By JIM WINDOLF
Published: December 17, 2011
The record $52.4 billion spree shoppers went on from Black Friday through Cyber Monday was really just for show. Beneath the holiday spending, consumers are grouchy. You can sense their mood just by scanning the posts at consumer-review sites like Trip Advisor and Yelp.
“Produce59” at Trip Advisor had this to say about a room at the Comfort Inn & Suites in Fredericksburg, Va.: “The heating/AC unit was nice and quiet; however, the thermostat is on the wall, so turning the knobs directly on the unit will not get you any results.” We’ll keep that in mind. (“ExArmyRN” had this nit to pick: “It would have been nice if the mini-refrigerator had a small freezer section.”)
Viaggio Ristorante and Lounge in Chicago is positively reviewed, but “Johnny T.” logged in at Yelp to say this:
“The salad was passable … The orecchiette was … a little less than a-ok. Serviceable, perhaps… I enjoyed the white beans but there was no heat to the dish … This was bland. I added red pepper flakes to the dish in search of some sort of seasoning. At the end of the meal, I was left feeling confused.”
Who are these people? I’m not sure, but they are more exacting than professional critics.
If you’re staying at, say, the Econo Lodge in Cave City, Ky., what do you expect at breakfast time? “Tropicanadan” weighed in at Trip Advisor: “The breakfast was adequate but unremarkable.” Really? At an Econo Lodge? In Kentucky?
If the consumer-review Web sites are any indication, the American consumer has become a pain in the neck. Maybe we were spoiled in the blinged-out 1990s and early ’00s and have yet to adjust to hard times. Take “Lisa C.,” of Millbrae, Calif., posting as follows at Yelp after having visited a Starbucks with her boyfriend:
“the barista … looked at me confused when i said ‘grande hot apple chai’ as if he didn’t know what it was … then he said ‘apple juice infused into chai tea?’ i responded, ‘yeah…’ my bf usually gets that ‘ice vanilla latte with restretto (sp?)’ and they stared at him too … my drink didn’t taste that well … something was off balance and i ended up tossing it…”
We used to understand that convenience comes at a price. The food you get at McDonald’s or Burger King is not meant to be a major culinary event. But now the chains, perhaps in response to customers hopped up on Food Network shows, have gone upscale. McDonald’s plans a $1 billion, Starbucks-like makeover of its restaurants, and Burger King has Whopper Bar restaurants. With the new frills come new expectations. After visiting a McDonald’s in San Diego, a Yelp contributor, “Caroline B.,” wrote:
“The Gelato was some of the worst I have ever had in my entire life. The ‘Watermelon’ looks like pink colored wall putty and had no discernible flavor of fruit of any kind. No one in our group was able to stomach it. I actually threw it away.”
She went on to say that she was no fan of the restrooms. Not because they were dirty. Because of their “faux marble and faux flowers.”
You can’t help wondering whether a full-fledged depression might be the only real cure for what ails us.
Jim Windolf is a contributing editor at Vanity Fair.