I’ve been reading a lot of posts online recently about how much value PR companies, and more specifically bloggers, bring to the food industry. As a relatively new blogger, I thought I’d add my perspective and bring a bit of transparency to how LewisLoves chooses what and what not to say. I’ll caveat this up front by saying this is simply my view and may well not be representative of other bloggers.
Why do we blog?
One of the main reasons for starting LewisLoves was to share our love and passion for local businesses. Sarah and I don’t make any money from it and we’re not particularly interested in becoming local “celebrities”. What we are interested in is meeting local producers and establishments who have a great product. A product that deserves to be shared with as many lucky people as possible.
Sometimes these businesses are savvy enough to market their own brand and don’t need much help, although they are almost always glad of the continued support. However, for every King and Queen of the Retweets, there are many more small businesses who have something really special but can’t seem to get the message out there. We like to champion them to as many people as we can, whether that’s through social media or just badgering people down the pub. Maybe only one person will listen, but that’s one person who would otherwise have remained unaware of the hidden delights on their doorstep.
Why does my opinion as a blogger matter at all?
It would be entirely accurate to say that I am not qualified in any particular shape or form to pass judgement on other people’s food. I’m not a chef and the last time I looked, I didn’t have a hyper sensitive palate. I suspect most restaurant goers fall into the same category. I’m not too worried though as the one thing that I can do really well is be myself. I know my likes and dislikes and nobody can tell me otherwise.
So what does my new found skill bring to the blogging table? Well, I can share my consistent opinion with the wider world. Granted, one man’s chalk is another man’s cheese. In fact, life would be bloody boring if we all liked the same things and nobody tried anything new. But what if, whilst reading one of my reviews, you saw that I’d been somewhere that you liked? You clicked on my review and, against all the odds, we shared the same opinion. Perhaps then, you might think “hey Adam seems like a sensible chap; let’s see where else he recommends. Maybe I should try there too.” There’s a reasonable chance that you might like my recommendations. Equally, I’ll wager that you won’t like everywhere that I like. Even if we did both share an indescribable swell of love and emotion for that chocolate pudding.
The main thing is that it might encourage you to go out and try somewhere that you might not otherwise have found. After all, if it turns out that you don’t share the same tastes as the local newspaper food critic or the Michelin starred chef down the road, then for you it really doesn’t matter how “qualified” they are. Their recommendations will almost never be for you and you will be left playing the TripAdvisor lottery. If you’re heading this way from further afield then, if you’re lucky, you might get a recommendation from your hotel receptionist. If you’ve just met them though, how do you know that they share your good taste?
So how do we decide what to blog about?
I’ve already professed to being a huge fan of local businesses but that isn’t their golden ticket to a review. After all, being located close to my house is no good if I don’t like what they have to offer. I’m sure some people will try anything if it’s free but personally, I’d rather not waste my time or yours reviewing something that I don’t enjoy. I also absolutely use national and international chains when it’s convenient. There’s nothing sustainable about driving 30 minutes to pick up the one ingredient that you forgot for dinner. That said, I often drive 25 minutes each way on a Saturday morning for my favourite loaf of bread. And cruffins. Always cruffins. Love you Salt Bakehouse!
So having established that Sarah and I are neither traditionally qualified to critique or nor willing to blog about things that we dislike, what does influence our choice of blog posts?
Sarah and I regularly review places that we like returning to again and again. Why? Well I suspect, like most people, there is something special that keeps us coming back to our favourite haunts. In an attempt not to be selfish, it seems only right to share that special something with the world. It does backfire though; we recently recommended the top ten places to eat during the Cheltenham Literature Festival and then found ourselves unable to get a table at any of them. So I’ll apologise now; next time, I’m getting my reservation in first and then sharing the love!
We also get invited to plenty of bar and restaurant openings, or offered free product samples. We tend to avoid ones that we know won’t be our thing, but that still leaves plenty of potential blog material. Like everyone else, we also follow other people’s recommendations or occasionally just try somewhere on a whim. If it turns out to be love at first sight then it will often feature immediately on our social media and appear on a blog post shortly after.
How can we be sure that our experience is representative? Well, think about all the things that make something special. The ingredients have to be spot on, combined in the right way and delivered with genuinely passionate service. Realistically, it’s quite hard to fluke an amazing all round experience. Sure, there will be exceptions to this; sometimes we’ll go back and they never really recreate that initial magic. We’re pretty happy with the theory though and it generally comes up trumps.
Staying with that logic for the moment, let’s look at the other side of the equation. What could possibly go wrong and make an experience bad? Well, take your pick. Staff members might not turn up, other customers might be causing the sort of havoc that only the general public can, a supplier might have failed to deliver those all important ingredients as promised.
The problem might even lie with me; we’re all guilty of having bad moods or taking an irrational dislike to something incredibly trivial and then transferring that to everything. I still don’t frequent a certain Bristol restaurant because they had the audacity to smother my pizza in that most dreaded of herbs, coriander.
Getting back to my earlier point, this really put me off and if you are one of life’s coriander haters, it will probably make you think twice as well. Conversely, if you are one of those weird coriander lovers, you might well be wishing I’d just named the restaurant so you can make the trip right now!
So why don’t we blog about the bad meals on LewisLoves? Well, we’ve already established Sarah and I are not particularly qualified. That we might not share the same tastes. That we blog primarily to shout about outstanding local businesses who deserve to be recognised, not to tear those that don’t down. That it is pretty easy to accidentally ruin a meal. Personally, it doesn’t seem particularly fair then to condemn somewhere for all eternity when the next meal they serve might be the best you or I have ever eaten. Or when it might appeal to everyone’s taste buds except ours. If you really want to read negative comments before you go out for a meal, I can highly recommend TripAdvisor. You’ll find all sorts of imaginative reasons why people hate their meals.
The Really Bad
Being realistic, there are a plethora of restaurants just waiting to serve you mediocre or truly appalling food. The problem is categorically proving it. Sure, I’ll happily eat awesome food over and over again on your behalf. Hypocritically though, I won’t eat bad food repeatedly just to confirm that they are rubbish by design and not accident. Instead, both Sarah and I would rather feedback privately to the owners or manager. Generally the reaction is pretty positive. After all, it’s their livelihood. If nobody has pointed out the problem constructively, how would they know to fix it? They’re a chef, not a mind reader. Places that are happy to learn and adapt will usually turn out fine. Indeed, perhaps the time you or I next eat there, it might already have gone from zero to hero. If it has, you’ll probably read positively about it on the blog!
“There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Woop. I’ve finally put the endless Economics lectures at university to good use. My lecturers would be, well hopefully at least a tiny bit, proud. Ignoring my bastardisation of this theory for a moment, my point is that free stuff really isn’t free. Even locally in the Cotswolds, we have to drive to events, giving up our precious evenings or weekends. For events in Bristol, we have an hour’s drive afterwards and often don’t get home to bed until late. We both then wake up at 5am for our real life jobs. We also have to suffer the indignity of food getting cold whilst one us tries to take the perfect picture. Plus the sniffy looks from other customers.
It also takes a couple of hours to pull a post and accompanying social media together. Time I could spend doing housework, mowing the lawn….OK who I am kidding? I’d probably be sat watching Netflix and eating yet more food. It’s still my time though, and I resent wasting it on rubbish burgers, terrible service and £5 bottles of sparkling grape juice. You can rest assured that I certainly won’t waste yet more time writing a disingenuous blog post about it.