Here's what I hear from restaurants, and not just the one who is responsible for this particular copy:
"<NAME OF RESTAURANT> doesn't advertise in magazines or on billboards–our food and service is our marketing strategy and we rely on word of mouth from our customers in the Salt Lake community."
And here's what I have to say to those restaurants: We are your word of mouth.
Salt Lake magazine, City Weekly, Catalyst, Edible Wasatch, Q, the Trib, the D News–all dedicate resources to ensuring that residents and visitors know about the exciting food scene in Utah and especially in Salt Lake City.
That's why restaurants and food businesses send me, and all my fellow food writers, press releases every day, telling me about their new products, their dinner specials, their holiday dinners, their wine dinners, their new chefs, their recent remodel: So we can spread the good word about the good food scene here.
In this era of blogs and tweets, businesses are calling what we, paid writers, do "earned media." They mean editorial, articles researched (hopefully) and written by experienced writers who recognize what is news-worthy and what is not. They also know that credible editorial coverage is worth far more than an ad or a thousand tweets. PR people call real coverage "earned" because it is earned by merit, not by dollars paid for advertising or by racking up Facebook friends.
I call it baloney.
I write about food news regardless of who advertises in the magazine I write in. There's no tit for tat, and there isn't at the other local publications that cover food. But there won't be any media to earn if businesses don't support local media.
Sure, customers spread the word about your restaurant. If they have a bad time, they tell ten people. If they have a good time, they tell one. Food, like any other art, needs a curator, a voice of experience–preferably several voices–someone to provide context. Relying on popular taste and price point might sell a billion burgers, but it's not going to do a lot to help people understand real kimchi or aged beef or why free-range chicken is better for diners, farmers and the environment than the alternative, even if it is more expensive.
There's a lot of talk, good talk, these days about supporting local businesses. I'm all for it and I toot that horn as often as I can. I just wonder why local media isn't considered local business and deserving of the same support. Because there's no better friend to local business than local media.