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Software Businesses The Almighty Buck

'Surkus' App Pays Users To Line Up Outside New Restaurants (chicagotribune.com) 115

A new app called Surkus allows restaurants to manufacture their ideal crowd and pay people to stand in place like extras on a movie set. The app reportedly uses "an algorithmic casting agent of sorts" to hand-pick people according to age, location, style and Facebook "likes." All of this is done to create the illusion that a restaurant is busy and worthy of your hard-earned money. Chicago Tribune reports: They may look excited, but that could also be part of the production. Acting disengaged while they idle in line could tarnish their "reputation score," an identifier that influences whether they'll be "cast" again. Nobody is forcing the participants to stay, of course, but if they leave, they won't be paid -- their movements are being tracked with geolocation. Welcome to the new world of "crowdcasting." Surkus raises new questions about the future of advertising and promotion. At a time when it has become commonplace for individuals to broadcast polished versions of their lives on social media, does Surkus give businesses a formidable tool to do the same, renting beautiful people and blending them with advertising in a way that makes reality nearly indiscernible? Or have marketers found a new tool that offers them a far more efficient way to link brands with potential customers, allowing individuals to turn themselves into living extensions of the share economy using a structured, mutually beneficial transaction? The answer depends on whom you ask.
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'Surkus' App Pays Users To Line Up Outside New Restaurants

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  • This is going to be hilarious.
  • Really? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by thesupraman ( 179040 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2017 @07:51PM (#55030839)

    If there is a queue at a restaurant, then I certainly wont be going, and anyone joining the queue will either be waiting forever, or have to be told its a fake?

    I have to wonder what type of people would be spending their time doing this.
    They have enough money for a smartphone, and to look 'smart' in some demographic way, however their time is worthless enough that they can afford to be paid (I assume not much) to stand around doing nothing...

    It shouldn't take more than a quick look in the door to see that the place is empty, and yet there is a queue outside ;)

    • Re:Really? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2017 @08:06PM (#55030939) Journal

      I don't quite get this one either. I *might* choose to approach what looks to be a long wait for a specific restaurant that I

      1) already have patronized, but really like or am really in the mood for. I'll probably be annoyed there is a long line and think they are bit a silly when I find out the line is fake. I might just think better of it and move along and than they will have lost a *real* potentiality customer that day.

      2) already have heard of because its famous or something or been highly recommended by a trusted source. I'll think "well I guess I gota try it any way"

      Mostly thought I'd just keep on going, without a strong enough reason to put up with what looks like a longer wait time, I usually avoid a crowd. If i have a reason to put up with one It would have been a good enough reason to go anyway.

      Are other people such sheep that they would actually choose a place just because its busy without any other information?

      • Are other people such sheep that they would actually choose a place just because its busy without any other information?

        I expect some would make a choice between two otherwise similar restaurants based on the theory that the busier one has the better food. Others might choose the busier one if it's the "right" kind of busy on the basis of it being a fashionable place to be, rather than any value it might have as an actual restaurant. Some might even only be looking for a fashionable place to be seen, and it being a restaurant is entirely incidental.

        In either case, it would only be a feasible strategy to rent a crowd for it i

        • I expect some would make a choice between two otherwise similar restaurants based on the theory that the busier one has the better food.

          That makes sense. However, it does not make sense to put a line in front of your restaurant, because most people choose to avoid lines. If you were going to try to make your restaurant look busy, you would hire these people to sit inside and eat small, inexpensive dishes. They would finish them rapidly with minimal waitstaff interference, and then they would leave the restaurant for a while, and then come back again if needed to boost occupancy. Preferably the system would actually keep them busy going to d

          • Additionally, I have all my friends give me their phones while they go to a local movie, and I take all of "us" on the circuit to get paid. Next week another friend has all the phones and I'm at the movie...

        • "I expect some would make a choice between two otherwise similar restaurants based on the theory that the busier one has the better food."

          Where do you get this theory? McDonalds is usually busier than {burger joint}, yet many would argue that {burger joint} has better food than McDonalds.

          • by Pahroza ( 24427 )

            I've seen it in practice, not just theory. Some "popular" brunch spots near me frequently have a 20-30 minute wait to be seated for mediocre food and service.

          • When I said "some", I didn't mean "most" or even "a significant number", necessarily. And I sure didn't say the theory had merit. I think the whole business is a crock of shit, but just because it's a crock of shit doesn't mean that there aren't at least a few suckers out there.
        • based on the theory that the busier one has the better food.

