Last week, The Baltimore Sun's Laura Vozzella commented in her "Dining@Large" column that she has been receiving invitations to dine for free at local restaurants. This started a discussion between the D@L peanut gallery and a few bloggers, including me. While reading the rather contentious comments, I was astonished to find out that there are bloggers who solicit free meals from restaurants in exchange for writing about the food.
While I find that outrageous and unethical, I don't really have a problem with attending blogger dinners. From what I can tell, these are usually held by brand-new restaurants with a handsome PR budget who wisely understand that word-of-mouth via teh Innerwebs is the fastest and easiest way to tell the world that their food is all that. And as long as the blogger discloses that they have eaten for free at a publicity event, I see nothing wrong with it. The fact that it is a PR event should let the reader know that the food for that occasion may well be of a higher standard than on other nights, and they should feel free to take the write-up as seriously or un-seriously as they like.
I have only been to two PR meals, one of which was a sushi tour of Towson, and the other was at Phillips. The first event was a way to attract people to Towson by touting the area as a sushi-eater's destination. (Being such a noob in the world of PR dining, I brought a bunch of money in case I had to pay for my sushi. Silly me!) I was not only happy to promote my town, but I was also pleased to be presented with the opportunity to taste a sampling from the area's sushi restaurants. Mr Minx and I are always on the lookout for a restaurant to become our go-to, and after tasting the tuna tartare and squid salad at Kyodai, we've found it. The sushi being free was really just a bonus. As for Phillips, I understood that dinner to be a way for the restaurant to shed its unappealing tourist-only label and attract some local diners. While I don't know how successful the ploy was, considering few bloggers showed up, I can appreciate the effort. And apart from the amateurish attempt at tuna tartare, the food was good.
This practice of feeding bloggers is much more agreeable than merely sending out press releases and expecting us to blindly post the information. If I haven't eaten at your restaurant, why on earth would I want to promote it? Suppose someone sees my post about XYZ restaurant, eats there, and finds a hair or bug in the food? Or has some other unpleasant experience? Wanna bet I'd be hearing about it? It's bad enough I risk these things when I talk about a restaurant I've visited, but I promise that I'm honest in my observations and if you've had a different experience, I would like to hear about it. (And I'd like to hear if you have similar experiences as well.)
Likewise with products. PR firms do solicit me to mention various things on my Web site, and I do so only if I can honestly support the product. I drink vitaminwater and use True Lemon. I talk about Starbucks because I go there every day. And my "Product of the Week" postings are mine alone, prompted only by my love of the item in question, be it Sriracha or Utz potato chips.
Despite being around for nearly 5 years, MinxEats still seems to slip below the radar of many local PR firms, so it's hard to tell if I ever will have free food in my future. If I do, however, you can rest assured that I will provide full disclosure, and if I find any dish to be particularly worth mentioning, good or bad, you'll read it here.
Thanks for your continued readership. Please tell your friends about MinxEats (shameless plug).
Ugh, I can't believe there are bloggers that contact restaurants for free food...that just sounds so entitled.
I think I probably came off a little harsh in my post on D@L. I don't have a problem with reviewers taking free meals, as long as they disclose they are free, and offer an honest opinion. My point in talking about my surprise at getting those free meal solicitations was that I don't even review restaurants, so I'm not sure why I'm on those lists.
People taking free stuff and then not being honest when they review is a pet peeve of mine. I review products for a large online retailer. I get the stuff for free, but if I hate something I say it, and the website clearly identifies what reviews are done by people who get the stuff for free. I think it's the only way for people to know the view might be skewed.
When I commented on the post, I said I was sure that none of MY blogger friends do such a thing. I just can't imagine having the balls to do that.
Beth - I understood your POV completely. You just sounded incredulous that as someone who never writes about restaurants why you would still get invites. It matches my incredulity that I *do* write about restaurants yet am always excluded. (Sometimes I think I'm secretly blacklisted.)
I've been following the post about the bloggers and free food. Go back five years when people read newspapers and there were more around. All print media is in trouble. The bloggers are the new source of news in any specific category. Not only our blog posts, but our tweets, Facebook coverage...it is the new media.
Whether we have the credentials to write on the subject is never questioned though for some it should. I respect you Minx, Nakiya, Beth and others in our crowd but I cringe at the few who are greedy with hands outstretched for the free meal for a column post and don't even bother to tip the servers and rarely mention the meal was comp'd.
Dara - I see where bloggers' credentials are questioned fairly frequently, but never have I seen mentioned what exactly should these credentials entail. I even posed this question to the D@L gang and nobody bothered to answer. A blog is a personal thing, we work for ourselves. "Credentials" is a meaningless term. It's even become fairly meaningless for mainstream journalism. Take Jayson Blair, for example - as a writer for the NYT, he presumably had credentials. And he was a plagiarist.
People who read blogs, such as D@L, yet dismiss bloggers, are hypocrites.
When I say credentials, just because you post something on the blog doesn't mean anyone reads it. We all have analytics on our pages.
When a blogger asks a restaurant for a free meal for a column post it behooves the restaurateur to check out what the person is writing and to get their stats. Does it make sense to comp a meal to someone who gets 20 hits a day if that much and who are those 20 hits. That is what I meant and maybe the word should have been analytics rather than credentials.
I see what you're saying, Dara. Makes sense to know the scope of one's audience!
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