The photo that started this crazy journey. Picture by the author.

I approach this essay with the slightest of trepidation. This, after all, is the culmination of nearly four months of work, toil, and sweat. I feel I should be forgiven for a feeling of inadequacy to the task. Nevertheless, time waits for no man, and as the due date surges closer I must finally explain my work to the world. This all started with a whim of mine- why not research a restaurant for my project? This would prove to be not only a large mistake, but also a window into something I knew nothing about. In any case, I hope you do not mind a bit of a chronological story- let’s start at the beginning.

I remember the combination of confusion and interest I felt when first presented with the concept for this project: “analyzing the rhetoric” of a specific location mentioned in S Street Rising, with a small list of choice selections presented to us. To be honest, my gut reaction was to pick some place that was convenient- while I didn’t know at the time how long I would be spending there, I would be happy with any place close to a Metro stop on the Red line. Seeing a burger place on the map and being a hungry college student, I naturally gravitated towards BGR, a restaurant I had seen but never entered. Thus, I made the fateful spreadsheet entry, flinging me face first into the world of fast casual dining.

While this is a misnomer, their advertising was very real. Picture by author.

Let us skip forward a bit to after our first essay. By this point, I had realized that there was only so much one could say about BGR: The Burger Joint, an incredibly boring restaurant whose food I refused to eat a second time. I was left with a conundrum- how do I spend the rest of a semester beating what seemed to be a dead horse? I realized this when I thought about the building for a moment- there were THREE fast casual restaurants sharing tenant space in a single building on one block! This seemed beyond odd to me for several reasons, the biggest of which is how they could stay in business without succumbing to competition, even if they weren’t all directly fighting for the same customers. I was forced to look deep into a sort of business that I had never patronized before moving to DC- I had never even been to a Chipotle branch when I began my research. To begin with, my first real question was where this fast casual trend had even come from? The research into that brought something far more interesting to my attention: the intense similarity in fast casual chains. As well as a set of ten rubrics which tended to define these chains, sourced from Technomic by the Washington Post’s Roberto Ferdman, it also came to my attention how many built off the idea of “customizing” a menu item within a limited subset of ingredients. This made me realize a more relevant truth- all three of these restaurants, despite vastly different self perceptions, all shared the same storefronts and likely much of the same style of space. This meant, quite simply, I could compare their rhetoric on an apples-to-apples basis, rather than resorting to abstraction.

My research was then focused on examining the fundamentals of how these chains cultivated an intentional atmosphere, which I examined through several articles about more scientific views of how restaurant design and service worked. These were helpful, but only to a degree- the format of this project did not allow for as much in depth analysis as I would have liked, though they did help me interpret much of what I saw. Similarly, I focused my Digital Archives research on getting photos of the restaurants I had yet to patronize, though I chose to focus on exploring the architecture rather than an in-depth look at Sweetgreen from the perspective of my pocketbook. This gave me a decent basis for my project, giving me professional insight and a photo library I didn’t already have access to. However, I still had not yet decided on a focus for the multi-modal portion of the project.

I had hoped to have more interactivity in this project, but American University’s insistence that I didn’t know what I was doing meant a lot of time staring at this for no real benefit. Screenshot by author.

My gut feeling was that at least half of it would be a presentation. In all honest, I would have preferred an essay- I am much better at composing my thoughts into sentences rather than condensing it down into a sensible presentation, but nevertheless I wanted to keep to the multi-modal formula. I went with Prezi, recently the subject of a revamping, for its dynamism, easy embed-ability, and unique way of presenting slideshows compared to similar products. While I have several complaints about it, it’s nevertheless an elegant way of making decent looking presentations. The second half was more tricky- I had originally considering a video art piece intending to bring like to the consumerist consumption inherent in the restaurant, but I lacked the AV equipment and software necessary to bring such a lofty idea to life. However, inspiration came to me from another one of my classes- my AU Scholars seminar, which involved a historical research project. In particular, we made heavy use of mapping tools to present our data and visualize our conclusions, which inspired me to do something similar, though in a somewhat less fancy manner. While I may have had a grander project with more time or a better understanding of the Google Maps API, nevertheless I took on the goal of mapping out every restaurant within a rough half mile of Dupont Circle, and determining the hot spots for fast casual dining. This eventually panned out well, with a handful of interesting data points relating to this which I attempted to give meaning to in my presentation. After writing this essay, I concluded with a simple bit of web design utilizing WordPress- a useful if beyond irritating tool when control over HTML is limited.

