On Monday, Giant, a critically acclaimed Chicago restaurant, hosted a select group of diners — including food media — under the premise they would be among the first to try Beard Award-nominated chef Jason Vincent’s new menu. The invitation informed diners that cameras would record content, but the complimentary meal wasn’t as described. Giant served items prepared three days before and sealed in Glad Products plastic wrap as a gimmick.
The footage is marked to be part of a video Glad will upload to its website showcasing its products. The marketing stunt left diners furious, and they accused Giant of unethical behavior. The ownership of Giant — an Eater Chicago 38 member — has since apologized, but it’s unknown how much money changed hands.
Adam Sokolowski, who works in restaurant marketing, felt duped. He posted Giant’s invitation (sent the first week of September) today on Instagram. The new menu, according to the invite, was to “continue [Giant’s] theme of honest, unpretentious and delicious food” using “interesting preservation techniques.”
There were two seatings on Monday, and Sokolowski was invited to the 8:30 p.m. seating. Giant and Glad planned to reveal their charade after they served dinner — which they did for the 6:30 p.m. group. But after negative reaction from those diners, Vincent changed the plan. He told his 8:30 p.m. guests about Glad before servers brought out the food. Sokolowski didn’t attend his dinner after catching wind of the stunt and becoming angry. He spoke with Vincent outside of his restaurant.
“I was incredulous, but managed to promptly tell Jason Vincent that what he’s doing is unethical, potentially a violation of his license, and definitely a complete dereliction of hospitality,” Sokolowski’s Instagram post read.
Read Sokolowski’s post and invitation below.
View this post on Instagram
Last night I was invited to try the new menu at @giantchicago by what appeared to be the PR firm representing @jasonvincent00 award-winning restaurant. We were very excited that we arrived early so we went next door to grab a drink at @scofflawchicago. The bouncer overhears us talking about how we’re having dinner next door and comes up to warn us that it’s a scam. He explains that he saw the first seating before us leave disgusted because they realized they were being served old food. Seeing as it was such a critically-acclaimed restaurant, I couldn’t believe it, so I texted my friend who I knew was in the first seating. She confirms the details and says it’s for a @gladproducts Saran Wrap commercial, but you don’t find out anything until the end when they ask you to sign a contract for exclusivity. I still can’t believe it, so I walk over to Giant for our dinner to see my other friend shaking his head saying he’s not going in either based on what he heard from the first seating. Chef sees us hovering outside reluctantly so he walks out to invite us in, and I tell him what I just heard. He acknowledges it and tries to placate us by saying the food is exactly how it’s prepared for the restaurant, just that it’s 3-days old but still tastes good! (He also mentions that he does it all the time at regular service at Giant...) I tell him fine, even if it is (which it was not based on the feedback from the first seating), when were you going to disclose this or your relationship with the brand? He said, “Oh, after the meal,” as if that was supposed to add an element of surprise and not disgust. I was incredulous, but managed to promptly tell Jason Vincent that what he’s doing is unethical, potentially a violation of his license, and definitely a complete dereliction of hospitality. I walked away with three others. Saran Wrap is not an “interesting preservation technique,” even when they pay you thousands to say that. . . . . . . #ChicagoFoodDude #SokoPhoto #Chicago #LoganSquare ##chicagofood #likefoodchicago #igerschicago #chigram #mychicagopix #chicagofoodauthority #infatuationchi #eaterchicago #alwayshungrychi #312food
Food writer Elizabeth Atkinson, an Eater Chicago contributor, attended the 8:30 p.m. dinner. At the end of the meal, she said diners were asked to sign a consent form. If they signed, they’d be paid $300. They’d get $1,000 if Glad used them in its video. A spokesperson said no one was pressured to make social media posts or sign the contract — if they didn’t sign, they “wouldn’t be seen” in promotional footage. Atkinson said she didn’t sign, but saw others who did. She’s not angry about the restaurant serving “preserved” food, as that’s a common practice. However, she wonders why Vincent would risk his credibility.
Not all the food served on Monday was stuffed in Glad Press ’N’ Seal Cling Film. For example, the smoked ribs and shaved zucchini salad were fresh. The preserved food served on Monday was oil-packed peppers, confit potatoes, coleslaw, and butter lemon cake. There were four food items and a cocktail on Monday’s menu.
After negative reactions, a Giant spokesperson issued an apology on Tuesday afternoon. “When we heard feedback from the first seating, we decided to remove the element of surprise for the second seating and were up front with all of those guests,” the statement read.
Damage control on Tuesday included letting the public know that Monday’s experience was a one-time thing, not a regular occurrence.
“As restaurant professionals, we regularly use preservation techniques to prep our menu items,” part of the statement read. “Our intent was to showcase these techniques in a unique way, which did involve an element of surprise.”
Vincent is a James Beard Best Chef: Great Lakes semifinalist. He is also in charge of food operations at the Ace Hotel Chicago in Fulton Market, which includes his City Mouse restaurant. His team is known for taking the lead in attempts to operate an ethical restaurant. For example, Giant offers health care to employees — a rarity in the industry.
Giant’s statement (see below) failed to address a few concerns. A spokesperson referred inquiries about how much Glad paid Giant and other questions about transparency to Glad’s ad agency, FCB Chicago. Part of the problem was that FCB pretended they represented Giant when they only rep Glad, Sokolowski posted.
“If they had invited me in and said that Glad was sponsoring it, I would have sat down and eaten the food,” Sokolowski told Eater Chicago. “It’s not about the three-day-old food. It’s about knowing that it is.”
A message to FCB, asking how much Giant was paid, wasn’t immediately returned. It’s been quite a few days for those who care about ethics and restaurants in Chicago: ABC7 food personality Steve Dolinsky also took some lumps last week.
Read Giant’s full statement below.
“Last night, we partnered with GLAD to show how their Press ‘n Seal product works in a restaurant kitchen by preserving some of our recipes for three days and serving them at a one-time private dinner. The food we served was fresh and (we hope) delicious, but above all, safe. As restaurant professionals, we regularly use preservation techniques to prep our menu items. Our intent was to showcase these techniques in a unique way, which did involve an element of surprise. We took care to choose menu items that were properly preserved and benefit from time like oil-packed peppers, marinated zucchini, and confit potatoes.
All guests invited were made aware that this was a special menu and that we would be capturing content. When we heard feedback from the first seating, we decided to remove the element of surprise for the second seating and were up front with all of those guests. We apologize to anyone who felt deceived and we see now that we should have been more transparent. Every guest was asked to sign a consent form and if they chose to participate, they were compensated for their time and opinion. Today, we are reaching out to all participants to apologize.”