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Chowdown guidelines and special dinners

There's been some concern and confusion over the issues of Chowdowns lately, and we wanted to address those questions.

We encourage hounds to get together and dine, but we ask that they keep in mind the spirit of the site when they do so. Chowhound is a diner-to-diner conversation, with everyday customers simply talking to each other and sharing tips. Chowhound is a powerful tool, but whether for groups or individuals, it should never be a promise (or, in other situations, a threat) used to get special treatment. And even where that was never the intent, it can be the result -- just telling a restaurant you're from Chowhound can skew the dynamic.

Reports on Chowhound should, as much as possible, represent the experience any regular customer of a restaurant could expect. If the restaurant has been told that the group coming to dine with them is from Chowhound (and thus, that if they impress, they can expect lots of public adulation), it's not in keeping with the spirit of the site.

If a restaurant is the sort that will do a tasting menu for any large group (and many will, these days), it's fine to organize a tasting event, as long as you can do so without bringing the fact that you're planning to post about the event into the mix. If they do know that the group is from Chowhound, unfortunately, we can't allow reports on that dinner back to the boards, as the dinner itself won't necessarily have offered a true picture of what the restaurant would have done for regular diners.

Our Etiquette for Chowdowns and other Gatherings is here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/36760...

-- Jacquilynne, Community Manager for Chowhound

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  1. I guess I'll start the comments since I was asked to. Before I start, I'll say that I've never tried to actually plan a chowdown, but I'm reflecting what others who have tried have told me.

    The problem with organizing chowdowns is that it takes at least a month of planning ahead of time generally. People are busy and you need to pick a date far enough in advance that people have room in their schedules. The problem with the planning posts is I guess they become an eyesore at some point as referenced by: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/763561

    In general if your post to plan the event keeps being deleted, this seems to suggest the community discourages the planning of such events. Furthermore if after you go to such an event, there are more deletions of posts about the events, then that also feels like the community discourages gatherings.

    I think the other problem is that the website's policy is somewhat archaic with the times. The policy seems to think that chefs are not socially aware and that they sit in their kitchens all day with prep and cooking for their customers. However, even if the posters follow all the rules, it's likely that a savvy chef or owner will visit the community and see a chowdown is planned for their restaurant. Now suddenly the planning for the event is breaching the terms of use even though it wasn't the fault of any person that was participating or the organizer.

    23 Replies
    1. re: karaethon

      karaethon- I agree with your assertion that this policy may not be in synch with the heightened media environment that now eats into a good portion of our waking hours, but one thing I really like about Chowhound is it's mission statement- it's really just about getting people to the good chow. These events are pretty cool, and a great way to get like-minded people together, but I think something like Facebook is more appropriate for organizing and sharing photos. Posting about snout-to-tail dinners in honor of Hounds may make for good reading and photos, but somehow strike me as being more for the folks who went rather than the community in general. Not to mention the camaraderie and wine drinking may make it difficult to deliver a non rose-tinted review.

      Cheers!

      1. re: SaltyRaisins

        I am at least slightly offended that the particular event that I was a part of was brought into this discussion. I feel like what I was invited to discuss was about the general "misconception" that Chowhound is now discouraging "chowdowns." I've re-read my post several times and I feel like the feedback that I gave was addressing that topic without bringing any references to any particular special dinners into the discussion.

        I agree with you that the mission statement is to find the best places for chow, and I don't think chowdowns somehow dissuade that. I agree with you that creating posts about what happens at a chowdown perhaps is not in line with the community policies.

        What I don't agree and don't understand is if there's is a post that says "hey when is the next chowdown at _______ restaurant" that these posts should be deleted. As far as the original poster is concerned, they are not making any special arrangements with the restaurant and there is no violation of the community rules. There seems to be 2 things that happen with these posts that cause problems.

        1) I've noticed that a lot of these posts are simply deleted at some point (usually before the event gathers any momentum) so now chowdowns are actually done. In the invitation that I was sent to comment about this thread, I was asked specifically why I feel that Chowhound now discourages chowdowns. I'm simply saying that when someone posts a call to eat at an establishment and the post is deleted, then that seems like the site is discouraging the chowdown.

