End of 2003, I gave an interview to local magazine HRI about how restaurants should handle freebie requests from bloggers. While I stand by my position, maybe because of a limited word count, my comments were condensed and reduced to the bare essentials, with none of the larger, more nuanced back story. Given that this blog provides me with as much space as I want, I thought I’d take it online and clarify some.
Let’s start with 2 excerpts (my translation)
“Bloggers, these newcomers to the restaurant and hotel business, are neither journalists nor critics, and their role rather unclear. Restaurant and hotel owners are somewhat perplexed by freebie requests. What to do?”
“Blogger Lynne Faubert is categorical: Those who ask for freebies are bad bloggers; they are the freeloaders of the blogging community and very badly perceived. Restaurants should refuse any request from such bloggers with no consideration to their reputation. Their refusal will have no consequence since these bloggers have few followers, and a lack of readership which should not concern restaurateurs. In general, these bloggers don’t last very long.”
The famous back story
At the time of the interview, controversy had just erupted around a Philadelphia blogger who was caught with her bloomers down when she asked restaurants for a free Christmas eve shindig for her amazing family in exchange for positive reviews (see here for an article about the whole matter; BTW the blogger and her website seem to have survived the controversy, crazy). One of the restaurants thus petitioned chose to broadcast the email and expose the blogger to the ridicule she so earnestly sought. This anecdote explains my position at the time of the interview, which may be resumed so:
You’re a restaurant owner and a blogger offers you a 100% guaranteed positive review in exchange for a free meal? Hum, run, man/woman, run. Because chances are, one of these days, another restaurant will lose it and expose this blogger to public ridicule. If the review written about you is 2 years old, congrats, you probably got some mileage out of it. But if it was posted 2 weeks ago, that’s the sound of your own bloomers flirting with the pavement.
I have seen blogs (that shall remain nameless because I would hate to drive up their Google Analytics) which tell restaurants, on their very home page, that they would gladly provide a review “upon invitation”. They’re the freeloaders I referred to in the HRI article, fauxblicists that seemed to have created their blogue for the expressed purpose of eating on the house.
During the interview, I suggested instead that restaurants organize tasting evenings, to present a new menu for example; a more costly formula, yes, but one above suspicion. Many are already doing so in fact. This way, key bloggers are invited. They write or tweet about the event if they liked what they saw, all above board. It’s good ole PR, the blogging equivalent of press junkets where “Travel expenses are covered by so and so” — without which today’s money-pinching magazines and newspapers could never cover the food, fashion, travel or movie beat.
As a magazine columnist with a personal blog, I receive loads of invitations and free products from restaurants, hotels or manufacturers that want me to write about it here. I attend a few restaurant openings (as a 450 mom, I have little time but I try), cook with the latest olive oil and may soon need to invest in new bookcases… Like most veteran bloggers, I provide full disclosure about the free nature of products and invitations. Actually, some bloggers even have an “Editorial Policy” tab on their website, always a good sign. (Yes, yes, I know, mine is coming whenever I update my blog’s template which, let’s face it, may not be that soon because it’s darn expensive).
Without wanting to sound like I’m pitying the oh-so-poor bloggers, it bears remembering that most are ordinary people like you and me, with limited means, who blog for fun. It’s not cheap to bring a family of 4 museum-hopping, apple a’picking, sugar shacking and whatnot, every Sunday if you please, to feed that blog on family life for example. Consistency is the lifeblood of any blog. If you’re not blogging on a regular basis, say goodbye to faithful readers, potential advertising and self-financing. Why do bloggers seek advertisers? Believe me, ad revenues rarely add up to a living, but they help to finance those contents that keep you coming back. It might be the new incarnation of a saying which had my old university teachers turn green at the gills: Publish or perish.
You don’t need me to say that these are changing times. Traditional newspapers are closing one after the other, foodies looking for a restaurant turn to Yelp, and bloggers are treated more and more like mainstream media. It’s a big learning curve for all and when the tide keeps shifting, finding the ground under your feet becomes quite the exploit. With 6000 restaurants in Montreal alone vying for coverage, it’s anybody’s guess how the dust will settle…