The Growing Divide against Food Bloggers

At first glance, I thought it was just another “Oh, teh ev1l food bloggerz!! Theyz R ruining food cr1t1cs!” type of article. But the more I read into this post in the Wall Street Journal about food blogs, the more I believe that there is something more at play.

Yes, yes, it does cover the borderline behaviors of both food bloggers and restaurant publicists.

Dine, a contemporary American restaurant in Chicago, has been open for less than two years. But on one popular Web site, it is already rated half a star shy of Charlie Trotter’s.

How did Dine garner such favorable reviews? One thing that probably didn’t hurt: It fed many of the reviewers free. Last August, Dine spent about $1,500 on an event for members of Yelp, a Web site where consumers post reviews and rate restaurants. The nearly 100 members were treated to an open bar, duck roulade appetizers and red velvet cupcakes for dessert. As a bonus, they all received certificates for discounts on subsequent meals. The result: a torrent of favorable reviews on Yelp.

And once again, there seems to be some confusion as to what is a food blog and what is not (hint, Amateur Gourmet and Chocolate and Zucchini – yes; Yelp and eGullet – no)

But buried in the article was this paragraph:

Chefs say there’s another upside to getting chummy with bloggers: advice on improving the food. In San Francisco, Chef Robbie Lewis of Bacar restaurant says he considers Ms. Gagliardi, of Tablehopper, “a friend” at this point. After hosting her at a “friends and family dinner” — a meal to try out new dishes on close associates about a month after starting as the executive chef at the restaurant — Mr. Lewis took her advice. He changed the way he plated a roasted baby leek dish, so it was easier for diners to get a taste of poached egg and sauce with each bite.

This leads me to a very simple question:

Isn’t this good for business? If a restaurant is able to improve a product based on anyone’s input, let alone a food blogger, isn’t that a good thing? (okay, that was two questions.)

What I’m seeing when I read these articles on “The evil food bloggers” is that on some level, Internet food writing (be they on blogs or forums) is challenging and exposing some of the “journalistic” aspects and beliefs of food writing that have been ensconced in the community since the days of Craig Claiborne.

Gone are the days when one or two people in a city can tell us which restaurants are worth going to and which are not. This was a system that was always flawed, mostly due to the inability of the reviewers to cover every restaurant in their respective cities. Now one can find a review on the smallest and most hidden of places.

When the masses have the ability to review, then you’re going to end up with “Dine, a contemporary American restaurant in Chicago…is already rated half a star shy of Charlie Trotter’s”.

Why? For one, a four star rating scale can never adequately reflect the differences between restaurants. But let’s leave that aside for now.

The other reasons are that taste is subjective, and most consumers do not care about the nuances that a great restaurant can provide. Simply put, your typical consumer may enjoy a great meal at a four star restaurant, but often a good meal at a three star will suffice. For a typical restaurant patron, the expectations before going into either restaurant are likely remarkably similar, and equally likely, just as simple to meet.

But I think that the biggest lesson here is that maybe, just maybe, consumers have never cared for food as much as restaurant reviewers. And while food critics may be able to explore the quality of the service and appreciate the layout of the restaurant and how it reflects the mood of the food; to the typical person who reads their review, all they want to know is “Is the food good?”

Internet food writers have been able to provide that answer more efficiently, to more restaurants, than ever before.