        2) The other scenario I ahve seen is that the chowdown post is actually alive for some time and people get interested at some point. As stated earlier, the organizing of these events is not actually against Chowhound policy. What transforms the post into violation is when the chowdown is organized for restaurant ABC and then the chef of ABC who happens to also be a chowhound reader sees the post. I don't know how the moderator knows, but suddenly the organization post is in violation and it is deleted and all the people who were planning to attend the event have no way to coordinate the chowdown. This is what I reference when I'm saying the policy does not account for this scenario (and it seems to happen quite a lot)

        I appreciate the comment that someone could use facebook or some other means to organize a gathering, but this requires everyone to be using facebook (which not everyone does due to privacy policy concerns with facebook). Additionally, using an external site goes expressly against the original topic that is being discussed, which I've been led to believe is simply "why do you think chowhound discourages chowdowns?"

        If Chowhound really is for the organization of chowdowns, I challenge you guys to do 2 things:
        1) Post a sample Chowdown invitation template that people can follow to not have their post deleted
        2) Amend the policy in some way to account for the situation where a representative from the restaurant sees the chowdown post, it is still not deleted. This could be somehow modified such that the chowdown can be schedule no more than 2 weeks in advance, disclaimer in the invitation for representatives not to post, etc.

        1. re: karaethon

          I had no idea chowdowns were this invovled, this serious or this difficult to organize. Wow. I am still unclear as to why organizing chowdowns works for some and not for others. Or, why FB which is now linked into CH, wouldn't be a helpful short term, chowdown to chowdown, solution. Individuals have to register with CH to become a full-site access member and FB can be setup as a private forum. Other types of e-groups can be setup and setup public or privately as well. I hope you find a solution, karaethon.

          1. re: karaethon

            karaethon-

            You make great points. I see how difficult it can be to make a Chowdown happen from the original notion to finally paying the bill. If my criticism of a particular style and concept of a review for a dinner you attended gave offense, I did not intend that. This type of review strickes me as having nothing to do with the Chow mission since the event was created specifically for a group with the financial ability to score food that is not generally available, and therefore I can see the rationale for deletion. Though this exclusivity is not forbidden on CH (there's nothing wrong with, say, the "I've got a buddy with a line on huge and legal abalone from the Coronado Islands and boy is it good" exclusivity), but the reviews that came of that meal struck me as private blog material because even though good chow was had by all, this good chow isn't really available to all of you.

            It looks like ChinoWayne and his LA buds have found a way to deal with the social aspect of the meetings that come of these boards. I think it would be very worthwhile to combine your first challenge to the mods and ChinoWayne's off-site solution for chowdowns. This way, you could talk about a lot more than just the food.

            Cheers!

            1. re: SaltyRaisins

              SaltyRaisins - after re-reading the terms and rules, I agree with you deleting those particular posts. Please do not feel bad for deleting those as you are doing your job (if you are indeed the moderator).

              By focusing on that thread, you guys are missing the point though. When HillJ says "I had no idea chowdowns were this involved," THAT is the point of concern. The problem here is that whether it was intentional or not, the state of Chowhound is that the users do not believe the community supports Chowdowns anymore. All the evidence in this thread supports it.

              1) Everyone is saying to go to an external site to organize the events. Well isn't the point of a community to stay within the community to plan these sorts of things? If you're using some tool from another site then fine, but you're actually actively sending people away
              2) From personal experience people who are "veteran" members of chowhound have said they stopped trying to organize the chowdowns because all the posts are deleted
              3) As a newer member to chowhound, I don't see many posts about chowdowns and when I do they are deleted quickly.

              All this evidence is pointing to the fact that (at least in the mind of the community) the site no longer wants to support the chowdowns. If that is your intention as a community manager that is fine, but please don't say that you support them and then delete the threads. If you do really support them, I suggest as a group you guys review your policies and decide if they need to be re-evaluated with the current social media market.

              1. re: karaethon

                Your questions reflect my own soon after FB was introduced into this site. I didn't understand the CH/FB relationship then and it is confusing why anyone contributing here, sitewide, would be encouraged by the CHOW/CH to go to another social networking venue to discuss food and I do not recall any formal explanation from site volunteers or Jacq as to the reasoning. I hope an explanation or support of your questions does arrive alleviating guesswork.

                1. re: HillJ

                  Here is how I view it, maybe it will help others to sort out the issue.

                  I have always viewed Chowhound as a research vehicle for crowd sourced data collection and publication of an infinite, but specific range (food and drink) of objects (i.e. "where can I find a great mahi mahi fish taco").

                  I view Facebook as a true social networking vehicle, to connect with old friends, make new friends, share a wide range of interests, whether a passion for food, to discuss current events, or share a hobby or just socialize (i.e. "Who is up for a taco crawl in East L.A. next Tuesday).

