Eating out, traveling, leaving the house – it isn’t cheap. Wow… [Mr. H. pauses for a few seconds to look at his latest bank statement…] It really isn’t cheap. Um…it’s understandable people turn to the Internet to glean insights from fellow diners’ or travellers’ experiences… TripAdvisor?! Good or bad, there’s not exactly a stringent verification process. Local media? Well, they’ve got bills to pay… Mainstream media? There’s a character to be built if they are going to judge the next MasterChef… Bloggers? Surely, they’ll just say it how it is…
I’ve been following Cardiff’s and Bristol’s food and travel blogging communities for far longer than this blog has been in existence (and I’ve been getting blocked by people on Twitter). I’d toyed with the idea of starting my own – usually after reading the latest menu description or sycophantic review of an establishment I knew was bang average at best.
Eventually, I gave up on having a life and roped the missus in for some ‘quality time’. However, you don’t have to go quite as far yourself.
Here are a few things to look out for when trying to decipher who’s a blogger worth your time (and trust), who’s blagging it, and who just wants to feel loved…
It was free – but you can trust me… honest, guv’ner!
I don’t think food bloggers are that naive to think they are going to make a living out of their blog (if they did, I’m sure they’d have forked out a tenner for a domain by now – or at least turned it into a travel blog!), but if they can save themselves a few quid on a meal – ka-ching!
I wouldn’t go as far as to say everyone who accepts free dinners can’t be trusted – I don’t have the lawyers – but it certainly raises questions about the validity of their reviews.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve come across opening or closing statements along the lines of, “this meal was provided complimentary… we were under no obligation to review… or say anything positive…”
It just so happens that it was the Tastiest. Meal. Ever!
And pretty much everything they’ve ever eaten, anywhere has been wonderful – and, believe me, I’ve trawled back through more tedious articles than is healthy looking for a hint of dissent.
“It’s not an accurate reflection of a regular service.”
They are a food blogger, which suggests they at least think they know a thing or two about cuisine and dining out – I don’t doubt many are knowledgeable and impressive wordsmiths. If anything, you’d think they were being more critical than the average diner. But they’ve ‘lucked out’ every time?
Ok, maybe they just don’t publish the negative ones. You’d have to be insensitive to take a free meal from an independent and then highlight its flaws in return.
Maybe it’s a fear of reprisal – even at a subconscious level, if you’re motivated by free meals, then your instinct will be to keep ‘em sweet.
And let’s not forget, even if they are being “transparent,” this is a ‘guest night’, it’s not an accurate reflection of a regular service.
Let’s be fair a meal out doesn’t cost that much (surely their time and effort is worth more – mine definitely is) – and if you want to help build a healthy food scene, you’d pay your way, right? So what’s the motivation?
But I’ve changed my ways (worth a h-tag interruption)
Ah, maybe this was one of them.
I find it amusing when a blogger goes to great lengths (or keeps banging on about it on Twitter) to highlight that they no longer accept guest invites…
It’s effectively an admission that accepting freebies hitherto had influenced their content – in fact, they’ll state that was the case.
If nothing else, it reeks of arrogance – “Now I’ve got nearly 8000 Twitter followers…” [even they realised how ridiculous it looked and stopped following other people at 4000] “I can write what I want…”
If they are now claiming 100% honest critiques, then what were they providing before?
Never mind, they’ve now established themselves as an a-list blogger, so “whatever.”
Show me the money
Sponsored posts and #presstrips are more prevalent in those food/travel hybrids (ahem, not like mine… of course). You’ll have seen them on Instagram: “Oh, wow – McDonald’s do table service now, so helpful I didn’t have to stand up for a few minutes…” – cue comments from 10 individuals who clearly have no interest in the ‘advert’, but are keen to take any opportunity to boost their Instagram followers in the hope they’ll get a free night away.
Again, you won’t see a negative word about anyone or anything on these websites or social media profiles (unless there’s a social media outcry they can take advantage of) – lots of nice visuals; happy, smiley thoughts, but it’s all very calculated and depressing…
“I don’t doubt their commitment to pitching and ensuring a good ROI for the PR company.”
Unquestionably, the motivation is self-gain vs. reader education.
To be fair, it’s not like their intentions are cleverly disguised – I’m more surprised by how many participate in the charade (PR companies must have a lot of surplus budget to get rid of).
Many admit that they are obliged to deliver a return on the company’s investment – arguing that they couldn’t afford it otherwise, and they put a lot of time and effort into it. They’ll admit it’s their job.
I don’t doubt their commitment to pitching and ensuring a good ROI for the PR company (these are impressive marketeers) – but I don’t see the value to the reader.
Sure, like one of their pics (they tend to be quite sensitive – I was blocked instantly on Twitter by The Rare Welsh Bit for innocently replying to the hyperbole from one #presstrip) but move along.
It’s not for you.
But people love me!
Wow – 6000 followers…
And they only follow… oh, 5500 accounts.
But their latest post got… 1 like.
You don’t need me to spell it out for you.
Some bloggers have highlighted the problem of purchasing fake followers, but there are other questionable tactics being adopted to elevate numbers.
If you’re wondering why they’d bother following that many accounts, when they are unlikely to ever see them in their news feed, then you clearly haven’t been paying attention – scroll back up!
Do you want to join our gang?
I don’t want to say it’s a bit cliquey, but…a friend did when I first started this blog.
You don’t have to dig deep (@cdfblogs – hint, hint) on social media to know who’s in ‘the circle’ and which restaurants you’ll never read a bad word against (if you do investigate, you may find that they work in PR… for some of those very restaurants… okay…).
If it’s a travel blog, it tends to be more obviously premeditated and fake.
For out’n’out food bloggers, I’d argue it’s less calculated – they love food and food people, feel a sense of community and support, and celebrity selfies? Well, apparently, that’s a joy.
They may even fear the repercussions, of being ostracized by ‘the community’ – even in the short-time I’ve been running this blog (before I even published this particular blog), there have clear attempts to undermine me (some sly, some just funny as…). But that’s for another blog…
Whatever the reason, once someone becomes allied to individuals or venues, through fear, friendships or financial incentives, there’s a conflict of interest – an inevitable compromise.
Update: After/despite posting this article, I was contacted by a restaurant who wanted to discuss ways we could “mutually support” each other – apparently it’s an agreement they have in place with other bloggers (you can’t make this stuff up!).
But look at what we were given…you miserable git!
I appreciate you may just want to look at nice pictures and read nice things from someone’s VIP meal or night away…
No, I don’t – I think you’re daft. You’re going to learn more from the comments on a company’s Facebook page.
It’s advertising – plain and simple.
But it’s not just the lack of value on offer to the reader that I have an issue with. When it comes to the food scene specifically, I’d argue it’s damaging for the chefs and the restaurants that are offering great food and dining experiences. Diners feel disappointed when they get the ‘reality’ of an endorsement, and the good restaurants lose custom to the bad.
As I said in my previous random burp on the perils of food blogging, I’m keen to ensure every review that appears on this website is completely independent. I hope people find that refreshing, but I know some may find it a challenge – highlighting faults in an independent restaurant isn’t easy. Either way, I’ll have at least paid for my meal (I won’t have a choice with articles like these).