Danny Meyer’s Best Week Ever Harshed On by Bloomberg Critic’s Picnic Basket Bummer

Does Danny Meyer's picnic basket make off like Yogi Bear...with your money?

Shack Shack deity and New York’s most customer-friendly restaurateur Danny Meyer recently got The New York Times Magazine treatment in a profile that makes him look less like a businessman and more like a walking, breathing, hospitality-obsessed god-amongst-men. Yet: a picnic basket could put a dent in what may be some of the best publicity to ever hit the pages of The Times for a service industry owner. Hey, Boo Boo, indeed.

Sean Wilsey’s profile of Danny Meyer is the kind of piece that could easily be knocked around for unilateral admiration of its subject—Mr. Meyer’s relentless attention to detail and seemingly limitless energy are extensively documented. But the Union Square Hospitality chief has so built a reputation on that energy and commitment to being decidedly anti-New York in his approach to running a restaurant empire that a critical assessment leaning toward the skeptical is difficult. Plus, he gets such confectioner’s sugar-sweet press.

Scored out, the piece comes as a perfect press win for Mr. Meyer: he emerges simultaneously superhuman and perfectly fallible with little proof of ever having been felled. Quote the piece: “Meyer’s track record is near perfect: one closing (Tabla, a 283-seat Indian place that lasted for 12 years), 25 openings and counting. ”

Enter Bloomberg restaurant critic Ryan Sutton, who chronicles the worst restaurant deals in town on his blog The Bad Deal, which he writes as a non-paying just-for-fun side-project aside from his Bloomberg reviews. And this week, he happened to find a bad deal perpetrated by none other than Danny Meyer, whose restaurant The Modern at the base of MoMA is selling a picnic basket on Gilt City, which he labels a candidate for “most aggravating deal of 2011.”

The deal is $210. It gets you a basket with “a take-home picnic basket for two from The Modern, featuring a menu from Chef Gabriel Kreuther” and “a half bottle of Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label to be enjoyed at a later date on The Modern’s Terrace between September 15 and October 15, weather permitting.” Mr. Sutton compares this against a four-course meal for two at The Modern for $196. From here, he goes into a theoretical dialogue featuring himself and somebody named “Yogi”:

YOGI: Hey man, wanna buy a pic-a-nic basket? $210 bucks.
SUTTON: That’s pricey for for a… . oh wait, are you selling me drugs?
YOGI: No man, it’s just a picnic basket for two from The Modern. Check out this photo on Gilt City’s website. You get caviar, gazpacho, liverwurst, quail terrine, arugula salad, salmon rilettes, panna cotta, a brownie and champagne.
SUTTON: What kind of champagne?
YOGI: Half-bottle of Veuve Clicquot. Thing is, we don’t actually give you the champagne when you pick up the picnic basket.
SUTTON: Come again?
YOGI: Yeah, probably some legal thing. So you don’t get the champagne until you return to the restaurant’s terrace.
SUTTON: But the Veuve Clicquot is photographed INSIDE the picnic basket on Gilt City’s website.
YOGI: Read the fine print, hombre: “the image of the picnic basket does not represent the exact menu.” Think of it as metaphorical champagne with air quotes around it.

We reached out to Union Square Hospitality for a quote on the matter, and marketing manager Katy Foley responded via email with the following:

“The post on The Bad Deal website is a misrepresentation of what The Modern is offering the Modern Picnic Basket for $210 includes an eight-course meal for two people, with offerings like caviar, homemade liverwurst, salmon rillette, and quail terrine. The picnic basket was not advertised as featuring a bottle of Champagne– rather we wanted to invite guests to enjoy MoMA’s beautiful Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Sculpture Garden by offering them a half bottle of Veuve Clicquot to be enjoyed on our outdoor Terrace. Come fall, we will begin serving a Terrace Menu, but in the meantime, the Terrace is currently open only to our Dining Room guests for aperitifs or coffee accompanying their meal.”

Emphasis ours as the photo advertised with the deal, for the record, looks like this:

Looks like a picnic basket with a very prominent bottle of champers to us!

Mr. Sutton, the Bad Deal blogger and Bloomberg critic responded to USH:

Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group runs some of the city’s finest restaurants. One of those fine restaurants is The Modern. That said, I stand by my satirization of this Gilt City Deal. Want to visit The Modern? Go check out the under-rated, Michelin-starred main dining room, and have dinner for $98 each. Don’t put a down payment on a marked-up half bottle of champagne a full month before you drink it.Put a down payment on a private party at Danny Meyer’s Eleven Madison Park and order hard-to-fine wines you can’t get elsewhere. Don’t put a down payment on champagne that’s available for $25 at Astor Wine & Spirits. That’s not what The Modern is all about.

Correction: This post previously incorrectly noted Mr. Meyer’s press as run by New York Times media reporter David Carr’s wife. The line:

(For what it’s worth, running Mr. Meyer’s publicity is a certain press-savvy New York Times‘ media reporter’s wife, lest you think that slice of the operation isn’t as well-refined as any other of Danny Meyer’s magical ingredients. An experienced understanding of the Fourth Estate runs in the family!)

We were incorrect: Jill Rooney Carr in fact works in events for Union Square Hospitality. We regret the error, and apologize to both parties.

fkamer@observer.com | @weareyourfek Danny Meyer’s Best Week Ever Harshed On by Bloomberg Critic’s Picnic Basket Bummer