                  I like the fact that I can come to a data point site like Chowhound to find information about a specific subject (food and drink) that I am interested in, a site that is open to anyone to contribute to or benefit from, but which also is not obscured by tangential discussion.

                  I also like the fact that I can use a social networking site, like Facebook, to conduct my social interactions in a more controlled, less public environment (if I have my privacy settings appropriately set up). Facebook also has an "event" tool that I can use to schedule and manage with an RSVP function.

                  Chowhound and Facebook are two different beasts to me, and I try to leverage each for its unique strengths.

                  The appearance of the Facebook like button on Chowhound is a common occurrence on the Internet these days, it simply facilitates cross pollination between Facebook and other sites where masses of people cross paths. Marketers for any number of services and products are placing Facebook like buttons on their sites. It is a marketing tool. If I, as a Facebook user click on anyone's Facebook like button, I will be added to the marketer's Facebook group, which means that anytime the marketer has any message to get out, when he posts it to his group page, the entire group will receive it. (Which is also why I am very judicious about which Facebook groups I join.)

                  1. re: ChinoWayne

                    I concur with your very well spelled out post, CW. Until we get to the marketing piece. I've been taken to the hound wall for suggesting cross promotion, marketing was taking place on this site or for questioning forms of cross promotion. So, when CH placed FB on its site, I was confuzzled. I understand the pros and cons of such venue options the decision regarding "why now" was lost me.

                    1. re: HillJ

                      Maybe I'm missing something (because I disabled javascripts, or I'm not logged into facebook) but I don't see the facebook integration. Can you please elaborate?

                      1. re: karaethon

                        karaethon, If you go to the top of the page and type the word "Facebook" into the CH Search engine, you'll rec' a list of related topics posted to the Site Board. I'm not sure which thread will best answer your question but the overall reading should provide some background.

                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7030...
                        one example.

                2. re: karaethon

                  We don't allow chowdown planning on the site for a few reasons. It tends to be very time-consuming with a lot of back and forth on things like dates and times and RSVPs and cancellations and whatnot, all of which are details that are of interest to only the very small number of people attending a specific event, and not to the many thousands of people who are reading along. Those sorts of things really don't need to be preserved for posterity on the forums. It also often involves trading personal contact information and phone numbers, etc, and it's better for that to happen in a more private setting.

                  Planning events offsite also helps limit the attention the events get from restaurants, helping to mitigate somewhat the risks of the group being treated differently because they're hounds. It also makes it clear that these events are unofficial, created by individual members for others -- they're not sponsored or organized by the site.

                  We don't want to discourage the planning of chowdowns, but we have found that keeping the actual process of planning them off-site is an overall better system, despite the fact that it has some drawbacks.

                  We do sometimes remove planning posts, but we all try to send the poster our guidelines and help them make those posts in a way that fits within the guidelines.

                  -- Jacquilynne, Community Manager for Chowhound

                  1. re: Jacquilynne

                    Why not make a specific forum for chowdown planning? That would seem to solve the problem easily. You could tie the chowdown to a regional board, and maybe have something available on the regional boards that would show any planned chowdowns for that particular region.

                    I can understand not wanting to clutter the main discussion areas with event planning, but being hostile to event planning serves no purpose other than to create angry users who develop hard feelings towards the draconian enforcement of puzzlingly explained policies on the part of Chowhound's management.

                    1. re: Josh

                      Before FB, I thought I have seen chowdowns and special meetup dinners listed under Sticky Topics. Did the CH guidelines change or is a diff form (like using FB) for CH's getting together offline for a meal now acceptable.

                      I thought all one had to do was contact the Moderation folks using their direct email address to ask for a Sticky Topic. Did that change with FB?

                      1. re: HillJ

                        We do still encourage users to post their Chowdown plans, and will sticky those when requested. It's just the logistics planning we ask people to take offline.

                3. re: SaltyRaisins

                  "...because even though good chow was had by all, this good chow isn't really available to all of you" - I think that is a wrong assumption and one of the main reasons why many people are disappointed by the CH moderator on the San Diego board (which looks like is yourself based on your comments in this discussion. And I would find it very strange if an active poster on that board would be also moderator). The food at those dinners is available to everybody who asks for it. There are many discussions about tasting menues (not chowdowns) at many different restaurants in many different cities where the chef makes it spontanously. Based on your argument nobody should be allowed to post about it on CH because that chow won't be available to everybody. Your arguments are not really well thought out. Such tatsing menus are not different to any chowdown

                  1. re: honkman

                    Though I don't normally comment on this sort of thing in public, since it's come up several times now, I want to be clear that SaltyRaisins is not a moderator. If the moderators are commenting as moderators, they do so using the user ID 'The Chowhound Team'.

