, down to earth,love to love what they love, but please educate people more ! :)

                              3. re: tamerlanenj

                                Just recently caught them raving about a pasta dish at Ciao Bella--must have cost them...

                            2. This is what it says on their feedback forum restaurant review section:

                              "Agree/Disagree with Phantom, or review a new restaurant"

                              funny how there are NO bad posts on the bbq beach party.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: bitsubeats

                                There are no bad posts because PG does not allow bad posts. Bad posts are censored. They wouldn't want anyone with tastebuds slamming any of their sponsers. I don't know why anyone with a palate pays any attention to their website. Any restaurant with a decent marketing budget can get a fabulous review.

                                1. re: jjbourgeois

                                  My two cents:

                                  If you approach the show with the right frame of mind, it can be pretty entertaining. I like the food "glamour shots" from places I've never been (and many, probably never will go), basic info about the restaurants, and the occasional negative jibe ("a soggy Mud Pie crust had Phantom sinking fast..").

                                  If you take it as simply food entertainment rather than as a gesture of serious criticism, it's harmless enough.

                                  1. re: jjbourgeois

                                    yes and I would know, bc one of them have been censored...twice

                                    I gave up after that

                                2. Allow me to write in with a brief, defending the Phantom anecdote.

                                  A friend and I, on the advice of fellow Chowhounders, hit of Speed's Hot Dogs for the first time last week. Outrageously good dog, of course, but that's not for this post.

                                  When we went, two young gentlemen, collegey frat boy types, you might call them, showed up, clearly having trekked from afar. We were the only four there, and we struck up a brief conversation with the other gents and the hot dog guy.

                                  How'd you hear about the place, we asked.

                                  "The Phantom sent us," they replied.

                                  So I don't think you can call the PG, as obnoxious and shill-like as they are, completely worthless. I seriously doubt these two college guys would ever have found themselves in the middle of Roxbury in a gravel lot in the middle of a summer weekday otherwise.

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: tamerlanenj

                                    Agree. The show has its place in the grand scheme of things. They do uncover the occasional hidden gem, and they do let the masses (who don't know about or care about Chowhound and the like) know about those places.

                                    I might add, anyone with half a brain can tell who's "paying for play" and what's legit on the show.

                                    1. re: Bostonbob3

                                      haha, you don't think Old Mr. Speed's passed some money under the table for the rec?

                                      1. re: tamerlanenj

                                        Not money. I think there have been some hot dogs passed under the table though. :)

                                        Those things are damn tasty.

                                        Some more obvious examples of "pay for play" are Fuddruckers, Wholly Cannoli, Strega, the Lando brothers steak sub places, Halfway Cafe. I do think the actual reviews (the ones that are given points, not the "Hidden Jewels" or "Great Ate") are legit.

                                        1. re: Bostonbob3

                                          So we've got 50 replies and climbing, and yup, I've read 'em all. Three weeks ago I'm watching their former partner in puffery, Billy Costa doing his usual suav-AY smooze-job. Subsequent and previous to that, both the Globe & Herald weigh-in with their own uncritical "spotlight" pieces. And then, AND THEN, The Purple Pimps aka Paul's Pals proclaim Lime Rickey's a "Hidden Jewel"! I'm mean WTF, have they, in the end and after all the shilling they've done for Red Rock Bistro, no sense of decency at all???

                                        2. re: tamerlanenj

                                          Perhaps Phantom read about Speed's here on CH? Speed's has been raved about for many years on the Boston board, before PG reviewed him in May 2006. So perhaps it was because of reading about Speed's here that PG chose to review him?

                                          1. re: LindaWhit

                                            I have no doubt PG looks at Chowhound regularly.