Do the opinions of food bloggers matter?

15

Today in her guest post, Clare from The Vegetarian Experience examines whether the views of food bloggers and reviewers really matter to the food industry.

Clare says:

Our family eats out quite often so I regularly review restaurants on my blog. Unless specified in the review, I always pay for my meal. I am therefore giving the restaurant feedback on my experiences of their establishment as a customer, in terms of food, service, ambiance and other elements. Essentially, I am also providing them with free advertising by mentioning them on my blog, especially if the review is complementary. I always write my honest opinions about a restaurant in a fair and impartial way and I try to give constructive criticism if my experience wasn’t amazing.

When I review a restaurant, I use social media to let the owners or PRs know that I have eaten in their restaurant and have written a review of my experiences on my blog. Recently I reviewed a restaurant on my blog and sent it to the owners via social media. I have heard nothing from them in return, not even a “we read your review”. As a blogger and a paying guest, I take this to basically mean “we don’t care about your opinion and your feedback about our restaurant isn’t important”.

@Kateab says that “a business that ignores feedback is toeing a dangerous line”. She thinks that in order to succeed, businesses should have an ongoing dialogue with their customers.

So what is it that makes some restaurateurs think that customer feedback isn’t important?

Firstly, I know that not all restaurant owners think in this way. In fact, I know one UK restaurant brand who is currently asking bloggers to review their branches in order to improve the customer experience. This is great forward thinking on their part and shows that they are being customer focused.

However, many restaurants are not so open to food bloggers and reviewers. This week, I watched an episode of Kitchen Nightmares USA where British Chef Gordon Ramsay visits the Burger Kitchen in LA and tries to turn their restaurant around. The restaurant had received many negative reviews from bloggers and reviewers, all telling owner, Alan Saffron, that they had visited his restaurant and had a bad experience. He disbelieved their reviews. In the episode, Alan says of bloggers & reviewers “Every Yelper (reviewer) lies, they hurt and damage restaurants, they are deliberately attacking my restaurant”. Other restaurants like Rooz Coffee in Oakland, CA have started clearly displaying signs which state “No Yelper’s allowed”, inferring that they are not interested in the opinions of their customers. It would seem that the Yelp phenomenon is also alive and well in the UK, with people posting restaurant reviews on Yelp UK, in the same way that food bloggers are posting reviews on their own blogs.

In my opinion, it seems that many restaurants do not really evaluate their performance and the service that they are giving their clients. They may invite feedback in the form of “prize draw offers” for comments, but I wonder how many of them actually implement any changes and take heed of what their customers are telling them. I worked in a well known chain restaurant for five years where they asked for this kind of feedback and nothing ever changed, other than the high turnover of staff. When a customer complained, they would merely be appeased with a free meal, drinks or desserts. To me, this was extremely frustrating as they never addressed the root of the problem or aimed to rectify the bad practice.

Aly, @plus2point4, a former Chef says that “people should be vocal, whether at the time of the meal or via reviews”. She also thinks that Restaurateurs should start paying more attention to their customers and act upon complaints. Gordon Ramsay says that if there are complaints about a restaurant then “we’ve got it wrong…..so we move, we change course, we take Yelp (reviews) as an advantage to reposition ourselves and we listen, that’s what we do”.

When I write a review of an eatery on my blog I am offering my honest opinion. I am not going to a restaurant to deliberately have a bad time. I visit a variety of different restaurants, serving all kinds of food in many price brackets, and sadly it seems that my experiences are often negative. The standard of cleanliness and service varies, as does the quality and taste of the food, and it is not dependent on how much I am paying for my meal. When I am in a restaurant as well as assessing the food and service, I always take a look at the decor and cleanliness of a restaurant. I sometimes find sticky tables, dirty walls and ladies facilities with water logged, mildew smelling carpets and cheap air freshener trying to cover it up. If restaurant owners keep customer areas in such a bad condition, what does this say about the state of their kitchens? How can they be surprised that they are being given a bad review?

As a food blogger, if I write a less than outstanding review about a restaurant, or complain about an aspect of the restaurant whilst I am there, I am not a freeloader looking to be compensated with a free meal or insincere gestures. I am offering genuine feedback in the hope that the restaurant will take my comments on board and improve their practice. I want restaurants to be successful and have a great reputation. I want to dine out and receive great service and delicious food. I want to take pictures of amazing, appetising dishes to post on my blog and write about the fantastic time I have had at a restaurant. I would hope that restaurant owners would start to take the comments of food bloggers on board. If they get a good review, I would hope that they would be pleased. If the review is not so good, I would hope that they would evaluate the review and act on the feedback constructively.

