Houston's Secret Diners

Houston bloggers go undercover as secret diners for Best New Restaurant reality TV show

Houston bloggers go undercover as secret diners for reality TV show

Houston Curry Crawl at Straits May 2013 Shanna Jones and Felice Simmons
Shanna Jones, left, and Felice Sloan are Undercover Diners on the Bravo show Best New Restaurant. Photo by © Daniel Ortiz
Tom Colicchio Bravo
Top Chef head judge Tom Colicchio hosts Best New Restaurant. Courtesy of Bravo
Houston Curry Crawl at Straits May 2013 Shanna Jones and Felice Simmons
Tom Colicchio Bravo

Two popular Houston bloggers will be making a star turn into the upcoming reality show Best New Restaurant. When the show debuts on Bravo Jan. 21 at 9 p.m., look for, the dynamic duo behind Urban Swank, in their role as "Undercover Diners" at four Austin restaurants.

The show, which is based on Gordon Ramsay's UK hit Ramsay’s Best Restaurant and hosted by Top Chef head judge Tom Colicchio, aims to determine the best restaurant in America from 16 candidates in Austin, Los Angeles, Miami and New York. In the first eight episodes, restaurants with similar styles from different cities compete in a series of challenges designed to test their performance.

In their role as Undercover Diners, Felice Sloan and Shanna Jones are tasked with finding out how the restaurant treats its customers when the judges aren't looking. While the women are well-known in Houston's restaurant community, they are essentially anonymous in Austin. The show's producers approached them with the idea of fulfilling the role. After a series of interviews, they were chosen and spent a four-day weekend in Austin eating at the restaurants that will appear on the show: Swift's Attic, Jezebel, Barlata Tapas Bar and Porter Ale House. 

 "We went in as secret diners — incognito with cameras on. You’re going to see us in a real situation . . . . " 

"We went in as secret diners — incognito with cameras on," Jones explains. "You’re going to see us in a real situation . . . .  Basically just going through the experience and recapping what happened: Good, bad or indifferent."

Sloan adds that the experience was similar to any visit they make to a restaurant they are planning to write about for Urban Swank. "There are things we’re looking for. Was the food timely? When I wanted a drink, was it right? Did they say thank you? Did the manager come over?"

Prior to their visits, the women researched the restaurants. "There were some things to look for or maybe a certain dish everyone loved or had issues with," Jones says. "There were things we were kind of keeping our eye on while dining." 

Although they hadn't visited any of the four prior to filming, Jones says they were familiar their reputations. "They were places we wanted to go to. Just for them being a good representation of Austin's culinary scene. All of these restaurants are really, really good."

Viewers will have to wait until the episodes air to see the specifics, but Sloan says they were mostly successful in avoiding detection. "Ninety percent we think we got away with it. There were a couple locations where maybe we weren’t quite sure, but, for the most part, we seem to have pulled it off."

To help hide the real purpose of their visits, they decided on a cover story. "What we decided to do with each location we went to, we had different roles," Sloan says. "Maybe we were in from out of town having a business meal. It was easy for us."

Both women express enthusiasm about the experience. Could this be the start of a TV career?

"Hashtag, watch what happens," Jones says.

Jones and Sloan appear in four episodes of Best New Restaurant beginning Jan. 21 at 9 p.m.