From the director who brought you Iron Man comes a movie that has absolutely nothing to do with superheros, but it has Robert Downey Jr. and Scarlett Johansson in it, anyway. Jon Favreau wrote, directed, and stars in Chef, which you might be tempted to think is about a chef who is struggling to find his place in the culinary world, but it’s really about social media. Okay, so a chef finding his place in the world is the main plot, but social media really moves it along. We’ll say Twitter is the spices and flavoring on the gourmet hamburger.
What’s important is that there’s a lot you can learn about social media from this movie, and that’s what I’m here to tell you about. Fair warning: I’m definitely gonna get into a few spoilers, so if that’s the kind of thing that bothers you, go watch it first. It’s streaming on Netflix as of this writing.
The first thing that happens in the movie is that Carl Casper (Favreau) prepares his kitchen in a fancy restaurant for the Big Day when the most prestigious reviewer in the city is supposed to visit. Long story short, the reviewer, Ramsey Michel (Oliver Platt), is less than pleased with Casper’s unoriginal menu, writes a scathing review on his food blog, and that review goes viral. Chef Casper is only made partially aware of its viral nature when his kitchen staff consoles him the next day by telling him to “F– Twitter.”
If Chef Casper had been on Twitter already, he could have nipped this problem in the bud.
And this is why every one of you reading this needs a Twitter account. Not necessarily because you like to tweet stuff every day, but just so that you know what people are saying about you and your business. If Chef Casper had been on Twitter already, he could have nipped this problem in the bud. Instead, he had to hear from his son, who is a 10-year-old social media wizard (we’ll get to him), the vitriol that was being spewed about him. If you are in any way a public personality, or run a public business, it is vital that you maintain some kind of social media presence. If for no other reason than to stay aware.
So Carl learns from his kitchen staff that things are being said about him on Twitter, but he has nothing to do with social media yet. He couldn’t tell a Direct Message from a Dungeon Master. So, what does he do? Turns to his guru: his son, Percy (Emjay Anthony). Percy sets him up with a Twitter account and goes through the basics of how to find what people are saying about him and how to navigate the interface. The only thing he doesn’t tell him is how replies work. He tells him that bit of information the next morning when he finds that Carl had sent a reply to Ramsey Michel believing it to be a private message. Let’s just say everyone saw that little insult he tweeted.
You focus on your work, like Chef Casper focused on his food, and have someone else tweet about how good it is.
Through the rest of the movie Percy is pretty much in control of his dad’s Twitter account. And that’s probably for the best. It’s always a good idea to get some help with Twitter if you’re just starting out. Especially if it’s supposed to be a professional account. Someone more experienced in the Internet and its ways can better navigate the memes, trolls, and spam to give your followers a more balanced and delightful view of your good side. You focus on your work, like Chef Casper focused on his food, and have someone else tweet about how good it is.
Over Twitter, Casper challenged Michel to come back to the restaurant and taste his new menu. The problem is that the restaurant owner doesn’t want a new menu, he wants to stick with the stuff he knows people love. That’s a problem for Casper, so he quits. Meanwhile, the fight between Casper and Michel on Twitter has lead to overbooking the restaurant. Everyone is there when Michel arrives to answer Casper’s challenge. Everyone except Casper. Michel is served the same menu he hated before, and he rants about it on Twitter. Casper, who is at home preparing his own food, sees what Michel is saying on Twitter, goes to the restaurant, yells at Michel in a glorious combative monologue in which he throws lava cake on Michel’s plate, and everyone in the restaurant records this meltdown and posts it online. This, of course, also goes viral.
The best response to online criticism is to be short and succinct, thank them for their feedback, keep calm, and carry on.
Carl could have avoided a lot of embarrassment if he would have just kept his temper in check and maybe confronted Michel in a more appropriate setting. Recently, Tinder’s Twitter account went on a 31-tweet rant about a Vanity Fair article that they believed to be inaccurately portraying their service. As a result of this epic monologue, virtually every tech blog on the Internet ridiculed them for overstating their point and taking the slight dig more seriously than was called for. There’s a real-life example of the same idea. No one likes to be insulted, but it’s even more embarrassing to lose your temper and be ridiculed for it when your rant goes viral. The best response to online criticism is to be short and succinct, thank them for their feedback, keep calm, and carry on.
For the next act or two, social media plays no role in the movie. Carl is flapping in the wind after losing his job, his ex-wife invites him to join her in Miami with their son, Carl decides to start a food truck. His most loyal kitchen staff member, Martin (John Leguizamo), joins him and Percy, and the three amigos set off on a road trip with their newly renovated truck. It’s time now to right all of Chef Casper’s social media mistakes. Percy tweets “@ChefCarlCasper is back! Look for #ElJefeFoodTruck on #SouthBeach,” and you know he’s back for real. In the food truck, they meet their first crowd on South Beach and Percy immediately starts taking pictures and videos, and Tweets whenever possible. They even have an encounter with a police officer who recognizes Carl from his earlier rant, and they take some pics that get posted online.
Your online presence is increased ten-fold when you actually do things in real life.
The lesson here is that if you wanna make a big impact, then make a big scene, make a public appearance, throw a party! Your online presence is increased ten-fold when you actually do things in real life. No one wants to read about the day-to-day workings of a professional restaurant, but a food truck that’s meeting new people, taking pictures with cops, driving down South Beach; that’ll make a story!
The food truck trio continue their road trip through Louisiana and, along the way, Percy shows Carl what he’s been doing. Percy has added Facebook and Vine to their online presence, and everyone is talking about El Jefe. When they stop in New Orleans to go shopping, they come back to find dozens of people waiting in line just to try their food. And every one of those people are on their phones, tweeting. Just like people sharing on Twitter caused him to lose face before, the wisdom of the crowd was extolling El Jefe food truck.
The key is to just do your job well. If you do that, that’ll be the only thing people can talk about.
Never underestimate the power that you don’t have. No matter what you do on the Internet, it’s everyone else’s choice whether they share it or not. You can follow all the algorithms in the world, but whether or not your campaign is actually successful is just about as unpredictable as which direction a cat is going to scamper off in. The key is to just do your job well. If you do that, that’ll be the only thing people can talk about.
I won’t spoil the ending for you, but, basically, Chef is a great movie for learning how to run social media for business. First it shows you how to screw it all up, and then it shows you how to do it right. If you haven’t already seen it, go see it now!