Karl Quinn's article published on the 19th April basically blew the "restaurant's" cover, revealing it is a marketing campaign that has set out to highlight the effectiveness of advertising via non-traditional methods. Karl begged the question of how people would feel once they knew they had been "duped" into taking part of a clever campaign. This is the reason why I went to check out the restaurant. I was intrigued by the notion that advertisers would go to so much trouble.
Priding myself on having my finger on the foodie pulse of Melbourne, I had of course heard of the "restaurant", but I had no interest in trying to track it down in order to score free pizza. I think I am of the wrong generation, because it all sounded too hard and I didn't for one second think about using the online phone book, which was the whole point.
Last night's visit was engineered by my friend's 19 year-old sister who found the locale, sat on hold for over 10 minutes, several times, to get the registration numbers and was excited about the prospect of the hidden restaurant. Neither her, my friend or anyone I eavesdropped chatting in the line out the front, knew anything about the marketing campaign.
Once the formalities are over, you are ushered into a long, virtually empty hallway, and exchange your registration number (and, in my case, fib about the pizza you ordered because I'd changed my mind) for a card with your name on it.
You're sent back outside and then go in another doorway that leads to the actual 'restaurant'. You pick up your free jam jar of homemade lemonade and are ushered toward the pizza counter. You hand over the card, which goes to the back of the pile and then you wait. And then you wait some more. And then you squeeze yourself through the crowd and have a look around. And then you wait. And then you are encouraged to do a trick in order to get your order to the front of the queue.
It was really hot in the basement space and the free-loaders did begin to get quite restless in the 45 minutes that I was there. My companions got their pizzas before me (probably my Kulinary Karma getting back at me for changing pizzas) and I ended up asking for my name to removed from the pile as I could wait no longer. This meant I got my pizza straight away.
We chose to eat our pizzas away from the restaurant so we could drink our beers and cool down. As we left I realised most people were eating their pizzas standing up, waiting for their pizzaless friends.
Overall it was an odd experience and one that I wouldn't repeat. I'm not sure that I would have cottoned on to the company behind this whole thing had it not been for the Quinn article - despite the fact there are phone books piled into makeshift walls and their logos are on the stool covers.
I know that I would have been suspect on the waiver aspect of entering the restaurant and then fact that there are camera crews everywhere you turn once you're inside.
As for the big reveal, I don't think a lot of the younger folk who have been repeatedly enjoying the free pizza will care. They seem to be really into the whole experience; making up naughty names to be called out and juggling in front of the crowd for kudos and faster service.
But the pizza. What about the pizza? It was actually pretty good. The base thin and tasty, the toppings definitely weren't stingy and the produce used was nice and fresh. It beat a Bimbo pizza in my book, but I'd rather pay $4 for theirs than go through the rigmarole of a free "Hidden Pizza".