There’s a modest restaurant off scenic Route 11 in the Blue Ridge Mountains that feeds a regular group of natives and out-of-towners. Located just outside the town of Buchanan, Va., North Star Restaurant delivers good home cooking and prompt, friendly service in unpretentious surroundings. Owner Debbie Painter also charges incredibly low prices—a bonus to the affable atmosphere that nets generous tips for the restaurant’s hard working staff.
The food is wonderful. But what I enjoyed most about my recent pancake breakfast there was watching the North Star regulars pitch in and help out. One older gentleman came around with the coffee pot and filled up everyone’s cup. Another customer bused a table, then wiped it clean! The small dining room held happy faces, full bellies and plenty of “See ya tomorrow!” departures.
As a member of the local high school’s class of 1991, I can vouch that North Star Restaurant is where we James River “Knights” enjoyed the best cheeseburgers in town. From first dates to family dinners, it was—and is—the place to get a delicious, down home meal. It’s also one of the few restaurants in town that continues to thrive year after year.
North Star’s success comes not from a food critic’s praise, a Facebooker’s post, or a social networkers’ “tweet” as she passes through town. Rather, it comes from a community of neighbors who enjoy each other’s company and, in many cases, have known each other all their lives. It comes from out-of-towners who regularly stop by for a bite to eat on their way down Interstate 81 to a Virginia Tech football game, and from a restaurant owner who worries more about how fresh Mr. Neely’s coffee is than how much she charges for it. It also comes from kind-hearted, small-town customers who spend their hard-earned dollars in a place that feels like home.
You just can’t build relationships like that on Facebook or Twitter with people you just met—or worse, never met.
– Some of us aren’t buying the “you can build genuine, trusting relationships via social networking” argument. Most of us who have Facebook accounts use them to connect with family and friends we’ve known all our lives—or neighbors we see everyday.
– You can’t fit a heartfelt conversation into 140 characters. Some people “tweet” to share helpful tips and links—not what we had for dinner. If we pick up followers that way, great! If we don’t, that’s okay, too.
– As for blogging and running social networks, I enjoy both. In fact, I run several blogs and two social networks primarily to communicate and share news with a specific group of people. I accept—and embrace—the fact that not every member will become a lifelong “fan” or “friend.”
Next time you visit the North Star Restaurant in your town, take note of how the customers interact with and care for each other. And take this message to businesses you work with: don’t overestimate the power of social media by underestimating the significance of authentic, lifelong friendships built on face-to-face conversation and trust.
Photo credit: Google Maps