I will say that, in the end, I am mostly satisfied with what I have wrought- though I admit not quite. Certain technical limitations, both of my own inadequacies in dealing with APIs and of simple time constraints, meant I had to focus my research on a single block rather than the entire city. Such a thing would have been sufficient in scale to deal with an topic on a national scale, but alas, we find ourselves bound by the neighborhood. While I admit I would have preferred another location if I could go back and change time, I would have likely not learned half as much. Ultimately, it’s what we make of it.

This is what finalizing this project looked like. Photo by author.

A later version of L’Enfant’s plan for DC, one can clearly see why you would assume DC is more than a bit marshy. Drafted by Andrew Ellicot, obtained from the Wikimedia Foundation.

“I could not possibly be more thrilled than to be more than 100 miles away from Washington’s swamp, spending my evening with all of you with a much, much larger crowd and much, much better people.” -Donald Trump, Remarks in Pennsylvania on the 29th of April in 2017

While the fact that Trump would purposefully scorn the people who ACTUALLY got him elected is not surprising, it’s still non-traditional for a modern President to not attend the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. Through the late Bush and Obama administrations, it became a sort of venting space for the holders of America’s highest office to express their sense of humor (or at least the one they had written for them), a properly humanizing venture away from the constant thrusts and parries of the 24 hour news cycle. However, Trump, who is alleged to almost completely lack a sense of humor, is once again back to his strange cycle of public denouncement and private reconciliation, holding his own rally on the date of the correspondents dinner in some mixture of spite and unwillingness to face a hostile crowd. However, like many people, I’m honestly burnt out on active rage against Trump- while I loathe the man, there’s little citizens can do to face the executive when the legislative branch is a much more important target. Instead, I feel I should look at a more common piece of political rhetoric in our day and age- the description of the fine city of Washington DC as a “swamp” that needs to be drained.

I had never thought to question this description as anything but a clever bit of history. It’s a common story in history classes that the city was built in a particularly swampy region of the mid-Atlantic, situated at the intersection of two major rivers (the Anacostia and Potomac) with countless other small tributaries nearby, which reportedly made summers here unpleasant. So imagine my surprise when I saw a link to this article in the middle of the election cycle, alleging that DC’s swampy nature was about as real as Comey’s investigation into Clinton. So, we’re confronted with the question- why do people keep repeating something that is evidently a lie?

It perhaps naive to ask a question with a quite obvious answer- it’s just a bit of rhetoric used by those who consciously position themselves against the “corrupt Washington establishment.” We tend to thing of swamps as negative- dark, dirty, filled with all manner of ungodly creatures and strange folk. Why not add this on to the constant barrage of negativity our fine city receives by degrading it more? It’s not hard to look and find politicians who campaign on the idea of punishing DC for being a flourishing urban area, even when they can’t find proper evidence of it. All this is to say that, much like most of our modern political sphere, falsehoods that feel good continue to be effective. C’est la vie, I suppose.

I found this flyer on a junction box in Tenleytown while getting dinner, and it seems to express a common frustration with much of the class so far. Picture by me.

While I admit City of Rhetoric is quite arguable around its central thesis, I feel the book’s greatest achievements lie in it’s discussion of various methods of “urban development” and the problems thereof. While many local politician will often argue that mixed income housing or redevelopment plans are ultimately a boon for the community, they often overlook the effects on the poorest residents- something that has as of late become an acute point among the more socially conscious urban dwellers. DC in particular has a horrendous problem with housing, having homelessness rates twice the national average, something not helped by the gigantic amounts of gentrification experienced in traditionally lower and middle income neighborhoods as of late. While I can’t say for certain the exact position of the poster of this flyer, as their website appears to have gone down, this has a lot of rhetoric to unpack, not only in content but in location.

