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).