          These have to be people with limited experience with restaurants. In my experience, a line out the door is less indicative of excellent food than it is of poor restaurant management.

      • Re:Really? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by maglor_83 ( 856254 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2017 @09:02PM (#55031321)

        Are other people such sheep that they would actually choose a place just because its busy without any other information?

        That's a pretty common and sensible approach. If you have no other information to go by, then you don't go to the place with no customers, because there's probably a good reason they have no customers.

        • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

          So no customers for you food and paying someone to pay someone else to be a pretend customer make sense to you, wouldn't it be far more sensible to simply provide free meals. No wander the PR=B$ don't want a minimum wage, how can you pay some one per hour less than the price of one meal, that is sick.

          • Not at all, I was simply replying to that one point. I agree this sounds like a ridiculous idea.

          • by trg83 ( 555416 )

            No wander the PR=B$ don't want a minimum wage, how can you pay some one per hour less than the price of one meal, that is sick.

            I'm not sure I follow your logic. I make six figures and make less per hour than a meal at my favorite steakhouse.

        • Are other people such sheep that they would actually choose a place just because its busy without any other information?

          That's a pretty common and sensible approach.

          Wouldn't it take you about ten seconds to figure out the queue is fake? All you have to do is join it, and...then what? None of them are going in.

          • That's where I'm baffled. If the place is empty and the line doesn't move, WTF? Never going back there. For that matter, why not just put free meal coupons on the app, and have all those people show up and get something to eat. Then it's full, and they might be convinced to write a nice review about the free stuff. Especially since it's tied to the app, and you can weed out the people who are too picky. That's more of a win for everyone than a dummy line.

        • I eat at a lot of restaurants and have yet to see a correlation between "good" and "popular". Red Lobster has long waiting times, but so does the (actually pretty good) Longhorn. TGI Fridays always had long waits at busy times, and so does Duffy's and the other generic "Irish" (lolwut?) restaurants we have around here, and every restaurant I've mentioned with the exception of Longhorn is awful, just awful.

          You know what usually results in a line? Being a chain restaurant. That's it. That's the criteria. T

          • This app is probably designed for a "big city" such as San Francisco. I'm guessing you live in a midsize city. In SF there are lots of really good restaurants, and many of them have lines. Some people are kind of wary of going somewhere that isn't popular since so many great places have big lines. Maybe you have a good restaurant but need to get the critical mass to establish regular patrons.
          • >I eat at a lot of restaurants and have yet to see a correlation between "good" and "popular"

            Well it is unfortunate that in the US good food is not so highly valued and it is rare enough that people often don't even expect to find it or it is so expensive that most people can't afford it. This is especially true outside of major cities.

            However if you travel internationally you will find very quickly that trying the busiest restaurants first is a better strategy than random selection at finding restaurant

            • If you see one restaurant without a single customer on a friday night and another one nearby completely full with people waiting out the door you are really going to guess that the empty restaurant has better food?

              No, but I also wouldn't guess that the full one has better food.

        • That's a pretty common and sensible approach.

          It may be common, but I don't think it counts as sensible.

      • by Mal-2 ( 675116 )

        Are other people such sheep that they would actually choose a place just because its busy without any other information?

        Once, on the way to a gig in downtown L.A., I had a huge craving for fried chicken. Then, as now, I did not carry a smart phone. (Now I don't carry a phone at all, but then I had a no-data PHONE.) So I just got off the freeway in the part of town I knew to be heavily populated by African-Americans because there are more fried chicken places that are not KFC than there are in other parts of town. Then I looked for a crowded one. And you know what? Although it was still cheap food, it was way better than KFC.

        • They obviously were not, because they weren't just milling around. The lines went in the doors and right up to the counter.

          This points out one big problem I see with the "hired crowd" idea... I don't see how it can work, unless the hired crowds are also getting seated and served food - which I assume is not the case.

          When I was younger, I did occasionally wait in long lines for food that had a stellar reputation. But, the thing is, even food that matches its reputation generally isn't THAT much better than several other worthy competitors which just don't happen to be in vogue at that distinct moment in time. So, nowadays, if I

          • by Mal-2 ( 675116 )

            Now if a restaurant wants to give people meals in return for their momentary interest, I don't really see a problem here. A certain amount of milling around is normal too, as large groups wait to assemble, or stand around chatting after they're done.. But yeah, if there's a crowd that doesn't seem to be doing anything much related to the establishment's business purpose, I will assume they're there to leech WiFi for something.

        • Although it was still cheap food, it was way better than KFC.

