TV show accused of promoting wrong eateries
Famous namesake chef and eatery franchises owner Baek Jong-won hosts one of Korea’s hottest reality shows at the moment, the food reality show “Baek Jong-won’s Alley Restaurant.”
The SBS Wednesday show, with no big-name celebrity cast members, enjoys strong viewership. Its recent episodes have surpassed 10 percent, topping the time slot for months.
But the show recently has been hit hard by a casting controversy for selecting the wrong restaurant owners. By giving the spotlight to unprepared ones, some viewers complained the wrong casting choices doesn’t live up to the show’s purpose — to help talented but struggling small restaurant owners find success — and urges the producers to use a more considerate selection process for the featured restaurateurs.
Its popularity stems from the “human drama” in each episode.
At a time when many unprepared self-employed people join the restaurant business due to the industry’s low entry barriers and add to the fierce competition, many small restaurant owners suffer the consequences.
Those who have worked hard their whole lives to become a skilled master in that field now struggle to stay afloat. On the program, the chosen restaurant owners get some advice from Baek to renew their menus, and their sweat is paid off with customers waiting in queues to enter the restaurant.
Viewers, empathizing with the hardships of those restaurant owners, have given strong responses to the show.
The episodes for Pobangter Market in Seodaemun-gu, northwestern Seoul, aired in December showing a small restaurant selling raw fermented skate fish, helped the show’s ratings surge remarkably.
The son who runs the restaurant with his mother was lazy and played with his smartphone while his elderly mother did almost all the work.
The son emerged as a villain of the show but after Baek’s sharp-tongued and bittersweet pieces of advice not only for food itself but also the mother-son relationship, the episode closed with the son’s dramatic makeover as a faithful owner, and his teary-eyed thankful mother touched viewers.
In some follow-up scenes, Baek revisited the restaurant and exchanged text messages, which gave more authenticity to the show’s promoted intention.
Baek’s status has been elevated from chef to mentor.
Yet in the most recent episodes for restaurants in the Cheongpa-dong neighborhood in Yongsan-gu, viewers say they don’t understand why Baek visited there to help those restaurant owners.
A pizza restaurant owner served poor-quality pasta to customers sent by the show to judge the food, and the owner told the complaining customers, “If you don’t like the food, leave it.”
The owner of a new store selling twisted donuts appeared on the show and said he had no spare time and was in no condition to practice more to speed up the donut-making process.
The two owners have stirred a controversy. Some claim they are not struggling small restaurant owners, but well-off businessmen. The latter said on social media, “With an existing design and consulting firm, I newly launched the donut store.”
Jung Duk-hyun, a culture critic, says the wrong restaurant choices defames the show.
“Baek giving a helping hand to those not ready and not paying due efforts, selecting menus and spoon feeding them advice is not giving solutions but privileges to them,” he said.
“Viewers are starting to suspect those food shows are in fact for promotion. Featuring a restaurant in a TV show can be itself a great privilege, so the show should have a more considerate screening process in selecting restaurants.”
Baek Jong-won, center, speaks during the SBS TV show “Alley Restaurant.”