Young Entrepreneurs: Chris Stang of The Infatuation
Young Entrepreneurs: Chris Stang of The Infatuation

By capitalizing on digital trends and being proactive about engaging the online community, The Infatuation has become a strong voice in the previously exclusive world of restaurant reviews.

For years, the world of restaurant reviews belonged to the professional critics. It wasn’t until the launch of online platforms like Yelp that regular consumers were able to voice their opinions about their favorite—or least favorite—spots to eat. But even then, there was a disconnect between the information being made available to people about restaurants and what they actually wanted to know. That’s where The Infatuation found its voice.

Founded in 2009 by Chris Stang and Andrew Steinthal, The Infatuation is a one stop shop for consumers looking for the perfect place to eat. But Stang and Steinthal didn’t always consider themselves restaurant pros—in fact, the two were both executives in the music industry when they got the idea for The Infatuation. While Steinthal worked as the VP of Public Relations at Warner Bros. Records, Stang was the VP of Marketing at Atlantic Records. The two met on the set of TRL while attending a conference for music directors at college radio stations, and ran in the same group of friends. Designating themselves the planners of that group, they became familiar with the ins and outs of New York’s ever growing restaurant scene.

That’s when they realized that they had a unique opportunity to build a new kind of business. Instead of turning to somewhat snobby critics for recommendations, they could instead become the voice for regular people looking for restaurants. With that idea, The Infatuation’s original blog was born.

The brand’s premise is simple: real people write reviews about the restaurants that they visit. They aren’t supposed to contain the language you’d find in a traditional newspaper or publication—instead, each review is written in the way that you’d recommend a restaurant to a friend.

In an interview with Business Insider, Stang said, “A lot of times when people sit down to write a review, they sort of think to themselves, ‘Well, what’s a restaurant review supposed to sound like?’ We tell people to write the way they talk so that what they say sounds like it’s coming from a friend, not from a ‘restaurant authority.’”

To say the idea caught on would be an understatement—young New Yorkers made The Infatuation their go-to site before checking out a new restaurant. The platform, which now includes a website, newsletter, mobile app and text message recommendation service, is now available in Austin, Texas; Chicago, Illinois; Denver, Colorado; Los Angeles, California; San Francisco, California and Washington, D.C. in addition to its home city.

Social media has helped fuel the platform’s success, especially Instagram. The co-founders realized early on that in order for their idea to succeed, it needed to be interactive. As soon as Instagram became a major player in the digital space, they realized it was the perfect tool to accompany The Infatuation’s initiative. That’s when they launched the hashtag #EEEEEATS, which tracks and shares photos of meals in the brand’s established cities.

Stang told the Washingtonian, “It also became really clear to us that if we were going to be successful in community building on the platform that we needed to make it a two-way conversation. We didn’t just want to post and hope that people would interact with our photos. #EEEEEATS just felt fun. People wouldn’t have been that excited to tag a photo with #infatuationgram.” He continued, “We definitely sacrificed a little bit of brand because we went about it that way. So many people use that hashtag and don’t know we started it. We’re totally fine with that. For all the people that don’t know it was us who started it, there are plenty of people that do.”

Stang and the rest of The Infatuation’s team have been quick to adopt the latest digital trends in an effort to consistently stay ahead of the curve. That proactive approach to building their business—especially in today’s tech driven society—has been instrumental in the brand’s success. And Stang says there’s no chance of The Infatuation changing its strategy any time soon.

“Our audience is much younger than most of our competitors’, so staying on top of mobile is particularly important to our growth,” said Stang in an interview with The Next Web. “We’re also excited about the idea of doing other lightweight apps which help people solve problems, as well as continuing to release digital ebooks and guides.”