I recently saw a dialogue that appeared on a Facebook Group page for an organized outing. The organization was approached by a restaurant to have its member bloggers sample food, with a guaranteed blog post on each blog after said free meal. What’s wrong with this picture? What if you don’t’ like the food? What do you then?
When some group members questioned the expectation, they were told they could shy away from a positive view in exchange for an informational post. That seems drab and a bit calculated (more mentions on blogs and social media are good for the restaurant).
I feel for the restaurants, I really do. One of the most missed experiences I have is the seasonal menu tastings that Seasons 52 used to do for bloggers. They hosted us + a guest in their private dining room and we were privy to a special screening with Master Sommelier George Miliotes to discuss the well thought out wine and cocktails paired with the multi-course meal we were about to sample. The service and food was impeccable (and each dish is under 475 calories I might add), yet most bloggers failed to ever write anything. Although Seasons 52 never admitted it, I can’t help but feel this is why they stopped doing these exceptional events for bloggers.
Here’s the restaurant / publicity company perspective:
You mean we just send one email out to a person who handles inviting all the other bloggers? And each and every blogger we invite will absolutely write a blog post? Yippee! This is win-win for us!
As a blogger, I only attend events I have the full intention of writing about. Did you read that word “intention”? While it is unfair to take a free meal at a restaurant knowing you will not write a word, it is also unfair to your readers to write something that isn’t your true sentiment. I also organize monthly blogger dinners and adhere to a “no pressure to post” motto. The restaurants trust that I’m inviting bloggers that I’ve personally vetted to be ethical and use their best judgement when it comes to reviewing.
To get another opinion, I contacted Dianne Jacob, author of Will Write For Food, speaker and educator on food writing and blogging. Here’s what she had to say:
AoFB: What is your opinion on bloggers who attend a complimentary tasting or meal with the understanding that they must write a blog post about the meal?
DJ: I can see how the restaurant would want that, but I would not agree to attend with that stipulation.
AoFB: What do you think of restaurants or PR companies that stipulate this as a requirement for hosting a blogger for a meal?
DJ: They are trying to do what they think is best. It’s up to bloggers to do what they think is best too. It’s their blog, and they should not feel obligated to write a post, especially a complimentary one, in exchange for a meal.
AoFB: What effect does this requirement of a post per meal have on the food writing industry?
DJ: Bloggers have a reputation for being pushovers. It makes readers take their opinions with a grain of salt. Many are not confident about their skill level in evaluating dishes, so it is easier to write a positive piece about attending an event than to make critical decisions about the food and restaurant.
One member of that group commented on the facebook conversation, saying that restaurants often expect a glowing blog post if they are hosting bloggers even the experience is less than satisfactory. This brings up a good point. Restaurants sometimes view bloggers as low hanging fruit. Sorry, but it is true. They believe that since we are not paid journalists, then we should gladly write a positive review in exchange for a free meal. One publicist even went so far as to send a blogger friend of mine a nasty email stating “Why would you attend the dinner if you didn’t intend on writing a blog post?” when she chose not to write anything after a disappointing meal. Hey buddy, take a hint, we were being kind by NOT writing.
And restaurants, here’s why these are the bloggers you don’t want at your restaurants:
The blogosphere is vast and diverse. Not all bloggers are created equal. Sheer numbers of social media followers don’t tell the full story. The trustworthy bloggers have carefully nurtured a relationship with their readers and won’t take chances to screw that up. That means not taking a free meal with a promise of a shallow review. The ones that do write an honest review are the ones whose readers will take action and show up at your restaurant.
Of course a complimentary meal and a good review are not mutually exclusive for ethical bloggers. After all, how many bloggers can afford $100+ dinner 4-5 times per month? But that doesn’t mean you should gush on and on about the restaurant. If you like the food – super – share that with your readers. If you didn’t like it and don’t plan on writing you at least owe the restaurant or publicist that invited you an explanation of why.
There seems to be a tipping point right now in food blogging. Are food bloggers going to continue to stay relevant? How do we rise above the noise while growing and nuturing readers? While our association provides guidelines of ethics to follow, at some point, you, the blogger, have to take responsibility for your blog, brand and writing and decide what your personal ethics are.