Writing a South Wales food blog – and letting my personality loose on social media – was always likely to ruffle a few feathers. Without the desperation for sponsorship revenue, event invites or selfies with the latest chef to appear on Great British Menu, I’ve been liberated to write honest accounts of my dining experiences. But there’s been more than the wrath of an angry restaurateur to deal with…
Note: this blog was last updated on 30/10/2018.
12 August 2018. The date I published my first properly negative review after a disappointing dining experience at Seren Diemwnt – two days later, I shared this post on Twitter:
Returning from five days of intermittent digital connection (otherwise known as trying to manage my phone’s battery at Green Man 2018) to find my character had been under siege, I realised something: I had a new blog!
From giving up all of my free time to defending myself against false accusations, this is what I’ve learned from food/restaurant blogging (in a very short space of time):
It can feel like a second job
(That doesn’t pay.)
I’ve been a music critic for the best part of 15 years. I ran a movie website for nearly four years. I work in digital marketing. I KNOW (what was I thinking?!) how time consuming even the simplest task becomes.
“Creating and publishing our reviews provides the light relief.”
Still, I wasn’t prepared for this amount of commitment – from the initial planning to managing the ‘banter’ on social media, it’s consumed both my own life and Mrs. B.B.’s.
In fact, creating and publishing our reviews has often provided the light relief – and I can assure you, they are significant undertakings.
We’re trying to be as descriptive and professional as possible, so there’s the note-taking and photography throughout the meal; the post meal discussion; draft writing; numerous reviews and edits; photography transfer and edits; website upload; the final proof-read and edits; the fixes when WordPress randomly adds in or removes paragraphs or moves photographs up and down the page… Aargh!!!!
Kicking off with a couple of lengthy travel pieces and trying to keep up the momentum with a couple of blogs a week added up to: we’re knackered!
I’m just glad I abandoned the original intention of developing the website from scratch (yes,
I’m also I was learning to code) – even if this WordPress template is a little sensitive INFURIATING!
I’ve got a life
I’m as surprised as anyone!
We started with good intentions – to build an extensive library of honest reviews covering the vast majority of restaurants in South Wales. They were going to be insightful, witty…
Hmm, maybe there’s a reason the most prolific writers also produce the least inspired content.
What’s worth sacrificing to dedicate my time and effort to a local food blog?
I could just follow the majority: type out what was on the menu, add ‘it was nice’ or ‘it was good’ (they can’t go lower than that if they want to stay in the PR’s good books!) a few times, and illustrate it with a few filtered photographs.
“I’m not planning to say (under no obligation, of course) how brilliant every meal is.”
But this blog isn’t a vehicle for me to get #invitation meals (my time is worth far more than any Michelin-starred restaurant, so getting a freebie from Park House Restaurant adds little motivation), so I’m not planning to churn out any old review just to ensure I’ve said (under no obligation, of course) how fantastic my meal was.
I also don’t need it for my CV – I’ve been a full-time hack and, without a shadow of a doubt, I have no desire to return to being one.
So if a meal was just ‘nice’, ‘good’, probably not really worth the price but it was ok, then what’s the point? What’s the value to the reader (TripAdvisor will tell you whether a restaurant exists in your chosen location)? More importantly, why I should spend what little spare time I have promoting that restaurant? I’ve paid for my meal after all.
If a meal/experience is particularly special, then I’ll blog about it – I’ll want to champion the restaurant and encourage as many diners as possible to visit.
If it’s awful or nowhere near its lofty reputation (or what the blaggers would have you believe), then I’ll blog about – hopefully, I can save someone a few quid.
If it’s ok, nice, good… well, we’ve got Twitter and Instagram (there’s no way I’m getting Mrs. B.B. off that now!).
Just don’t expect me to keep a regular or consistent schedule.
Writing about food can be pretty boring
At the end of the day, it’s just a meal someone has cooked.
Unless a meal is inspired or shocking, it’s a pretty tedious task to have to write about it afterwards.
There are more important things going on in the world, and I have plenty of uncultured opinions on them. When I do find the time, expect a few of them to find their way into ‘Random Burps’.
It costs a few quid!
We’ve always spent far too much on food – it’s one of the reasons we wanted to document it. But it’s gone up a level now… Mrs. B.B. has discovered Instagram!
When she’s away, the packed lunches are abandoned in favour of an expensive Instagrammable opportunity:
There are other costs, such as the hosting and domain names, as well as lost earnings to factor in – I could be using whatever time I spend here to freelance, and someone would filter my hate mail…
I will upset people
I’ll leave Mrs. B.B. out of this one – she’s much nicer than me.
Probably the biggest motivation for this blog was to create something completely independent – uncompromised by event invites, chef fandom or a desire to supplement my income with McDonald’s endorsements (as soon as a review opens with, “the food was complimentary” or “we dined as guests,” it’s completely irrelevant – a ‘show off’ at best).