This flyer is meant to highlight and shame several officials the authors see as complicit in the gentrification of DC. The figure who first pops out as you, and seemingly the one they aim to direct the most vitrol to, is our mayor Marion Bowser. The rest of the people pictured are appointees, directly or indirectly by Bowser, which makes her position of prominence make sense. These lesser figures are all, as you might expect, involved in urban planning and zoning- two groups with the most control over the rate and manner of city development. The one thing in particular that I very find interesting about this flyer is the center piece, evidently a photo copied sticker. While the “motto” of “GENTRIFY” is pretty standard, the use of stereotypical pioneer imagery brings several dimensions into this. The most obvious one is the subtle racial connotations of the pioneers- people who, if we look past the gloss of historical nostalgia, are best known for displacing and slaughtering innumerable native American tribes in the pursuit of profit. A comparison seems to be made between the gentrifying forces’ displacement of predominantly minority homeowners and the American pioneers displacement of Native Americans, quite an interesting angle.

However, the rhetoric of place of where this flyer is presents more dimensions. Tenleytown is a quite upper-class neighborhood, almost bordering on suburban, with high housing prices. Most residents likely do not have vitrolic feelings about gentrification, or may even see it as a beneficial act benefiting their city. This seems to suggest that such a flyer is not targeted at the residents, but rather at American University’s students, many of whom are quite socially conscious. It becomes a hair more ironic when you realize how many of our students are themselves from upper-middle class backgrounds, who tend to be the driving force in modern gentrification. While having allies is important, one can begin to question the legitimacy of such people in their feelings, or at least their last of reflection. However, ultimately a proper analysis of this may be impossible without viewing their website- but it’s a salient piece of public rhetoric nonetheless.

The video this gif was taken from has been making waves in the tech community, and been a source of considerable laughter for all involved (Bloomberg).

“Doug Evans, [Juiceros]’s founder, would compare himself with Steve Jobs in his pursuit of juicing perfection. He declared that his juice press wields four tons of force—“enough to lift two Teslas,” he said. Google’s venture capital arm and other backers poured about $120 million into the startup.” -Ellen Huet and Olivia Zaleski, “Silicon Valley’s $400 Juicer May Be Feeling the Squeeze”

Sometimes  I get the feeling that we’re just throwing millions of dollars at bad ideas for the sake of buzzwords. Hear me out for a moment. You constantly hear on the news about a “new startup” attempting to make something to disrupt a certain industry- let’s say a company that’s like “Airbnb but with dogs.” This company makes a lot of publicity, maybe a video serving as a hypothetical demonstration, and suddenly people are coming in through the windows to give them money. You may say that my idea sounds ridiculous- but what if I told you that someone tried to make a juicer based on the basic Keurig concept?

Juiceros was one of those companies that really shouldn’t have been taken seriously, but somehow was. Realistically, there probably was a market for this, but it would be small and entirely dependent on cold-press juice staying in favor as a food craze. However, nevertheless this was seen as crazy enough to work, and became one of the rare hardware startups to get on the ground, based on lofty promises. And sure, the company did deliver on its promise- the product was released and functional, environmental concerns aside.

Of course, this all blew up in their face when Bloomberg ran a piece conclusively showing that the buyer could just as easily squeeze the juice themselves- replacing a $400 product with a modicum of manual effort. Quite understandably, they’ve become not only the laughing stock of the tech world overnight, but also a cause for reflection. This company, who would have been smarter just selling their juice packets themselves, received millions from Google, a company considered to be the golden goose of startup acquisitions, on the basis of unbelievable promises and a product almost exclusively relevant only to a tiny subset of the urban bubble. It begins to seem to any sane person that companies basically get money for nothing at this point- leaving everyone poorer, more embarrassed, and squeezing their own juice packets.

Works Cited

Nicholson, David, and Henry Baker. “Do You Need a $400 Juicer?” Bloomberg, 18 Apr. 2017. Gif of video by unknown author.

“As much as Andrés wants us to eat better, the man whose kitchens dish out pedigreed ham (at Jaleo) and a meringue “Rubber Ducky” made with foie gras ice cream (at Minibar) knows dining is as much about pleasure as sustenance. Or should be.” -Tom Sietsema, “Beefsteak review: Making vegetables bright, beautiful- and fast,” The Washington Post

Tracking down a picture of Washington Post food critic Tom Sietsema is surprisingly hard (for likely good reason)- the most you can easily find is this caricature he uses on his column.

