please blog responsibly June 2, 2010

Stepping on my soapbox here on RWT isn't something I often do. I've had my tongue in cheek rants in the past but they've still had a little levity. However, an exchange I had at the recent Taste of The Highlands event planted a seed in my brain that I just haven't been able to ignore. The owner of a fairly well regarded local restaurant approached our group – comprised of mostly non-restaurant review bloggers – and asked who we were. Once it was clear to him that we weren't part of the offending party, he revealed his disdain for the local food bloggers and the impact that their opinions – often based on quick glimpses at one time experiences – have on their business.

At the time, we all sort of gave each other the side-eye and went on about our business. The following week, as I read negative after negative review of Atlanta establishments (both new and longstanding), I have to admit there might be some truth to his argument. These days, the restaurant review bloggers can be considered an expert with no background in the etiquette or ethics of their field. Some folks are blogging irresponsibly. There. I said it.

Don't get me wrong…I'm all about the Internet being an open forum to express ideas and pass along information. I did it myself with this here blog. However, from day one, I've made the conscious choice to post about cooking, life stories, and unique experiences I can share with readers. When products are pitched to me, I immediately pass along the caveat that while I will try most anything a company wants to share with me, I will only present positive reviews and uses for their product on my blog. Why? Because being negative and controversial is too easy. Let's face it – there is a lot of mediocre out there, whether it's a product or restaurant or service. Spicy words and scathing reviews drive a lot more traffic to a blog than the warm-and-fuzzy stuff. It's much tougher to seek out the good stuff (and do real research) and highlight the positive – something bloggers like The Blissful Glutton have grown to do and earned a great deal of credibility & respect in the process.

The bloggers aren't the only ones to blame here. The excitement by companies and the faces of their PR machines caused them to jump on the food blog bandwagon as a way to get free publicity and peddle their wares. They've often not quantified who is qualified to speak on the topic of their business, their restaurant's style of cooking or the service they provide. Now, the pendulum has swung in favor of the bloggers and the weight they carry, much to the dismay of those representing a business who gets a review based on an off-night or a bad batch.We need to get to a point where those pushing restaurants and products really target those who best fit the image and market their trying to reach.

All I'm saying here, folks, is think before you type. I know this is demodé but cliches are around for a reason – there might be something to be said for not saying anything if you don't have something nice to say. Silence or lack of information about something often speaks volumes. At the very least, don't let your judgment be swayed by Google Analytics or the lure of free swag. Please continue to go out, stimulate the economy, and let people know how you feel about it…but do so in a way that is educated and well thought out. Visit a place more than once. Give things a second taste. Walk a busy service in their shoes. You'll be rewarded by a better blog, more credibility and the respect of the entire community.


Laura Scholz Jun 2, 2010 09:06 am

Amen, Tami! Tim and I had this conversation on the way home from the event. Yes, restaurant owners should pay attention to criticism and to bloggers and respond with grace. But there’s a difference between intelligent criticism and reckless sensationalism. And unfortunately, casual readers don’t notice the difference and like you said, it destroys everyone’s credibility. Beautifully written, and thank you for having the guts to write it.

The Broke Socialite Jun 2, 2010 09:06 am

Brava! (and usage of *side eye* is going for a cupcake per mention these days…I’ll take a red velvet one from West Egg. LOL!)

Andrea Soechting Jun 2, 2010 10:06 am

Cheers trailblazer! As a member of the audience, I try my best to read and promote intelligent, credible sources that engage the community. I encounter similar situations in the Interior Design profession, and can only hope that more bloggers share your passion on the topic.

jimmy Jun 2, 2010 11:06 am

now I’m digging through my RSS to see which post was the final straw that resulted in this post :)
I agree though, I don’t put much stock into the blogs that constantly pan restaurants and almost seem to seek out imperfections. It takes a long time to build a reputation as a critic, and for those that have done so, I appreciate the information I learn from their criticisms. They also seem to do it more eloquently and coherently. “The bread = meh” doesn’t really do much for me.
I often wonder if those that are so frequently critical get much joy out of their day to day meals?