                    -- Jacquilynne, Community Manager for Chowhound

                    1. re: Jacquilynne

                      I am just curious - do you think it is a good idea in general that moderators on CH can also be regular posters. I think there is conflict of interest. And if you are fine with it at least everybody should know which regular poster is also a moderator.
                      And in addition it would be nice if every board would have somehow similar rules that would be enforced in a similar way which is clearly not the case. Depending on which board you would post a review it could be deleted or not. The San Diego board has some of the worst moderators I have seen anywhere.

                      1. re: honkman

                        I think it's essential that the moderators on Chowhound be regular posters. What makes the mods good at what they do is that they love the site and make decisions for the good of the site, rather than strictly following a manual of finely grained rules. Good, careful judgement combined with a deep concern for the site is a better basis for making decisions than adhering to a rulebook.

                        The moderators are volunteers and are anonymous so they can continue to participate in the site, sharing food tips without receiving any extra attention -- whether positive or negative -- because they happen to be moderators. All mod actions on the boards are visible to all other moderators, and mods are asked to recuse themselves from moderating situations in which they are personally involved, to mitigate potential conflict of interest.

                        The rules are the same for each board, as are the moderators -- we don't assign moderators to cover specific territories. But while the mods do look for problems, they don't read every post or see every problem by a long shot; we rely on reports from users to find a lot of problems. So if the users on San Diego don't report many problems, there will be more problems we miss. If they report more problems, there's more we'll see and potentially take action on.

                        1. re: Jacquilynne

                          The problem with the SD board is that many people are very unhappy with the moderator (and have posted less and less over the last year. There are now sometime more discussions on the California board than on the SD board and the original reason why both boards were separated was that the original California board had a large majority of just SD posts) and I know from discussions that many would like a change. It is very clear from the actions especially over the last few months that there are very different standards from moderator to moderator. It would be a good idea that there would be some thread (perhaps on the site talk) where people are able to complain about decisions from moderators so that the people behind CH are aware that some moderators don't do their job and should be replaced.

                          1. re: honkman

                            The problem with public threads about specific situations is that we're not going to be able to respond to them. We'll post general warnings on threads when there are lots of people involved in a situation, but we don't call out individual posters in front of an audience.

                            If you have specific comments, questions or complaints, they can be sent to moderators@chowhound.com, which goes to all of the moderators. I read every message sent to that list, as well, so your comments will be seen.

                    2. re: honkman

                      I think the real difficulty comes with the "appearance" of a quid pro quo between the restaurant and the chowdown group. For special pricing or as a result of preparing special "off the menu" items or service that goes above and beyond what the normal diner would be unlikely to recieve, the chef or owner may be expecting a rave review. Even if that's not the case the potential for abuse is there. So write ups of these types of special CH events are problematic from an ethics (or even a perceived ethics) standpoint.

                      1. re: Servorg

                        I couldn't disagree more with you. The myth of having "special menues" and "off the menu items", special pricing or service which might lead to the expectation of rave reveiws by chefs or owners is wrong. Have you ever thought about it that they migth be just interested to serve good food without expecting anything. In addition, hardly anything is "above and beyond what the normal diner would be unlikely to recieve" it's more a question if you are willing to ask (and anybody can do it) and how much are you willing to pay. And write-up aren't any problems in terms of an ethics standpoint because everybody can get them (as long as you are willing to pay).

                        1. re: Servorg

                          I agree. I've seen some good Chowdown write-ups on the San Francisco Board, where it seems the CH'ers ate at the place without making a big "we placed ourselves in the chef's capable hands" to-do about it. One quiet reservation for eight or 12 was made under one name and that was it. I wonder if this recent chowdown in Philadelphia might have been, well somewhat skewed:

                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/758182

              2. I was not a participant nor did I even know about a certain dinner (I hesitate to get more specific for fear of being deleted) reviewed on the San Diego Board a few weeks ago. I came across the review, was interested, had no time to read it and intended to get back to it the same day. Later that day, after its deletion, I innocently posted an inquiry wondering what happened to it. Shortly, my inquiry was itself deleted.