          Well, in all fairness, almost any chicken place has better food than KFC.

      • Are other people such sheep that they would actually choose a place just because its busy without any other information?

        Japanese call fake customers "Sakura". It's common wherever Japanese businesses are found.

    • The "queue" is secondary to the real underlying discussion here. Ideally a restaurant in this case would have one free table. The article invokes my mental images of Apple stores but really the most appealing restaurants are busy yet can serve me.

      However that may not be it either. Especially in an outdoor setting I normally look at people's plates when passing and deciding on a restaurant. Will these people be given fake food as well?

    • Yeah me neither. I usually go to restaurants without a queue. I do typically look to see if the place is deserted before I go in though. I mean if no one wants to eat there there's probably a good reason not to go. I also quite often look at what other people are eating there. But queues? Please.

    • Also don't get it for restaurants. So... legitimate customers line up (you know, the one's that are going to pay you money for food) at the back of the line. Either the line is moving, or it isn't.

      If it's not moving, then you've lost all your legit customers for the night

      If the line is moving, then the rent-a-crowd have to shuffle into the restaurant, then walk back out again to the back of the line. Legit customers would find this odd enough to question what's going on, and quietly sidle away from the

    • If one RTFAs (yes, I know, this is Slashdot, but one should consider doing it if the summary sounds too far fetched), one gets the impression that the queuing example was made up by the journalist to have something more sensational to write about. Actually the app appears to be about attendance of events.
      Let me cite a few other parts of the article:

      Surkus members have attended 4,200 events for 750 clients, including big-name brands, hospitality groups, live-ticketed shows, movie castings and everyday people who want to throw a party.

      For example: A gaming company throwing a launch party might ask Surkus to find men and women ages 18 to 32 who like comic books, day parties, dance music and the company's product.

      Caroline Thompson, 27, a contributing writer for Vice, said she downloaded Surkus and attended an event last year at a Chicago club full of "finance bros" on a Thursday night.

      "It was a little weird that probably 80 percent of the women at the club were there because of the app," she said.

      They also write that women are typically paid more than men, so we could now start another discussion about equal pay for men and women or conclude that this is

    • I recently went to a restaurant because of the crowd outside the door. We were walking down a restaurant avenue looking for a place for a bite, and saw one place with a line. We did talk to the people in line, but they sold us on the place. We probably would have stopped elsewhere if there had been no line... the outside wasn't very interesting. Of course, if I always had a line, I wouldn't invest anything in making the outside interesting either.

      It helps that we were tourists, and didn't feel like just

    • If there is a queue at a restaurant, then I certainly wont be going, and anyone joining the queue will either be waiting forever, or have to be told its a fake?

      I have to wonder what type of people would be spending their time doing this. They have enough money for a smartphone, and to look 'smart' in some demographic way, however their time is worthless enough that they can afford to be paid (I assume not much) to stand around doing nothing...

      A million times this. There are definite limits to how long I'm willing to wait to get seated at a restaurant and these days anything over 30 minutes is probably going to result in me going elsewhere immediately. The longest I've ever waited to be seated was 2 and a half hours and that was a long time ago under very unusual circumstances. I can't imagine I'll ever break that record. A few years ago I was in Chicago with family and we wanted to go to Rick Bayless' Frontera restaurant. They told us that

    • by syn3rg ( 530741 )
      So, Potemkin [wikipedia.org] customers?
    • Same here. I have things to do in life, and waiting outside a restaurant is not something I care to do. The ironic thing is that the places with long lines (Franklin's barbecue) are usually very overrated. Austin has a lot of eateries, and if needed, I can always drive to a surrounding town. If a place has a line outside, but is empty inside, I definitely will go somewhere else, because either the place just opened for the day or they are not bothering to serve customers... either way, there is an eater

    • by joemck ( 809949 )

      >They have enough money for a smartphone

      $20 gets you a basic smartphone with $30/mo basic plans available. You don't have to be terribly rich to afford a smartphone anymore.

      >and to look 'smart' in some demographic way, however their time is worthless enough that they can afford to be paid (I assume not much) to stand around doing nothing...

      So, a college student?

    • If there is a queue at a restaurant, then I certainly wont be going

      Exactly this. Additionally, that restaurant would probably not make my list of places to consider going when planning a night out, because I'd assume that there will be a length wait.

