MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and in the spirit of today's rivalry and competition theme, we're going to kick off this part of the show by talking about not who's better but who's best, maybe. It's our weekly segment, "On The Coast," where coastal reporter Bryan Russo fills us in on the latest and greatest on the eastern shore of Maryland and coastal Delaware. And this week he looked into some of the big claims local businesses make to grab the attention of the millions of tourists who flock to the beaches each summer.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
And how some of those claims might be more passionate opinion shall we say rather than concrete fact. And Bryan joins us now from Ocean City. Hey, there Bryan.
MR. BRYAN RUSSO
So, okay, as I understand it you found that many businesses at the beach, especially restaurants, eateries, I'm not going to say that they lie but they, what, they embroider, they massage their reputations a little bit to try to lure in customers?
Exactly. See in any market there's always businesses that claim to be the best at whatever is that they do. If you go to Philly there's dozens of sub shops who claim to pedal the best cheese steak. Or in New York you'll hear countless claims for the best slice of pizza. And Ocean City is no exception to this.
But it's really evident during the summer as these businesses go to great lengths to stand out and they get very bold in their claims just to get folks in the door.
Well, what kinds of claims are we talking about here?
Well, if you were to thumb through any of the local papers or look at any of the marquees when driving on Coastal Highway, you'll see all kinds. There's dozens of restaurants and bars claiming to have the best happy hour, the best view, the best buffet, the best crabs and of course, the best crab cake. And my personal favorite, those who claim to have been voted the best on the beach.
So I guess then my next question is, best according to whom? I mean, are there food critics who are doling out these sorts of titles out there in Ocean City?
And that's the thing, because there's no local publication that hands out awards for culinary excellence. So there's no newspaper that gives unbiased reviews of establishments. I mean, we don't even have a real food critic. There's one magazine in Delaware that does a "Best Of" edition once a year and a few publications that give some nods to notable, local eateries.
But none of those publications are based here in Ocean City. So if you know this and you look at all these marquees and you, you know, see voted "Best on the Beach" it makes it all the more suspect. Steve Green publishes the Maryland Coast Dispatch. It's the leading weekly newspaper on the coast for the last 25 years.
He told me a few years ago he tried to start an unbiased food review and got pretty much shot down.
MR. STEVE GREEN
We approached a restaurateur that I thought would probably have the thickest skin. I thought he would like it and would take it constructively. Well, he said, "It's fine as long as you come out. You can come out and be a ghostwriter. We don't say who's coming out or the time or anything like that. But if you print something negative I'm pulling my ads."
MR. STEVE GREEN
So that's what it comes down to, you know. It's a shame that it's that way but in our market it's not happening and it's, you know, we all have livings to make.
Interesting. It sounds like the advertisers really have the upper hand. So is there any evidence that these big claims might actually work for these businesses?
Well, I think the working principle here is that if you repeat it enough eventually it may become true. But Green says there's really no way to quantify whether or not it works. But he does admit that it's been this way for years. He says you can basically watch these businesses try to one up each other on the pages of his newspaper every week. This was actually my favorite example of this.
You know Ocean City's buffet town and everyone's trying to say that they have the best buffet. So some say we have the longest buffet. Then when someone was found that they couldn't dispute that longest, they wanted to start saying that we had the widest buffet. So, you know, that's, it's all in the eye of the customer.
Widest buffet. How can you refuse that?
I mean, exactly.
You said earlier there's no official food critic on the beach. Do you think there ever will be?
Steve Green says he would love to have something like a review section or even an online poll. But he thinks the local business community is too hypersensitive and the idea of a real food critic in Ocean City is quite unlikely.
Even though we did like Top 10, number 10 would be miffed and number one or actually number two would be upset that number one was ahead of them and then they would say, "Why was number 10 even on that list when I was doing this before they were even born?" Or, "They used my recipe."
So Bryan, you've been in Ocean City for how long now?
Almost 10 years.
Okay. Any tips then for the diners who are heading to Ocean City this summer and want to find the restaurants that don't just claim to be the best but actually are the best?
Well, it's old advice but it certainly applies here. Just ask a local and if you happen upon a place claiming that it's the best or that it's been voted the best, don't be afraid to look at the small print and then see if they can answer the question that you had a little bit earlier, Rebecca; according to whom?
Well, thanks so much for joining us today on "Metro Connection" Bryan.
No problem, Rebecca, take care.
Bryan Russo hosts "Coastal Connection" on 88.3 in Ocean City. You can find airtimes and more information on the show on our website, metroconnection.org.
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