Hard to stomach

Regular readers of this blog will recall that in a recent post I ranted about the overuse of the word ‘experience’ by advertising copywriters. I want to return to the topic with some real-life examples of one particularly ubiquitous type of ‘experience’: the ‘dining experience’.

A participant in a writing course I gave recently put it to me that surely a writer using the phrase ‘dining experience’ was merely trying to differentiate their restaurant from all the other, lesser restaurants out there.

That may indeed be the case. But type the word ‘dining experience’ into Google and see how many pages are returned. Actually, I’ll save you the bother: it’s 1,310,000.

An example that amused me:

‘La Tasca Spanish Themed Dining Experience is a careful blend of everything that is good about Spain – warm decor, authentic Spanish tapas cuisine and friendly hospitality. All these aspects together create a unique and genuine dining atmosphere that is enjoyed by so many, but especially those on Hen nights.’

Hen nights? Hen nights? Any initial doubts as to the authenticity of the restaurant’s Hispanism that are raised by the use of the phrase ‘Spanish Themed’ (cf ‘chocolate flavoured’), are instantly dismantled by the assertion that you can expect to find yourself ingesting your patatas bravas among gaggles of British women downing tequila shots, screeching obscenities, flashing their G-strings and terrifying the waiters.

A ‘Dining Experience’ (note the importance imbued by those capital letters) that not only carefully blends all that is good about Spain, but also all that is bad. An experience indeed.

Or how about this, from what purports to be an impartial review of a restaurant in a publication called the Monmouthshire Country Life but reads more like a marketing brochure created by a copywriter so bored with their job that their only source of amusement is to mock their subject matter with feigned praise. (In actual fact, the journalist undoubtedly got the meal for free).

‘The difference between a good meal and a great dining experience is surely in the unexpected extra touches – and the Court Restaurant at Llansantffraed Court Hotel, near Abergavenny, has those aplenty. . . The four-star historic family-owned and run hotel epitomises gracious living.’

There are certain other giveaways here – namely the mock-archaic ‘aplenty’ and the ‘gracious living’ (only 303,000 entries on Google) that a meal at this establishment ‘epitomises’.

Now, this may be a very nice restaurant (and Abergavenny is, after all, famous for its food festival), but my point is that overblown language like this leads the sensitive reader to suspect that the ‘unexpected extra touches’ on offer at the Court Restaurant have been designed to bamboozle the customer into mistaking for Gordon Ramsian delights a repast that is as under-seasoned as it is over-microwaved.

If the phrase ‘dining experience’ still doesn’t set alarm bells ringing that you’re about to be ripped of in a singularly spectacular manner, I suggest you take advantage of the ‘Disney Dining Experience’. In exchange for the meagre sum of US$85, this discount programme offers you 20 percent off food at various Walt Disney theme restaurants. If you’re not put off by the fact that one generally does not expect gastronomic fireworks from an establishment that has as its key selling point the fact that the waiting staff are dressed up as Mickey Mouse, you should probably be aware that the programme entails numerous terms and conditions cited as ‘benefits’ by its creators.

How, then, to differentiate your ‘dining experience’ from the other 1,310,000 ‘dining experiences’ out there? Why combine it with that other overused favourite of the lazy, hyperbolic (or just plain inexperienced writer), of course: ‘ultimate’.

I’m sorry, but when I hear the phrase ‘ultimate dining experience’ (only 31,500 entries on Google) the words ‘Alexander Litvinenko’ and ‘Nobu’ spring to mind.

18 comments so far . . . come and pitch in!

  1. ourman says:

    I’m a little scared to comment on this blog in case I say something out of turn.

    It’s rather like having a shrink for a friend. You’d be worried that every chat revealed too much about you.

    But great piece.

  2. clare says:

    Shh! I don’t want all my friends to know that I secretly diagnose their grammatical quirks every time I receive an email! Thanks for the nice comment.

  3. Umisenyamasen says:

    Love this piece and agree entirely. laughed so much much I nearly had an ultimate bladder experience!

    Even if good copywriters know these overused words should be avoided, they must have a terrible time trying to convince their restaurateur clients not to use them. If the restaurant owners themselves read this blog they’d realise that originality is the key.

    How about ‘ultimate fine dining experience’ (google 1,640) can anyone beat that?

  4. clare says:

    Ah, yes – it’s always a fine balance between what the client wants and what the client should have . . .

    Thanks for popping by!

  5. Linda says:

    Hi Clare – Great post! The ones I hate are “solutions” and “one-stop-shop” so my recurring nightmare (with or without the hyphens) is: “Your one-stop-shop for (insert name of service) solutions.”
    Now I need a lie down.

  6. clare says:

    And let’s not even mention all those one-stop-shops that “deliver” solutions that are “integrated”. . .

  7. ourman says:

    Ha – I’ve used one-stop-shop in my time. Way too many times in fact.

    That whole “solutions” thing is just too easy.

    IE: We’re not providing (name service here) we’re providing solutions.

    Ditto anything “tailor made”.

    How about “…is our business”. Over one million hits.

  8. Linda says:

    You’ve got me going now (it doesn’t take much.) “Joined up thinking” does my head in. (Make of that what you will!)

  9. clare says:

    But “joined up thinking” only works if it’s “blue sky” as well. That’s the only way to come up with “a truly tailor-made solution” in my opinion.

  10. Umisenyamasen says:

    Someone who is ‘blue sky thinking’ sounds to me like someone who’s thinking about pixies and fairies all day. And ‘joined up thinking’ suggests someone who’s just learnt to think at the level of a six-year old.

    Thinking about it . . . I may have just described the entire creative industry!

  11. clare says:

    Tears, temper tantrums, fragile egos . . . I think you could be right there!

  12. Linda says:

    Just make sure they are all “out of the box”…as this is where we are supposed to think, I’m told.

  13. clare says:

    Ah . . . ‘out of the box’ – that phrase always reminds me of when I used to write copy for what was supposed to be a fairly high-brow bookclub.

    During a brainstorm for a new direct marketing ad, the designer suggested ‘Think outside the book’ as a headline. Despite my protestations that the line was insane – and implied we actually wanted people NOT to buy our books, the marketing team loved it and went for it.

    But the most shocking thing of all? Response to the ad uplifted significantly – our audience clearly loved the line.

    The lesson there is: never overestimate your reader.

  14. Mike Morgan says:

    Hi Clare, just found your blog when googling my hotel … the one you suggest above that gave a free meal to that journo in order to garner a nice review. Welcome to the real world! Perhaps you would care to have dinner on me, try our ‘under-seasoned and over-microwaved food’, in exchange for a nice bit of your own copy, that I could use as a press release? You have my email address. Mike

  15. clare says:

    Welcome to my blog, Mike.

    As someone who’s dabbled in restaurant reviewing, I know exactly how it works! But I usually thank my hosts by writing a review that isn’t so unbelievable that readers will immediately twig that something’s up.

    I also used to write sales copy for a book club and I seem to remember that whenever we mentioned both the good and bad points of a book, it sold more copies because people trusted our opinion more.

    I would love to come and sample some of your food in return for some well chosen words. I shall start planning my trip to Abergavenny right away!

  16. Mike says:

    This is fun, isn’t it?

    Clare, perhaps you couold point me in the direction of some of your published reviews so that I might be the totally impartial judge of whether I believe in them or not ? As you so rightly say – never over-estimate your reader … and this reader is just a humble Hotelier, without a Phd.


  17. Mike says:

    … its all gone quiet over there …

  18. Mike Morgan says:

    …i thought we had a deal? …Is this a stunned silence or are you just fed up with me?

Leave a Reply