“As soon as a review opens with, ‘the food was complimentary’ or ‘we dined as guests,’ it’s completely irrelevant.”
Because the existent of this blog means so very little to me in the grand scheme of things, I can say what I want. I can say if a meal at Tommy Heaney’s is shite, if that’s the case; I can highlight the dodgy tactics adopted to elevate a blogger’s status; I can call out a dishonest review…
I’m aware it’s not the way to win friends or social media followers (well, to be fair, if I had the time, I could just sit at my laptop and follow 100 accounts a day and get 4000 followers by Christmas… Err, you really thought those numbers were an indicator of quality?!).
If I want to accurately capture the negative feelings and emotions of paying a small fortune for something subpar, then some may view this as “harsh” or “scathing” (there appears to be more leeway if it’s a chain – as long as you spend a few weeks prior bemoaning the fact you won’t get any PR invites!).
People will get very ANGRY!
Some restaurants are going to feel the need to defend themselves.
I completely understand that these are people’s livelihoods and passions run high. It’s a tough industry: long days, financial pressures, etc. I would be more than a little sensitive in their shoes – and we all saw what happened when Bully’s took umbrage with a no-show (I hope my next meal there is as good as the first and not like the second!).
As a music critic, I’ve been threatened with physical violence on more than one occasion. As a food blogger, there’ll just be plenty of untruths flying around on Twitter to undermine my credibility and make me look like a
bad worse person – but more on that in a later blog!
We look like massive losers
Mrs. B.B. can come back for this one as she’s the chief culprit here. Mrs. B.B. manages Instagram – hence it’s more positive in tone and you get to look at lovely pictures like these:
(Even if the other five courses were poor…)
The time we spend photographing each dish, from every possible angle, is ridiculous – but when you’ve got our phone cameras, you need at least 10 shots to guarantee one usable image.
Other diners must wonder what on earth is going on!
Ah, no – everyone wants a sexy shot to show off Instagram these days, so nobody’s noticed. Phew!
Social media – I’m on shaky ground
Social media – and Twitter specifically – is an extension of my personality.
That part of me that likes a bit of a wind up and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Not everyone will ‘get it’ (the wife still doesn’t and it’s been nine years) – the social media manager at Wales Online certainly didn’t seem to appreciate my ribbing.
Sometimes my comments will be inappropriate, sometimes they’ll rub people up the wrong way, sometimes people are just too sensitive, sometimes they’ll have an agenda to be too sensitive (more on that below)… But I’d rather have a few hundred followers who appreciate it’s genuine vs. following a few thousand people who follow me back in the hope our elevated numbers will earn us a guest invite to the next pop-up…
Watch your back!
Seren Diemwnt’s reaction… Well, I’d have preferred they spent more time mocking the size of my…
vs. posting a number of untruths… But at least it was understandable – and expected.
The behaviour of a couple of Cardiff-based food bloggers was an eye-opener.
Keen to capitalise on the momentum generated from the initial Tweet (liking and posting comments in kind – in fact, some of the comments made me feel for the restaurant, and I had to eat their food!), they suddenly switched allegiances. Stirring the pot and ratifying the false statements posted online by the restaurant.
One even unfollowed me (shame, I’m sure she had been keen to hear what I had to say… alongside those other 5500 accounts she follows?!). And after joining in with the initial criticisms, went as far as to endorse the restaurant… based on a pop-up night… with a completely different chef…
Some bloggers take things way too seriously
I thought musicians had egos. A blogger with 5000 followers – now that’s something to behold. I’m just glad their influence only extends as far as their fellow blaggers – and a few foodies in Cathays!
Let’s be honest, when I first published this blog, I knew why these
bloggers allies had behaved in such an underhand manner. But I was happy to play along and speculate as to their motivations.
Since then, A Rare Welsh Bit contacted this blog to confirm that her actions were the result of a light-hearted comment I made on an Instagram post she was paid to place by McDonald’s (or to quote, “the negative comments you left on my Instagram post a few weeks back may have had something to do with it”).
Now, a better person than me (well, someone who is worried about losing out on PR invites) would just laugh it off.
Don’t get me wrong, I have found it very amusing.
But it does baffle me that the person who is now running Cardiff Blogs (a channel/group that is supposed to create an inclusive community for all bloggers to support their endeavours) not only sought to damage the credibility of a new blogger because they didn’t toe the line, but then censored them.
Why? Because I was drawing attention to something that she wanted to keep a secret?
Am I that much of a threat? (Even with my measly 400 followers?!)
It’s not just one account – and it’s not just me.
I do enjoy the comedic value provided by a passive (or just downright) aggressive Twitter comment or private message, but I also find it sad that some bloggers are that insecure – come on, just pay for your food!
It has created more questions about cliques and transparency in the food and travel blogging communities.
Ultimately, I’ll do what I want, when I want. The rest of the time, I’ll be noshing on average grub!
Next: Who can you trust?