Graeme Taylor who tweets as @Scotslarder commented to me that food bloggers have “passion with no paycheck…..just the love of sharing good food” which is why we are so important to the food industry. I couldn’t agree more.

What do you think? Do you review restaurants as a food blogger? Are enough restaurants & eateries open to food bloggers? Do they take comments on board or are food bloggers arrogant to think that the food industry should act upon their opinions?

Sally is the publisher of Foodies100, the UK's largest directory of brilliant UK food and drink blogs and bloggers. Every day of the week, we promote the UK's best and most exciting blogs about food and drink.

Discussion15 Comments

  1. Heard an interesting quote the other day which said that the credit crunch is basically acting as ‘a giant version of the Good Food Guide.’ As a nation we’re becoming more discerning about what we eat and more careful about how we spend our money. The rise of blogging and ‘yelpers’ has given us more scope to find out whether or not we should bother going to a restaurant in the first place. Furthermore, watching programmes on the food network, we can see how important the opinion of bloggers are in the US as they’re regularly asked to appear on shows such as Eat St. If restaurants in this country want to ignore this phenomenon, they do so at their peril. It will be them, not the bloggers, who lose out.

  2. A very famous cupcake chain in London ignored a very positive review of mine on my blog. I was disappointed that they didn’t even acknowledge it, particularly because I know my blog inspired some of my friends and Twitter followers to go to this particular place. Part of me was tempted to ask them why they didn’t say thank you, but I didn’t want to come across as cheeky or rude.

    Conversely, a burrito restaurants offered me help with the blog prior to me writing it, were lovely in their praise, thanked me and re-tweeted the link to my blog, so it shows that not all places are dismissive of bloggers. A simple thank you means so much to bloggers 🙂

  3. Completely sympathise and it’s great to be blogging about experience but I think you’re missing the point that many restaurants don’t engage in social media and if they start doing that then they need to have the resources to do it properly. It’s not easy to have someone manage the feeds, respond and also generate content.

    I believe that blogging is about telling people about your experiences and shouldn’t be for the restaurant to comment back – if they do then great.

    • foodies100

      That’s a good point – perhaps many restaurants don’t the the time or resources to acknowledge bloggers and their reviews.

  4. I suppose its the same with any aspect of blogging, I buy such and such a product Food or non food) and use it for a few weeks and then have written up a post on why findings as much for others to make up their mind as any other reason. I send a link to their Customer service dept, again not for thanks but to let them know good and bad points.

    • foodies100

      Yes, that’s true. Perhaps we should just assume that they read it but are too busy to acknowledge.

  5. It’s a tough one – I’ve had restaurants approach me to do reviews, but I find it annoying when the restaurant knows that you are reviewing it.

    I haven’t had any posts by restaurants RT’d so who knows what they are aiming for! R

    eviews are so hard because you could go on one day and the food/service is good and on another day it could be bad. If you are offering helpful criticism, ie the vegetarian menu is too limited they should definitely take it on board.

    I’m not sure blogs are the best vehicle for reviews – they don’t generate much traffic as a one-pff post. Better to register for an actual review site and add your comments that way more people willl take notice.

    • foodies100

      That’s interesting. So perhaps bloggers should be using sites other than their own to leave feedback?

  6. I once had a terrible experience at a restaurant – not because the food was bad, but simple to fix things were done badly (like the height of chairs compared to the table, the lack of light to see, not clearly starter plates before bringing mains) and so after writing my review, I emailed it to the restaurant.

    I never heard back and I’ve never been back to reassess if they improved things, but at least I gave them the opportunity to understand why I wont return and fix things for other diners.

  7. Isn’t it slightly narcissistic to expect a reply? Slightly different if you had sent a private email, thanking the restaurant/chef, but to post something on a blog and then say “Hey look at me, I said some nice things about you” does smack a bit of ego boosting.

    • foodies100

      Interesting point. Acknowledging the post would be nice but perhaps should not be an expectation from bloggers?

  8. If the blog has quite a large reach the impact can be big. If you say a restaurant is basically rubbish, and your review is read by 1,000 people, many of them will have doubts about going to the restaurant and may prefer to play it safe and go somewhere else instead.

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