    • also , doesnt that count as false advertising ? is there still anything like false advertising and consumer rights btw? if you get dmca takedowns to remove ads from blocklists im not really sure ... consumer rights ? in soviet belgium i never much seen them, i thought they existed but maybe its something i saw on tv
  • Yeah, right (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Snotnose ( 212196 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2017 @08:02PM (#55030909)
    This may work in New Yawk, San Fran, or LA, where people care about getting into the "hottest" restruants and posting social media shit for assholes who care. I live in a normal town, I'll make a reservation for a special occasion. Can't get in, no problemo? I'll just try someone else.

    I make a reservation then can't get in (has never happened). You'll get a 0 star rating on yelp.
    • I'll make a reservation

      You could have just said "I have nothing to do with the target audience of this product" that would have been shorter to write.

  • The app reportedly uses "an algorithmic casting agent of sorts" to hand-pick people

    These words do not mean what you think they do.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If there's one thing I'm 100% sure about the future of advertising and promotion, it's that whatever form it will take, it will still be 100% amoral, just like the present of advertising and promotion.

    This new app is a perfect example of this.

    • sadly, I don't think we'll ever get back to the days when advertising had to be creative, but we can't undo the invention of analytics.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    A new app called Surkus...

    I wonder how much Surkus paid to create the illusion that someone might actually use their app.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Outside of college students, I can't see the appeal for most to commute somewhere to stand outside looking excited for undisclosed minutes (hours?!). And, even for college students, if the location is not conveniently accessible, it will be a pass, too. Wait, is there at least free drinks involved or do the people just mill about staring down at their phones tapping away?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    So the company has been pitching this to the press for a bit now. In case anyone is curious, here was the PR pitch.

    Surkus provides clubs, restaurants and events in New York and Los Angeles with bodies to fill the room, order drinks, and liven the place up. Promoters and bar owners tell the company how many people needed - what age, sex, lifestyle, and what you'll pay - and they hook you up with people that you want to see at your party.

    Surkus' high tech arsenal includes a digital geofence that automatically

    • Actually all this app is trying to do is automate the middle man known as "promoters." In most cases only the promoters get paid, the guests they bring only get free food and drinks, by shifting some of the procedes they hope the in-crowd and aspiring-models will decide to go with them instead of traditional promoters
      • Re:PR Pitch (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Dorianny ( 1847922 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2017 @09:18PM (#55031407) Journal
        To further elaborate, this app actually has a pretty good chance of succeeding if it can execute. Most promoters are very unprofessional due to largely being addicted to alcohol/drugs (hazard of the occupation I guess) and owners/managers would love nothing more than have security show them the door
  • by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2017 @08:14PM (#55030977) Journal

    This reminds me of a movie/TV prop supplier company who rented out cardboard people to fill up theaters and stadiums in the backgrounds. They used roughly 80% cardboard dummies and 20% real people who would move and squirm to make the crowd look alive. (Tell your date you're a "professional squirmer".) The ratio of real people was typically higher near the front (close by) seats.

    The cardboard dummies were based on photos of about 25 different people with hand alterations so that duplicates didn't stand out. That way they had fewer batch runs to prepare.

    Fairly often some of the human "seat" actors ("extras") would mutilate the dummies out of job security, ripping arms off, drawing black-eyes on them, giving women mustaches, giving men boobs, etc. Thus, the co. had to spend a lot of time repairing them after shoots.

    Now they probably use mostly CGI and/or canned footage stitched in via digital motion smoothers etc.

  • It pays to be a social media whore today, so it doesn't surprise me that pimping lies like this is somehow worthwhile.

    Why fucking bother getting an education when we value narcissism and bullshit this much.

  • by n329619 ( 4901461 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2017 @08:23PM (#55031049)

    We didn't need apps to do that. We get a bunch of friends progressively come together to stare at the empty sky showing blank expression, and then random strangers just join in until it became a crowd of people. Afterward, we left making the crowd stares at unknowns.

    Same for a line, we get our friends to randomly lineup in a particular place like outside the restroom/water closet/toilet where the door is closed, and make random guys wait behind us patiently.

  • by King_TJ ( 85913 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2017 @08:32PM (#55031089) Journal

    I could see this working better for a nightclub, where part of the draw is knowing you paid to get into a place that's full of lots of attractive people.

    But a restaurant? The new ones that opened out by me and had lines just made me decide to hold off a few days before visiting them. (After all, most new restaurants really don't have their food preparation or service down yet, so you tend to get a less than ideal experience.)

    As someone else on here pointed out too; won't people realize something's not quite right if the place isn't totally full on the inside? If I saw a long line and empty tables inside, that would tell me the restaurant is short-handed and service will be really poor. That would make me leave.