It’s not an uncommon proposition that America is a food culture- it embodies everything we hold as core values: openness to new things, a celebration of plenty, and a love of basal pleasures. While America cannot claim to have the same fine dining chops as countries like Italy and France, we are the country who invented the omnipresent culinary pornography of fast food. Of course, many have objections to the latter- everything from its unhealthiness and corporate nature to its lack of refinement.

The latter point is more interesting, as it’s the most subjective of these themes. Of course, it’s not hard to see how pervasive the concept of fast food as a “people’s food” has become- one only need to be reminded of the photo ops of Trump with items from McDonalds or KFC to see how this can be used as a rhetorical shorthand for a lack of pretention or elitism on behalf of someone with very little in common with his most receptive audience. Even when eating his famous steaks, he’s known for his quite “uncultured” taste for ketchup as a pairing with this expensive and generally extravagant cut of meat. This was one of the many widely mocked parts of our president’s public persona, and with the fact that this seemed to connect with a certain group of people, it’s perhaps good to reflect on why this is.

Of course, pleasurable food has different meanings to different people. Tom Sietsema, the writer of this piece, is the food critic of the Washington Post- a job entirely about identifying what a subjective taste most would agree with is. This is especially important when it comes to the restaurants he often examines, which can cost a sizable portion of a week’s salary for a simple entree. Of course, in context it’s interesting to consider the fact he equates the pleasure from a fast casual vegetable joint to the items found at an exclusive restaurant where $275 is the cost for an evening. Sietsema clearly likes this place- after all, two stars is nothing to sneeze at. But does what he considers dining for pleasure rather than sustenance even compare to what most American see it as?

José Andrés is DC’s most famous chef, responsible for several of the most notable restaurants in the district. He’s also the founder of the Beefsteak chain.

What I’ve been trying to get at with all this rambling is this: how does the way we approach food shape our perceptions of it and others? Consider the rise of the fast casual restaurant- the only fundamental difference between these places and a fast food joint is higher prices, more high quality ingredients, and a lack of drive ins. Sure, you could argue about seating and interior design, but even a fast food joint could have high quality seating. However, a man like Tom Sietsema would likely never touch a fast food joint with a mile long stick in a professional context, but if a famous chef decides to start a fast casual chain it’s suddenly worth a review and two stars for quality. Why has the consumer with the luxury of picking rejected fast food and embraced fast casual? It’s a mystery which I hope to probe into in my final essay- but until then, I’ll be left contemplating the differences between mere sustenance and gustatory pleasure.

The man on the left (Dan Bishop of Georgia) cared so much about where people used the restroom that he virtually ruined his state’s reputation and endangered its economy.

1. A good portion of Americans are far too interested in how and where others use the restroom- some even to the point of losing massive amounts of money because of a perceived morality of saying that certain people can or cannot use a restroom because of their gender identity. In the midst of this, American University has decided to provide gender-neutral restrooms on the first floor of their residence halls, in case that people who do not feel comfortable with the potential social situation of using the bathroom corresponding to their identity on their own floor still have a method of performing basic bodily functions. The Housing and Dining Program’s staff make this the main focus from the get-go, emphasizing the fact that it is for “anyone to use regardless of gender-identity.” The posting of this sign itself, versus simply denoting that it’s a gender-neutral restroom, is a political act of at-least ostensible solidarity, showing an understanding of the fact that freedom of gender expression is an issue many young people see as worth fighting for. The next sentence is a tacit acknowledgement of the fact that a sizable part of the student base is either uncomfortable with the subject or sees it somehow as an infringement on their rights, urging students to try and make it work without outside intervention. The school’s wording in this section is particularly interesting- it attributes some discomfort with the idea to it being “new and different,” which portrays it as simply a change rather than the “assault” on traditional values some see it as. It finally concludes with the note that there is a lock on the restroom if those using it need it, which is probably a fair compromise for people used to having restrooms that lock or feel uncomfortable about the fact that feasibly two people can use those restrooms at once. In any case, this sign is a very good way for the school to make their case for being accepting of people’s gender identities and fostering an attitude of inclusivity on their campus.

All of these universities would be given tax exemptions for land they owned- but for good or ill?

