Man Versus Blog

Published:  May 24, 2010
Man Versus Blog

I’m one of those people. The ones who whip out a camera or phone when their meal arrives, and surreptitiously take photos of it. The ones who lean earnestly over their plate, asking their dining partner what they thought of their food (“I get that it’s nice, but what else is it?”) The ones who merrily eat, tweet, and repeat.

I’m a food blogger. What up?

Food blogging has been popular in the USA, Melbourne, and Sydney for several years, and is now slowly infiltrating Brisbane. It can be as simple as a website that shows photos of what you had for lunch, to recipe recaps and cooking tips, or to articles and reviews about restaurants and cafes.

Many people welcome us food bloggers with open arms. Most smarties will realise it can be a brilliant tool for PR and advertising for a product, café, or restaurant. Bloggers can write about something they enjoy, the public is kept informed, and companies can receive a large amount of exposure for a minimum amount of outlay. It’s an inexpensive form of promotion for new restaurants that may not have much of a cashflow yet, or it can be an ideal medium to utilise during quiet periods when regular journos are away. Everybody’s happy, right?

George Calombaris is not happy. The MasterChef judge and acclaimed restaurateur and chef made some comments a little while ago about food bloggers. “Critics know what they’re talking about. They’ve got a palate. They eat, that’s their job, that’s their living. (Bloggers) have no idea about restaurants. They’ve got no idea how they’re run,” says Calombaris.

While it’s been several months since Georgie made these comments, they have always bugged me and I have always really wanted to address them in a public forum. Enter this blog (hurrah! Are you seeing a pattern here of why blogs are so cool?)

George says food bloggers don’t have a palate. Last time I checked I’m pretty sure my face had not caved in, so it’s pretty clear I do have a palate in the literal sense. In the other sense – the tasting, appreciating, savouring sense – does George assume that since we don’t get paid to eat and critique, we haven’t developed a palate? That because the majority of bloggers review cheaper establishments, we haven’t experienced a range of cuisines and quality food? These questions immediately discredit his remark. It is because bloggers review such a wide variety of restaurants that we have good palates. Blogs go everywhere – the high, the low, the in-between, the kitchen, the street food in Asia, the grand Angus in Maccas. While a lot of professional food critics do review a range of high and medium end establishments, bloggers aren’t bound by publisher constraints, budgets, or editor decisions. We can choose to eat a $50 steak at Aria one night, or we might grab a $5 bowl of noodles the next. We don’t just eat fast food or cheap food. You’ll be hard pressed to find a food review blog that doesn’t explore a variety of cuisines and price points.

George points out that food critics eat for their job and to earn their keep. This is true. Every time a critic goes to a restaurant to review it, they’re in work mode. Everything is surveyed: the ambiance, the service, whether the waiter knows the wine. This is, of course, excellent, and I value the work that critics put into their reviews. Compare this to the blogger, however, and you’ll see the merit in both. The blogger is usually representative of your average diner. They like food, they want a good experience, and they want value and quality. They might not notice that the wine list doesn’t encompass a range of last year’s reds, but they will notice if the bar doesn’t have tap beer. They may not realise that it’s not the season for asparagus, but they will notice whether their steak is cooked correctly. Bloggers are brilliant because most of the time, they give a review that the everyman can relate to. Are the entrees big enough? Do I need to order sides? Can I afford a drink with my meal? This isn’t a business transaction for us; we’re doing it because it’s our hobby, our passion, and we enjoy it. We’re telling it how the average customer would – and isn’t that the target audience for any restaurant review? Plus, it’s not like we’re idiots – Kerry Heany of Eat, Drink + be Kerry owns a corporate writing business, and writes for various food publications. Not Quite Nigella was a Media Strategist before she turned to full time blogging. And – bit of shameless self-promotion here –  I work fulltime in corporate communications, and hold a Masters in Advertising.

Finally, George remarks that bloggers have no idea about restaurants or how they are run. Does he forget that his buddy, award-winning critic Matt Preston started life in sales and marketing? Or perhaps he should meet the plethora of food bloggers who have worked in restaurants before, like yours truly. Does he really expect that all restaurant critics have lived a life 100% in the restaurant and critic industry, exiting the womb while clutching a cloth napkin and screaming for the wine list?

I absolutely think there is a place for both professional restaurant critics and food bloggers. We both utilise different mediums, and we both often cater to different audiences. Blogs are ideal for convenience, for a last-minute “where can I get a cheap, good steak?” search, while professional reviews can be read with leisure, and perhaps filed away for future consideration. Blogs are light, often humorous, and usually appeal to everybody, while professional reviews can be more serious and use esoteric language.

My fellow bloggers and I will continue to snap blurry photos, jot down notes on the back of a grubby receipt, and tweet about the coffee we just had. Just as there is a place for comprehensive, professional reviews in glossy magazines, so too there is room for our little blogging mafia.


Ally runs EatDrinkBrisbane, a blog that reviews restaurants, cafes, bars, and products from Brisbane and beyond.

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8 Responses

  1. jllo

    I agree, I was a former online food reviewer in London, and initially I was surprised that my words actually held a lot of industry influence. Restauranteurs who appreciate their ‘everyday’ clientele are more likely to offer their diners a fulfilling dining experience – unlike George.
    P.S George, ease up on all the salt in your dishes at the Press Club, you offended my palette!

  2. I agree with you – my partner and I love a special night out and choose a fine dining establishment as our treat or place to celebrate.

    Because we’re paying, then of course we can give an ‘everyman’ critique. A newspaper’s review of a certain restaurant may sway some people but they also know that said reviewer’s meal was paid for.

    We recently had food orgasms at Aria restaurant (Brisbane) and you can bet we’ve passed the word around our friends, our Facebook, have been back since and will definitely be going back there again.

    These chefs might condemn us for our newly gained food ‘knowledge’, but they should also acknowledge that we now appreciate better food, better presentation and will pay more now that we know more.

  3. Dan MoFo

    I am neither a blogger nor a professional food critic, and I need not be either, nor do I need to lay claim to a highly refined and educated palate, in order to know that I was served one of the most overly salted meals of my life at one of George acclaimed establishments.

    I’m not going to blog about it, I’m not going to submit a review to any broadsheets or tabloids about it, I’m simply not going to part with my cash at that place again.

    Herein lies the one true power of the common punter; and it’s one power he should have an appreciation of lest more of us choose to do the same.

  4. jilo & Dan – yes! Glad you also think the common punter’s review has value.
    black eye – you used the word ‘food orgasm’. This is awesome. I like you.

  5. I tend to pay attention to what Ally of says because she doesn’t ‘mince’ words (pardon the anti-foodie expression!). She tells it like it is and therefore her influence is growing. No self-respecting restaurateur would want to see their offerings mentioned unfavourably on her blog. Power to ya, Ally! Restaurateurs, beware. Lift your game, because food bloggers are not like traditional food critics. They ARE your dining public!

  6. artsurgery

    George probably got a rough review by someone who actually paid for his food at Press Club.

  7. johno

    Who cares. clearly george smokes poles for breakfast.

  8. I love that restaurants are now publicly responsible for their offerings – so many times I had a disapointing meal or terrible service.. even rude… and so many times you have an amazing experience you want everyone else to support the place. go food blogging!

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