    If you want to generate a buzz and a big line for the sake of photo ops and media coverage, it's a far better investment to give away free food to people. Krispy Kreme doughnut shops do that all the time when opening new locations. First day, you get a free one with each visit.

  • if the restaurant isn't good the people won't come back. If they are good and with this also look good, they might get successful a little faster.

  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Wednesday August 16, 2017 @08:41PM (#55031137)

    ... this app isn't called Sukurs?

  • When I look for a place to eat, I ask my FRIENDS...and by friends I mean those that share my sense of values, not these social media apps, "likes" and what not. A lot of my "good eatin' places" look like dives, ready to fall apart, sometimes you think how the hell did the health department pass this place? Established places. One BBQ place I frequent, has been around since the late 1920's! When I first went there in 1981, they had a few playing cards & dollar bills tacked onto the ceiling tiles. By
  • New club opened years ago at my home town... the owner, being a savvy club owner, actually paid hand-picked super-hot girls to come in from the other city centre in the province, hundreds of miles away for the first few weekends, to hang out there and be window dressing. Word spread fast amongst the local young,horny male segment of town that this club was the best place to 'meet girls'. The extra revenue from desperate young guys buying drinks for these girls in a futile hope of taking them home probably m

  • "Stupid Americans. I'm doing almost the same thing but with their insipid electoral process and mind-numbing 'social media' and I'm not paying them a Ukrainian dime".
  • I'm 61 and I eat out +-3 times a week since 21, always in different resp. new restaurants and I never, ever wait in a line.
    I always have a reservation, go in and am taken immediately to my table to eat. That's it.
    I would never wait for a table when I have a reservation, I just would eat somewhere else, and never go back to that restaurant.
    Is this strictly a US thing?
    Aren't there enough restaurants?

    • Reservations are for snobs. Most American restaurants only take reservations for large groups. You can ask for a reservation, and they'll say yes, but you didn't actually reserve anything and you'll still have to wait if it is busy.

      It is actually quite absurd to always have a reservation, because it means you're never "doing anything" other than going to your meal. It is both more heavily scheduled, and yet contains less activities, than what most other people are doing.

      • "It is actually quite absurd to always have a reservation, because it means you're never "doing anything" other than going to your meal."

        I go to the restaurant because I'm hungry, not to meet chicks in the line. I prefer my chicken on a plate and pronto at that.
        I'm perfectly capable of organizing my own entertainment before or afterwards.

        • Right, but that shows little imagination.

          For example, consider that many of these people are married, and their activities are perhaps more interesting than trying to harass single women in a line somewhere.

          Like, just think of any human activity that takes place outside the home, and is not your job. OK, you're out doing that thing, and at some point somebody gets hungry. Maybe you always carry a few burritos in a pocket, or something? But some people might not like that solution.

          If you're so regimented tha

      • Sorry, forgot to thank you for the answer, thanks.

    • by radish ( 98371 )

      I'm a European living in the US. American's are strangely willing to wait (a long time) for tables, and while reservations are a thing at most mid to high end establishments (opentable.com is very popular, and generally works well), you often still have to wait at least a few minutes because frankly they have no idea how to run a reservation book. Chain and casual restaurants are extremely popular here, and never take reservations, and when people decide they want Olive Garden or Outback or whatever they wi

  • This seems one of the most profitable business right now. Actually having/knowing doesn't seem to matter anymore. It is everywhere, much more in internet: fake followers ("I follow you if you follow me back" or paid followers, all the same), friends, references (people recommending technical skills in exchange of getting theirs recommended too or stars/likes), knowledge (trying to emulate/steal what other people did without even understanding what you are doing), ideas (let's repeat 1000 times today's trend
  • by Anonymous Coward

    When the news start to sound like a Black Mirror script, you know progress has taken a wrong turn.

  • Paying people to attend a candidate's rally so that the media can report that the candidate attracted standing room only crowds? I think I've read this as a tactic as far back as the Kennedy/Nixon race in 1960, especially in states where Kennedy was weak. Joe Kennedy's money and mob connections got big crowds for JFK in places like West Virginia.

    I know the conspiracy folks have been onto this for a while and regularly claim that many protests or big media events have been stage managed with hired crowds/e

  • Anyone have humongous ads on the top of the /. page that are fixed and block half the page's content?

    I adblocked the frame and get an empty frame up there now. Still there when reloading the page.

    This sucks. Will try again later.

  • "Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded"

"How many teamsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?" "FIFTEEN!! YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?"

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