2. “Shall property be exempt?”
This sentence is the closest thing to the dictionary definition of a “loaded question” that I have seen in recent memory. The sentence, while ostensibly simply a question at it’s core, is phrased to make both a logos and pathos appeal before it’s even done being asked. It’s perhaps easiest to break this sentence into two halves, so let’s first consider “Shall property owned by the University System of Georgia and utilized by providers of college and university student housing and other facilities…” Already we can see the rhetor informing the audience that this lands seems to be primarily used for student housing, a necessary service that the likely entirely college educated assembly would know to be necessary, and maybe even remember from their own time at college. The phrasing glosses over the fact that this land could contain everything from a sexual health clinic to the campus bookstore, meaning that this land could be used for potentially less agreeable things or even sources of profit for the school system, which would be a far different question. The second half is even more interesting: “…continue to be exempt from taxation to keep costs affordable?” The clever rhetorical device here comes at the very end, where the phrasing seems to change the question from “tax exemption” to “affordable college,” the latter of which being a far more emotionally charged issue. While people may have valid points against allowing an institution to be tax exempt that would put their constituency to sleep, it’s far easier to get this measure passed if they turn it into an issue of keeping a public college affordable, which could make or break a candidate in the right community. In any case, it’s quite clear that the rhetor here knew exactly what he was doing when he phrased this question, and we can give him some credit for the fact.

3. Exhibit

BGR’s concept art for their new style of kitchen. Notice the grill-mark motif. Picture by unknown people working for BGR.

BGR: Burgers Grilled Right, “BGR Concept.” BGR: Burgers Grilled Right, 26 Feb. 2017. Accessed 26 Mar. 2017.

In this corporate slideshow, designed specifically for potential BGR franchise owners, BGR details their rebranding from BGR: The Burger Joint to BGR: Burgers Done Right. BGR begins this powerpoint with some of the key messages of the restaurant’s branding and advertising meant to entice investors: “Award Winning Food,” “Chef Driven w/o the Chef and Cooked to Temperature,” and “Build Your Own Creation or Order a BGR Masterpiece” (2). After this summary, BGR then goes into greater depth explaining not only the bigger picture but the minutiae of branding. It’s quite apparent that one of their main prides is the quality of their food (including their “Sushi-grade Ahi Tuna”), not merely cooked but also incorporated into unique specialty burgers and milkshakes, which rotate monthly (5). On top of this line of rhetoric, BGR is also citing a move towards a more health conscious clientele, citing their veggie burger as well as tuna and turkey, as well as an expansion into fresh salads (7). This is combined with a sizable visual rebranding, which they define by three “concepts”: “Simple But Not Minimal,” “Passionate but Not Aggressive,” and “Modern But Not Trendy” (9-11). In the menus, their “passionate” angle holds the most sway, referring to specialty entrees as “Masterpieces” (13) and referring to combos as “Box Sets”, which, in the case of the latter, is “too high quality to be called a combo” (14). They then detail their new visual identity: a motif of diagonal grill marks to emphasis their flame grilled cooking, as well as the central placement of this burger chef to signal the quality and “freshness” of these items (22-23). After noting the selling point of being a locally owned and operated franchise, the Powerpoint concludes with franchisee targeted information (26).

This rebranding provides a unique glimpse at how BGR positions itself in the market, and helps prove several of the points I’ve presented previously as correct. This will also serve me quite well in examining their rhetoric of place much more accurately- how their intended rhetoric reflects into their building, and whether or not it wins as the dominant factor. In case of a remodeling in the Dupont Circle branch, this will also give me at least an idea towards the aspirational design of the “Burgers Grilled Right” era of BGR.

4. Background

I had to look up what a Fuddrucker’s even was. If I heard someone say that name before I would probably slap them. Picture by the David McKee Architecture firm.

Ferdman, Roberto. “The Chipotle Effect: Why America Is Obsessed with Fast Casual Food.” The Washington Post, 2 Feb. 2015. Accessed 26 Mar. 2017.

