Minimum Award

I recently found myself loitering in the Main Beach precinct of the Gold Coast. For those unfamiliar, it’s a swanky part of the country. Just to give you an indicator of the type of prosperity we’re talking about, I calculated that the short stretch of road I was in had about $3m worth of parallel-parked European vehicles — Botox’ed, cadaverous housewives chug about in $200,000 four-wheel drives; while Botox-administering, off-duty medicos seem to prefer a Maserati as their runabout. Houses in this suburb are crazy-expensive, shops offer exclusive trinkets and clobber, and there’s a bustling restaurant and bar trade.

And what a place to run an eatery/drinkery! Money is evidently no object and the notion of the long lunch — which I must confess to enjoying myself that day — seemed to be commonplace.

But competition is fierce. After all, attracting a group of suits to your establishment could mean $1500 or more. Which may well account for a peculiar feature of this restaurant strip — everyone had won an award.

That’s correct, there didn’t appear to be a single bar or restaurant that wasn’t the ‘Best’ in some category. What I can’t recall was the source of the awards, but most likely they were newspapers, chambers of commerce, magazines, trade organisations, government departments, NATO, the Ponds Institute etc etc.

Personally, I don’t own or manage a restaurant but if I did I’m sure I’d appreciate a gong for the product I offered, but surely this avalanche of accolades is diluting the impact of the commendations.

It wasn’t that long ago that awards were the preserve of agricultural shows and world expos. Only in more recent times have various commercial entities realised awards are great for business… and I’m not talking about the business of the award winner. No, instead, awards are great for the business of those bestowing the awards. Ironically, magazines, like the one you’re reading now, are some of the prime culprits. After all, what better way of generating a buzz around a publication than to make it the centre of a gong-fest. But do they mean anything?

Here’s another classic example: It wasn’t that long ago that if a bottle of wine carried an award it was from a well-respected wine fair in Ljubljana, or, better still, some weighty culinary exposition in Brussels during the year of 1924. These awards minted big, serious-looking medals and evidently carried a lot of kudos… so much kudos that you wouldn’t change your bottle’s label design for decades.

These days, if you don’t have at least five gold medals on your bottle then you stand to be seriously outflanked by a competitor with 10 medals, 12 blue ribbons and an elephant stamp… leaving barely enough space to plonk ‘Mackerel’s Revenge’ (noticed how wine is sounding more like racehorses these days?) on your plonk.

So, to turn the tables somewhat, are we as consumers being duped by the award epidemic? For example, my inbox is awash with press releases regarding ‘award-winning’ new products. I’m not for a minute suggesting these items don’t have merit, but do awards assure us of any minimum standard anymore… let alone act as a guarantee of excellence? It’s hard to see how they do.

As with any observation of this kind there are some notable exceptions that prove the rule. The first that springs to mind is the Michelin Star system, which is universally respected. I mean, if you’ve worked your butt off to earn a Michelin Star you’re unlikely to care too much about next-door’s competition who’s braying on about the ‘awarding’ of the 37 stars they bought with their advertorial in the local tourist brochure.

I don’t have the answer to this, if indeed it requires one. But I am interested to hear if anyone’s experiences would suggest that these awards have a bearing on the bottom line. (The best correspondence wins an award.) – CH.

(Feeling left out? Cut out and paste this star on your door. Photocopy as necessary.)

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