                I've been a CH member for several years, but hadn't the foggiest notion of what rule I or the original poster might have violated. Now at least I guess I know.

                While I have no particular criticism of the rule, and upon further thought actually kind of endorse it, there's just got to be a better way to handle something like this than summarily deleting posts without comment or explanation. Especially when the violation is not apparent on its face, such as with vulgarity or flaming.

                1 Reply
                1. re: mcgrath

                  Wo do try to (and did, in the case of the posts you refer to) email the posters of the original problematic post and explain to them why the post was removed. We don't generally host discussion of why another posters's posts have been deleted, and generally don't email a third party who is wondering why a post has been deleted. There's a bit more on this at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/304161 .

                2. I'm not at all clear how the CH policy regarding chowdowns and the inclusion of Facebook, linked through CH, adds up. Do CH Mods moderate FB discussions in the same way they moderate CH threads?

                  I'm not an FB user (imagine that!) but wouldn't FB be the perfect vehicle to organize and discuss a chowdown off the CH Boards and allow for more detailed discussion that falls outside of the allowable parameters of CH?

                  Otherwise, what is the general usefulness of FB linked through CH?

                  11 Replies
                  1. re: HillJ

                    L.A. area Chowhounds established an off board Yahoo group called SCARF, which I used to follow, the same group of people now have a Facebook group ( http://mcaf.ee/14fbd ) which I do follow. And organizing group dining activities, whether termed "Chowdown" or not, is what this group uses Facebook for, which seems like a perfect solution, a place to make friends of local 'hounds and a place to organize group events that keeps all of that business separate from the actual discussion of food on Chowhound.

                    1. re: ChinoWayne

                      Thanks ChinoW, this is exactly what I was wondering. Fantastic.

                      1. re: HillJ

                        HillJ, this post from the SF board might also give you a sense of the organizing possibilities. There, people will use the Yahoo groups listed and issue eVite invitations to chowdowns. Just this past week, there have been reports on the SF board on two Chinese New Year chowdowns organized this way.

                        1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                          I wasn't able to access the link ChinoWayne provided but I am aware and a participant of three e-groups from my professional life. But the e-forums were not started or encouraged from another venue; we all agreed at conferences to establish an online method to communicate where ideas/questions/resources could be shared quickly & at no cost. I guess my head scratch is over the encouragement to leave CH Boards in order to have identical conversations CH to CH. Some of my CH pals in NJ would benefit from knowing the user friendly options and info that comes from this thread.

                          1. re: HillJ

                            You have to be a registered Facebook user to access any group. I was reluctant to join Facebook and initially set up an anonymous user ID, after I got comfortable with Facebook and started to understand it (it is not exactly user friendly for those of us old enough to remember dial telephones) I abandoned the anonymous registration and re-registered under my real name.

                            1. re: ChinoWayne

                              Yeah, I understood that. I have no interest in FB at this time.
                              Looking at Asana.

                            2. re: HillJ

                              In the case of the Yahoo groups used by posters on the SF board, they are used strictly for getting the word out and managing RSVPs for chowdowns. There is no "identical conversation," no discussion that overlaps what's on the Chowhound boards, no social networking function. They were created as a way to organize get-togethers among hounds with the particulars off the board, as specified in the posting etiquette cited by Jacquilynne above. I can't speak to outside groups set up in other regions.

                              1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                                Thank you for clarifying for me, CMc. I appreciate it.

                                1. re: HillJ

                                  There is a Vancouver area chowdown group on another social network that arranges Chowdowns "off board" which has 200 members at the moment. Some overlap does occur in the discussion area but mostly it is different content than what is posted on Chowhound. It is an effective way to organize chowdowns (we're up to 62 now since December of 2008) without cluttering up our local board with logistical details that immediately become irrelevant when the event is over.

                                  1. re: grayelf

                                    62! That's impressive, grayelf.

                      2. re: HillJ

                        The Chowhound moderators don't moderate any discussion off the site, on Facebook or anywhere else. All of the chowdown planning groups, be the on Facebook, Google Groups, Yahoo, etc, are completely unofficial and managed by hounds in those regions. What platform they use is totally up to them. Facebook could work, but there are lots of conscientious objectors to Facebook who wouldn't join Facebook just to join the group (but that's likely to be true of any particular platform).

                        We link to Facebook only in a few small ways, like the 'Like' buttons on various bits of content, and the ability for people to post Restaurant reviews in our database by logging in with their Facebook account.

                        -- Jacquilynne, Community Manager for Chowhound