In this article, Roberto Ferdman discusses the newest trend in the restaurant industry: the rise of fast casual dining. Once restricted to more upscale urban neighborhoods, where it’s on foot accessibility would drive traffic, the style took the United States by storm on the success of restaurants like Chipotle (this article written before the E. Coli scandal), Panera Bread, and Shake Shack (Ferdman). Ferdman takes the time to address the question of what, exactly, is a “fast casual” restaurant? This is a surprisingly contentious question, though it’s narrowed down to a usual ticket of $9-13 and over 50% of their revenue coming from take out. Technomic gives other criteria, such as “fair pricing,” “a perception of freshness,” and “first-rate decor,” but these are not universally accepted- sources disagree about whether Buffalo Wild Wings qualifies (Ferdman). However, one thing is certain: at the time of writing, Chipotle led the charge with its value, not price, commitment, which companies like Panera Bread began to emulate, especially in regards to ecological commitments (Ferdman). Ferdman dates the earliest examples of this trend to the early 90s, with companies like Fuddruckers and Au Bon Pain, but the category took off with the “Great Recession,” rapidly growing among millennial demographics who found the increased health consciousness compared to fast food a worthwhile investment. It’s quite evident that this category, which currently controls 5% of American food sales, is quite potentially the way of the future- leading chains like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Subway to make moves towards emulating their competitors (Ferdman). Only time will see the final product of this evolution.

BGR: Burgers Grilled Right is an incredibly obscure chain, so analyzing subjects involving it requires generalizing outside information in its context. This article, communicating an amount of insight about the trend of fast casual restaurants, is fairly unique of a subject and may prove helpful for a wider analysis of the company. Furthermore, if I expand my analysis to the scale of the building it shares with other restaurants, it’s possible to examine wider trends in Dupont Circle’s food scene, as well as what is gained by placing competing restaurants side by side.

Moulin Rouge: La Goulue by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

The stereotype of the modern era has always been to demonize the sell-out, suggesting that one motivated by the money and corporate interests can never make True Art™. This is like great reassurance to every crappy garage band sitting on this planet’s face, but it’s got one gigantic logical flaw: artists, in order to create art, need to find some way to pay their way through a very fundamentally non-artistic world. Sure, there are artists who have managed to convert initial success into a continued, gilded mediocrity, but that’s a sign that the well they were drawing from was likely the life they left behind.

I bring this up because I’ve been recently thinking about an artist whose main contribution to the art world has been advertising- Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. The man, a painter and a lithograph maker, has been more or less entirely forgotten in the former category for his successes in the latter, single-handedly defining an era of Paris with his Japanese inspired composition and singularly deft hand. What one forgets about such a poster is that, for all intents and purposes, this is a piece of advertising, no different from a flyer about any sketchy night club in the city. The only thing that elevated this to belonging in an art museum was simply the fact that he made his beautiful compositions long before people started babbling about authenticity and its like. Of course, one can argue that the classical pitfall of the emotionally sensitive artist, substance abuse, suggests that he was nowhere near as corporate as many of the people we accuse of this today. However, I retort a simple fact: these were done by commission. Toulouse-Lautrec made his legacy through fulfilling commissions for posters, as well as entering competitions on the side.

Sure, it’s a good painting, but Toulouse-Lautrec lived in a hive of them.

What I mean to get at in all of this is that I far too often see people criticize things as having “sold-out,” as if financial sponsorship is the end of art. The fact is that “art,” as a concept, is the most poorly defined concept of debate in the past 200 years, and is not likely to be defined as long as modern human civilization continues to exist. Until then, the talented will keep being talented and people who haven’t held a brush or chisel in their lives will continue to shout about what art, really and truly, entails.

Anyone who has spent time around marketing in the last 10 years knows that the traditional marketer seems to feel horribly out of his element in our digital world. Confronted with the fact that independent millennials with no dependents spend at least an hour a day more on digital devices rather than watching broadcast television, these few old hands have bravely pioneered into the wild depths of this new land open before them: Facebook. Corporate social media marketing has always been somewhat of a crapshoot- ineffective strategies combined with a lack of understanding of what content makes a social media feed effective has meant that for every Denny’s, who have managed to craft a surrealistic and entertaining social media presence on youth targeted platforms, you have countless others asking people to “like” for individual shampoo and conditioner or “share” for a 2-in-1. BGR The Burger Joint, punctuation evidently unnecessary, falls into the latter category. Despite everything they seem to be aiming for with their social media presence, their work seems to fall flat on its face. In this essay, we will examine the content, tone, and overall message conveyed by every single Facebook post made by BGR over the span of the previous six months in order to examine what I see as its failings in engagement.

