The Illusion Experience

Social Media’s Dominance of Consumerism in the “Social-Experience Economy”
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[otw_shortcode_dropcap label=”E” font=”VT323″ color_class=”otw-greenish-text” background_color_class=”otw-black-background” size=”large” border_color_class=”otw-no-border-color”][/otw_shortcode_dropcap]xperts say we are living in an “Experience Economy”, where experiences outweigh mere services and goods; but after my patronage at Black Tap in New York City, I believe we are moving towards a “Social-Experience Economy”, where the digital experience is more profound than the live one. Does a hyped-up social-media presence make the experience worth the cost?

Black Tap

I was visiting New York City with my family, and we were looking for an excellent place to eat. My sister had been psyched to try this restaurant called Black Tap Craft Burgers and Shakes ever since she started following them on Instagram. They post pictures of their wildly attractive food, becoming well-known for their gourmet burgers and decorative milkshakes. Even the @Weeknd showed up… but not during our weekend.

The Weeknd enjoying his Cookie Shake at Black Tap


Their social marketing campaign proved successful the moment we arrived. If we wanted a much-desired seat in this SOHO sweet spot, we’d have to wait in a two-and-a-half-hour line to get in. Two-and-a-half-hours, folks. As my wife’s students would ask #isthisreallife?

Five of us, plus my two-year-old daughter, committed to this line. Anyone who attempts this with a two-year-old should check themselves into a mental hospital. Luckily, we have the coolest daughter on the planet, and she held up for that long. So many times we contemplated just skipping the line, but something about the experience compelled us to stay (blame those Instagram filters). We wanted to try those decorative milkshakes, we stared at and discussed Black Tap’s social media pages, and the closer we were, the more the anticipation grew. (My wife would like me to point out that she was highly-absolutely-positively against this line from the beginning and even suggested other restaurants.) But the rest of us knew that the great reviews, the fantastic pictures, and the long lines couldn’t be wrong about this place.

Black Tap Texan Burger


Our time came, just under the two-hour mark (how cool were we)! We were escorted into the pub, seated at the bar. They had hooks for our bags, an outlet charger at our hips, and a full bar with local craft beers. Amazing right? With our stomachs grumbling, we perused the menu and prepared to order. As talked up as this restaurant was, we assumed the service was going to be top-notch, but to our surprise, it was mediocre and disorganized. It took us another 15 minutes to order after waiting so long. My wife asked the server about her burger preference, and she just shook her head and said in a non-caring voice, “I don’t know, I haven’t had it.” It was clear that to keep up with the high demand; the company sacrificed service, an essential part of any experience.

Due to the volume of business, all food courses were scheduled to come out together. In my case, this meant that I received my beer, appetizer, entree, and gourmet shake all at the same time. We begged them to hide our dessert, which came out before our daughter’s food! If a toddler catches sight of a gigantic ice-cream sculpture oozing with chocolate chips, how much of her dinner do you think she will eat? That’s right: none. Plus add that to the tantrum thrown when the mountain of ice-cream is set down before her, and we try to enforce that she should finish her meat patty. Yeah, as my wife would say, “hell no.” Luckily, the young woman making the shakes was also a parent and took pity on us.

Black Tap Cotton Candy Shakes

Shake It Up

Finally, the big moment came: Black Tap Shake Time. After the ooh’s and aah’s of our dessert’s entrance, I quickly realized the shake consisted mostly of whipped cream and chocolate syrup. The straw was too short to start drinking it because the whipped cream was overflowing. I tried taking a sip at first and got smothered by the white foam. I started digging through this sugary mountain so that I could taste the shake. It had an ice cream sandwich stuck on the glass which was nice to toss in the shake, but then I lost the whipped cream in the after splash. The chocolate chip cookie was satisfying, my daughter certainly liked it, but was it worth the two-hour wait and lousy service? Besides, trying to drink this thing was ridiculous and we could have saved two hours by merely ordering the shake to go and avoiding the $15 worth of decorative glass.

Diving into the Cookie Shake

The burgers were good, but not worth the wait. Most of their downstairs tables were open, showcasing a reduced utilization of space (possible hype-tactic?). The company did not know how to function with large volumes. The experience was downgraded to meet the high demand rather than upgraded to keep customers coming back.


So many people were snapping photos of their food and posting them online, including my party. I asked my brother about his experience, and he said that his burger was delicious, but he would never come back. This experience was a one-time thing. He tried to justify the faulty service; however, saying that my expectations were too high for just a bar. Maybe he is right, but in my experience, it’s the service that changes the game from a “one-time-thing” to customer loyalty.

It’s incredible how much money people spend on the illusion of experience. They see others post photos of these shakes and make the decision that they are worth standing in line for because participating in the online experience with others is attractive. To my disappointment, they were just milkshakes. In the experience economy, the consumer’s experience is all that matters. Within the social-experience economy; however, it is about the illusion, something that acts as a social media status-changer.

The illusion experience makes the food taste better because your mind believes it has to be this good. The experience of posting it online and sharing it with celebrities like the Weeknd is what satisfies the consumer more than the actual product and service do. And to contribute to the social-experience economy, I’ve had more satisfaction writing this blog than actually eating at Black Tap. They got me. The big question is, what will happen to the service industry if consumers only care about the illusion more than the live experience? Will the stories about the illusion become more impactful than the stories of genuine service? Instagram and Snapchat may have proven they have.

In case I wasn’t clear, Black Tap is not worth the wait. But if you still want to participate in their social-experience; be sure to grab a slice of pizza while you are in line and remember never to bring a toddler!

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