LOGAN SQUARE — Acclaimed Logan Square restaurant Giant, consistently named one of the country’s best since opening in 2016, hosted a special dinner Monday that left some diners with a bad taste in their mouth.
Diners expecting the fresh ingredients Giant is known for were surprised when, after the meal, it was revealed the food was actually three days old — and their reactions to it were being recorded.
The event was, as it turned out, a partnership with the plastic food wrap brand Glad. The company had teamed up with Giant to hide recording devices in the succulent centerpieces to record the diners’ reactions to the three-day-old, Glad-preserved food — you know, how they do it in commercials.
Adam Soko, one of the social media influencers invited to the dinner, said when he went to a nearby bar before the meal, an in-the-know bouncer told him — on the sly — what to expect at the dinner.
Shocked, Soko approached chef/owner Jason Vincent at the restaurant before ultimately deciding not to participate.
“Honestly the [old] food is not the issue here,” said Soko, who has more than 40,000 Instagram followers.
“Having disclosed that it was an activation or a commercial filming for a Glad product, I would’ve made the reasonable inference that whatever the product was was somehow involved and I would’ve sat down. I would’ve eaten the food, and I would’ve enjoyed it.”
It’s the lack of transparency that bothered Soko, he said.
“The problem is that the ad agency that represents Glad — and not Giant — [was] masquerading itself as the PR firm and claimed they repped Giant and they wanted us to come in and try the menu. That’s all they said,” he said.
Giant spokeswoman Cat Taylor defended the dinner itself, saying the food was “fresh and (we hope) delicious, but above all, safe.”
“As restaurant professionals, we regularly use preservation techniques to prep our menu items. Our intent was to showcase these techniques in a unique way, which did involve an element of surprise. We took care to choose menu items that were properly preserved and benefit from time like oil-packed peppers, marinated zucchini, and confit potatoes,” she wrote in a statement.
Taylor said diners knew what they were getting into: Giant had a sign up notifying diners that the dinner would be recorded or filmed in some capacity, and consent forms were handed out after dinner. Diners “were fully able to choose whether they wanted to sign it or not,” Taylor said.
Soko contends, however, that Giant should’ve done more. The forms should’ve been handed out before the dinner and the sign should’ve made it clear that each table would be recorded.
“I think there’s a huge difference between those two things. You need someone’s consent to have someone’s audio recorded and they did not get that,” he said.
Taylor acknowledged the restaurant should’ve been more clear.
“When we heard feedback from the first seating, we decided to remove the element of surprise for the second seating and were up front with all of those guests,” she wrote.
She continued, saying, “We apologize to anyone who felt deceived and we see now that we should have been more transparent. Every guest was asked to sign a consent form and if they chose to participate, they were compensated for their time and opinion. Today, we are reaching out to all participants to apologize.”
Soko wasn’t the only diner who left upset.
Mina Im, who goes by ChicagoFoodGirl on Instagram, echoed Soko’s sentiment in an Instagram post, calling it a “terrible PR and marketing move.” Im didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Taylor said Giant was paid to put on the event, just as they’re paid to put on all private events.
Notable food writers weighed in on the controversy on social media.
“[Influencers] basically expect to be treated like royalty even tho they’re being paid or given stuff. And that’s usually what happens, but in this case, they’re like oh, this is what it’s like to have to work for something…” former Chicago Sun-Times and RedEye restaurant critic Michael Nagrant wrote on Twitter. Nagrant now writes reviews on his independent website.
“People complaining about free food is peak Chicago food “media,” former Crain’s food reporter Peter Frost wrote.
Giant is one of the city’s — and the country’s — best new restaurants, which has Soko and others wondering why the acclaimed restaurant hosted the event in the first place.
“I can’t believe Jason [Vincent] stooped so low. I can’t believe he sacrificed his dignity for this,” he said.