The goal of a restaurant is, fundamentally, to make a food product that is worth more than its ingredient cost to a patron. This is accomplished through a variety of means- hiring skilled cooks and chefs, sourcing unique or rare ingredients, or even using additives to create food that surpasses its “natural” equivalents. However, the main problem is all of this is that few people will visit a restaurant they have heard nothing about- and the best way to fix this dilemma for a restaurant who can’t stand on the merits of its food itself is marketing. BGR’s social media team seems to have brought their methodology of food marketing down to a “science”- a relatively attractive photo of a burger, combined with a supposedly pithy quote. For example, one photo depicts a grilled chicken burger combined with the quote “‘I’m kind of a big meal’- Grilled Chicken Sandwich”.

This is the mentioned “big meal,” posted on 9/8/16.

BGR seems to mostly have not thought to branch beyond this sort of content- with the exception of the occasional image with text in it, usually describing a piece of food that’s also pictured, the whole thing is remarkably, or perhaps understandably, formulaic. Such repetition, other than the occasional announcement of closure on holidays, leaves posts with around zero to five likes, with outliers hitting ten at best. Looking over the photos, the two most featured items appear to be through an admittedly unscientific analysis to be their burgers, for obvious reasons, followed closely by their milkshakes. Said milkshakes also get a prominent place in the physical restaurant, getting their own section of the posted menu as well as their own featured spot at the checkout counter- strange for a restaurant not known for them. Getting into the analysis of the text itself, the entire thing, much like the food, is remarkably bland- simply urging the reader to give in to the indulgence of buying a hamburger or milkshake, or otherwise make them consider eating one of their food products. The pictures are mostly shot from the side to accentuate the large volumes of ingredients going into this meat-filled sandwiches, and they also take the time to laud their ingredients as high quality, something most of this class of restaurant seem to do on a regular basis- claiming everything from having “sushi grade Ahi tuna” to “the mostly perfectly crisp fries you can find around”. Tellingly, the term “sushi grade” is entirely unregulated in the United States, making it mostly marketing speak to upsell a fish. In any case, having plumbed the actual content in depth, it’s now time to address the gestalt of the matter: what are they trying to convey?

Only the crispiest of fries. Posted by BGR 1/24/17

Most restaurants try to cultivate an experience of sorts through their marketing, decor, and product lines. Take the Starbucks chain, for example: everything from the modern design of the furniture to the abstract wall art and free-flowing espresso is meant to cultivate an air of culturedness and refinement that does not match the fact that it is effectively a bourgeois McDonald’s. McDonald’s itself has relied on a combination of nostalgia marketing, including a relatively successful campaign attempting to bridge the McNuggets of yesteryear to the modern day, and an attempt to modernize the decor of their restaurants to more match the style of something, ironically, like Starbucks. BGR The Burger Joint is a bit more of an enigma to say the least. The store itself is stark and barren- seemingly attempting to cultivate a sort of “hole-in-the-wall”-chic

The “hole-in-the-wall chic.” Picture by author.

that they might feel appeals to a younger crowd more concerned with “authenticity,” a ultra-common buzzword when it comes to marketing in relation to millennials. The restaurant seems to want to become a sort of local institution- the kind of place your average 20 to 30 year old goes with his friends for a wholesome burger. They say as much in a post, combined with a picture of multiple people at one table, stating “Friends that eat burgers together are more likely to remain friends. Grab a friend or two and head our way”. BGR, in general, attempts to project a bit of a playful attitude- making comments about onion rings being healthy because “they are a vegetable, right?” to urging people to “put a ring on it” in regards to a picture of a burger with a side of onion rings. The overabundance of onion ring related humor aside, their marketers generally want to not only validate BGR as something more than a horribly generic burger chain with two minor awards to its name, but also to reinforce that their quality is a cut above the rest. They remind us that their burgers are “consistently delicious”, have commented on the meaningless “sushi-grade” quality of their tuna four separate times since August 10th of last year, and use their header space to proudly proclaim that they were voted “#1 Burger by MSN & Washingtonian Magazine” in 2015. Now that we know what they’re trying to convey through their messaging, it’s finally time to get to the heart of the matter- what is BGR’s message in all of this?

