Food Bloggers: You’re Doing it Wrong

Our friends at the Spectator have finally gotten around to putting up a link to my piece about the generally lousy state of establishment restaurant criticism in Australia and what food bloggers could – but aren’t – doing to remedy the situation.

The problem, as I note, is that food bloggers in Australia, the US, and elsewhere (especially the ones at the top of the tree as measured by Urbanspoon rankings) are shockingly reluctant to deliver anything but glowing praise. Over at Corridor Kitchen, it was recently posited that the restaurant industry is down on food bloggers; I can’t imagine why. When was the last time you saw a food blogger say they had a lousy night out? It happens, but rarely.

Whether it is politesse, an unwillingness to admit that one spent hard-earned cash on a crummy meal, or the hope of freebies (one highly-ranked Sydney blogger openly advertises that he is “available for restaurant reviews, media launches, special events and product samples”), food bloggers aren’t willing to go against the grain of the publicity-industrial complex that overlays most major metropolitan food scenes. As I note in the Speccie,

There are nearly 500 ‘food bloggers’ registered with the restaurant review aggregator Urbanspoon.com in Sydney alone (I even recently joined their ranks), and as of this writing about 700 more in Melbourne. Yet weirdly, given that the internet has broken down users’ usual qualms about being measured and judicious everywhere else, like their professional counterparts Australia’s own army of hungry Davids is gun-shy. Random spins through most local food blog posts reveal nothing so much as a collection of hand-hewn Roget’s thesauruses entirely devoted to the word ‘delicious’.

Come on guys, I’ve eaten at the same places, and they’re not all that good. And even when they are, everyone has an off night.

So I propose a new manifesto for Australia’s food bloggers, one which I will be more than happy to lead. Don’t be afraid to get down and dirty. Don’t be afraid to admit that you just spent $500 to celebrate your anniversary and got treated by the waitstaff like you were unwelcome in-laws. Don’t be afraid to say that the hot new dish of the moment or restaurant of the week is nothing but a bunch of pretentious faff arranged prettily on a plate. Don’t worry that people won’t like you, or that if your site becomes really popular, no PR girl will ever call you up to attend a private tasting for the latest hipster hangout. If that’s your motivation, get a new hobby. Don’t be gratuitously rude, but also remember that as a would-be food writer, Tolstoy’s maxim about families also applies to meals. All the good ones are the same, but all the awful ones are unique in their own way.

As I say, this doesn’t mean everyone has to be down on everything all the time. But – to take one example – Mrs Prick and I recently went to Sixpenny, and while we had a really fantastic time, there were a few off-notes I was happy to call them out on as part of an otherwise praiseworthy review. Perhaps other local bloggers who’ve been recently just got lucky and had better nights. But if food bloggers want to be of some service to their readers, they’ve got to write about the bad and the ugly, and not just the good.

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6 Responses to Food Bloggers: You’re Doing it Wrong

  1. An interesting piece and I can’t say I disagree. In my opinion, there are a couple more really commonsense reasons that food blogs are overly positive.

    Firstly, I think that food bloggers are not always aiming to ‘review’ in the traditional sense, but rather to ‘share their finds’. Finding an awesome place and then sharing it with your readers feels like contributing. That said, if you go to some big name place and it’s not so great, I agree, say so.

    The second point concerns defamation law in Australia. If you do write something hideously negative, it is entirely possible that you’ll end up in court, forced to prove that the pork belly you ate really wasn’t that crash hot. ‘Not that crash hot’ being a fairly subjective term, I doubt you’d be able to wriggle out of it by proving the truth of your review. That said I think you’d have to be a pretty influential blogger to elicit that kind of response.

  2. Somebody that writes for Time Out Sydney said to me just the other day .. “You should rank your Sydney & the Reuben” list. I choose not to because consistency in food venues varies from day to day and from diner to diner. If something is unappealing in my eating experience, and I write about it, I make it known. If it’s an absolute shocker I don’t bother wasting my time and choose to not put it up on my blog. If something is shit I’ll tweet it rather than allocate time & make a post of it.

    As for sixpenny, what I had was a fucking great meal, worthy of praise. Maybe I lucked out and perhaps next time it’ll be less impressive. As we’re all inconsistent in our day to day jobs, who knows?

  3. Fitzroyalty says:

    Some of us self-appointed food bloggers don’t use Urbanspoon as we don’t like being required to advertise them in exchange for them listing our reviews. Some of us refuse all freebies and name and shame unprofessional PR agencies who assume all food bloggers are swag whores. Some of us value our independence and authenticity. Some of us have no commercial aspirations. And some of us do write negative reviews http://indolentdandy.net/fitzroyalty/2012/05/11/dinner-at-lime-303-in-albany/.

  4. I’m with John – it’s not worth the time, effort, free promo and potential litigation to blog about a crap meal/experience. It’s like you can’t win though – industry/restos pick you out for being overly critical and then others for being overly ‘nice’. Great article though 🙂

  5. a bog-standard bloke says:

    Much as I do so thoroughly enjoy your blog and in relative terms the Spectator is a small spend I won’t buy it. Why would I contribute to the pocket money of the likes of Latham?

    Otherwise I love your work.

  6. Liv says:

    I agree – to an extent. If I don’t enjoy a dining experience, I simply don’t recommend it, much the same way I wouldn’t go out of my way to talk about it to my friends. However, if it is actually awful, I’ll say so!

    Like Fitzroyalty, I have NEVER and will never accept money, freebies, or anything else for favourable blog posts – what’s the point in being a blogger if your opinions can’t be trusted as genuine? But maybe that’s why I’m still poor and can’t afford to eat at fancy places every night of the week, so have to blog about my home cooking sometimes too…

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