Awards Breed Complacency

Turns out I’m the “Greatest Hunk of All Time” in a recent top ten poll I conducted myself. I gave myself a trillion votes, Brad Pitt who came in second looked positively dreadful with one vote thanks to some random girl I asked (didn’t make that mistake again). Who are the other eight “Hunks”? Well if we are going to be picking fly shit out of pepper fine…. Uh, Superman, Batman, Slim Whitman, Fruit Pie the Magician, Ronald MacDonald (creepy), Twinkie the Kid, Trojan Man and The Cat all split a vote. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that Top-Ten lists, Reader’s Surveys and “best of” polls are…Pointless.

I had been driving by this joint which is near the place I get my medicine (read -liquor store) for the better part of a year now and written on their sign is this “Voted Best Burger in New England”. I know this isn’t as earth shattering as “best restaurant in the world” or “best happy ending by a Massage Parlor” but come on, that’s a pretty bold statement. Our accents may be a bit off-putting but I mean to tell you there are some pretty good burger joints in New England.

So I decided to do some research (meaning I looked around at four or five websites until I found myself looking at a website that sells clothes for cats) and look into who’s voting who to what, and where do I fall in the best all-around swell guy category. I’m not sure how these folks (by these folks I mean the news stations and magazines and whoever else does such silly things) put this poll together but if things were any more lopsided it would be laughable.

The best burger category had five entries with the top burger joint receiving almost half the vote with number two receiving just under that amount and the following three places getting just about a percentage point each. How does this happen? Yes I know it’s a burger joint and in theory it doesn’t matter who gets called what in the long run but you know who in reality it does hurt? It hurts the people running the place. How does it hurt them? I’ll tell you that in a minute.

So I pulled up to the place into the nearly empty parking lot… I purposely went after the lunch rush and went up to the window. (picture a lunch truck set-up) With nobody around except for a couple of confused *Quebec folks who were trying to ask for directions and apparently not getting the answers they were looking for. Although this didn’t stop them from interrupting my questions a full four times. I asked the guy at the window if he owned the place. He said he did and I said great could I ask him a few questions. “Of course…”
*(Hey Quebec not for nothin, but they make something called a GPS now. So with the money you save from not tipping you should be able to afford one…or a hundred)

So I was asking him what kind of beef he used, the ratio of fat to lean, what was the method of cooking, when did he season, what did he season with, in short the kinds of questions you would ask a person known for the best burger in all of New England. After the first three questions and several interruptions from the kindly Quebec folks he was getting frustrated with the questioning and so rather than push the issue I backed off and ordered the double cheeseburger and asked if the fries were hand cut. “No, but they’re really good fries” was the answer… this was perhaps all I needed to know.

I’m not knocking frozen fries as I eat them and they’re fine. But when you’re supposed to be really good at making burgers, you should at the very least have a really good fry to go with it. I declined the fries politely and said no I’ll just have the burger. “It’s the best burger in New England you know…” “Yeah” I said, “I saw it on your sign, but why not have the best fries as well?” He thought for a second then replied…”Because we can’t do everything great.” I thought really?! You can’t do two things great?! We’re talking about a burger and fries, not an entire Michelin star restaurant menu.

I sat with my order and noticed the bun was a sad little white bun of the variety my parents bought circa 1975 as an ode to Wonder Bread. It was soggy from the start but from what I have no idea as the beef patties were crumbly indicating it was seasoned when ground and being overcooked made them drier than dirt. It had a honking rib of romaine lettuce, grainy unripe tomato, mostly un-melted cheese and chunks instead of sliced dill pickles. As I chewed it dawned on me what I tasted and what crime was committed because of this “Best” rating …Complacency. Complacency is how these ratings hurt the owners.

If you’re getting kudos from all forms of media and patrons and you choose to hang your hat on it and advertise it, don’t get complacent. The food suffers, your business suffers and your customers suffer. I think it best to just say thank you and keep on doing what you’re doing. Just do it well, and do it the way you know it should be done. Any three Michelin star chef will tell you it only gets harder and not easier once you get to three. Otherwise you’ll find yourself standing in an empty restaurant staring at a five year old award and wondering why you don’t have any customers to share the moment with.
 
 
If you consider this “The Best” I don’t want to see your worst.
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