While perhaps it may be considered reading too much into too little, all places, to some degree or another, have their own rhetoric. From the authority and tradition transmitted by the neoclassical US Capitol, the political heart of a country less than 300 years old, to the down-home accessibility of your average diner, there are clear motives in most places built for purposes beyond mere survival. While examining the rhetoric of place through a social media account is perhaps something that would come off as fallacious, the corporate nature of its existence means that there’s often not much difference between the information conveyed by a social media feed and the idealized image a business wants portrayed of itself. Overall, the image BGR The Burger Joint wants so desperately to convey is one of hipness- relevance beyond being a subpar burger chain with a couple of easily disregardable local awards. BGR does not just want financial success- any incredibly bland takeout place can stay above water with the right location- BGR wants social relevance. Everything, from their attempt to decorate their interior as sort of a nostalgic late 80s/early 90s throwback with a matching soundtrack to a somewhat pitiful attempt at “social media engagement,” screams at an attempt to somehow be cooler than a restaurant chain started by a mildly successful chef but owned by a corporate investment firm is likely to ever be. In the end, BGR suffers from a tragic case of “trying too hard”- an overwrought attempt at being cool that singularly defines everything in life that does not scream cool to the youth audience everyone so desperately covets.

It can be seen that BGR’s social media presence is strongly formulaic, spends an inordinate amount of time attempting to signal the quality of their product, and is ultimately targeted at an attempt to achieve an atmosphere of “coolness,” and by extension quality, presently beyond their grasp. While this may not be considered a great revelation- most businesses targeting consumers want to be “cool” to some degree- it says a lot that a burger place, a place whose main popularity is its deep roots in American tradition, still feels the need to advertise how cool and modern they are compared to whatever competitor they see themselves punching up at. While ultimately BGR probably doesn’t care much about their social media presence, the fact they have it at all and believe it’s adequate either says a lot about how much money they’re putting into it, or how trusting their advertising executive is. Either way, this is the first step into the depths that is BGR The Burger Joint- we have only scratched at the surface of this rich vein of inquiry.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”- Samuel Beckett, Westward Ho!

There are relatively few writers who could examine the discourse of two humans from a seemingly third viewpoint quite like Beckett. Take for example the “thought” of Lucky in Waiting for Godot- there have been few writers in any language with the will or the idea to create an incredibly long and unintelligible sentence that still somehow stuck to the laws of the English language in the name of art. It is perhaps only natural that he would in turn be fascinated in the principles of lingual minimalism. The given phrase is not a real sentence or set of sentences in any academic sense- there is no given subject, and though it’s implied, this would likely get an F at the hands of any high school English teacher.

However, with an appreciation for the fact that you are allowed to “break the rules” makes us able to examine this from a higher perspective. The short, rapid burst phrases almost suggest a sort of mantra- a repeated phrase urging oneself to try again and “fail better.” The latter phrase is particularly interesting.  It’s a logical contradiction at first glance- failing is inherently negative- but one sees the echos of a similar concept all across our common lexicon. Consider the classic proverb: “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again.” All Beckett seems to be saying is a refinement on this concept- “No matter how many times you fail, what’s important is you improve on your failures and try again.”

The question is brought up of how does the punctuation effect this sentence. For examine, imagine we replaced all the periods with commas, and read it to yourself. It seems to come out a jumble of words- the clear stops given by the period help separate the disparate thoughts into a coherent series. Furthermore, following the suggestion of question marks just leaves a mildly manic sounding series of rapid fire questions. The punctuation here is purposeful and likely correct for Beckett’s purposes.

If we are to address the question of what his choice of sentence structure, or lack thereof, we ought to first put it in a more traditional format: ‘I ever tried and ever failed; no matter, I fail again and I fail better.” The one thing this lacks compared to Beckett’s version is a feeling of universality. Beckett’s phrase almost seems like both a personal statement and a piece of advice, he urges himself to “fail better” and at the same time seems to be telling you to do so. This is perhaps where the power of the statement comes from. And it does appear to be powerful- there’s at least one company named after the phrase.

Overall, Beckett urges us to follow a noble path: never surrendering in the face of adversity. In this day and age, it’s advice worth listening to.

This particularly “sassy cat” was found in the recent CIA leaks. I’m likely risking my life to inform you of how singularly sassy this cat is.