Jon Jun 2, 2010 01:06 pm

Perhaps even worse are certain Yelpers (and Tweeters). For all the good that social media does, it has also created an entitled class of consumers who feel that if their every whim isn’t catered to, it is cause for online scorn. The difference, of course, is that bloggers have online (and offline) reputations that they’re more careful to protect (by writing more measured, reasonable reviews) while Yelpers (and Tweeters) seem to be less inclined to just take a deep breath and chill out.

Lee Jun 2, 2010 01:06 pm

One thing I try to remember when reviewing a restaurant is that the restaurant is someone’s baby. Perhaps it was a romantic dream to one day open a restaurant. Maybe a 401k was cashed out, an all-in wager of sorts in the form of a restaurant. So even if it is mediocre, craft your words carefully because they can hurt. As my mother used to say… if you can’t say anything nice then don’t say anything at all.

LTF Jun 2, 2010 02:06 pm

You scared me there for a second Tami! Assuming that every other restaurant-reviewer-blogger is as narcisstic as I am, I’d bet there are a lot of folks that are CONVINCED it was their review that set this off.
This is exactly why I come across as un-credible…I don’t want to be the snarky blogger that rejoices in slamming a restaurant, so I just write about food I like (98% of the time). Its one thing to be fair, and to call a spade a spade, but it is another to go looking for faults.
The only thing worse than an overly critical blogger is a Yelper. Those people are just downright mean.
I’m with Jimmy on this…Isn’t food blogging supposed to be for people that LOVE food? If you love it so much, why don’t you like anything that you eat?

Barbara Harris Jun 2, 2010 02:06 pm

Well said Tami. Some years ago I watched a good restaurant fail when they received a scathing review from the husband of a local and respected food critic.He’d written the review for her as some sort of “family joke”. The restaurant was a client of mine. It was owned and operated by three young and passionate individuals who had invested their hard earned money in their dream. The review was unfair and sensationalist. I’d eaten there the same week and enjoyed a great meal. It was years before I started blogging but seeing those three young people fail has made me very aware of how a few words can affect people’s livelihood.

Lynn @LynnATL Jun 2, 2010 03:06 pm

Tami, Thanks for putting this out on the table. It is way too easy to start typing and to use the blogging/twitter/yelp/etc podium in an unkind and unfair manner. Or to mistake off-the-cuff criticism for pithy thoughts. Like many of the prior commentors, I write about food to celebrate the joy of eating and cooking and to encourage others to find their way in the kitchen. As our mothers coached us, if you don’t have anything nice to say…

tami h. Jun 2, 2010 08:06 pm

Yes…one thing I didn’t want folks to think is that I assume restaurant owners are invincible. They need to pay attention to the feedback of customers….but that feedback needs to come from an intelligent point of view, an educated one and one that isn’t a snap judgement. Thanks for the nice words on the post!

tami h. Jun 2, 2010 08:06 pm

Thanks, dear! You have a strawberry came coming your way soon, I promise!

tami h. Jun 2, 2010 08:06 pm

Thank you for the support!

tami h. Jun 2, 2010 08:06 pm

i hope you know that you’re in the category of folks that i think do a really good job of providing balanced opinions. i had wanted to give you a shout out in the post…but i didnt want it to become a matter of pointing out too many yays or nays.
i agree about those seeking out negativity. between that and the general lack of vocabulary/finesse in discussing food, i feel like many of the blogs in that category are doing a disservice to those who put a good put of thought or work into their blogs.

tami h. Jun 2, 2010 08:06 pm

I purposefully avoiding bringing up the rabid Yelpers – it’s a phenom that I don’t even know how to address. I have been a contributor to Yelp…much more frequently in the past than I do now…and it’s because I feel like it’s become the true example of “opinions are like assholes….”. It’s democratization at it’s worst. The Twitter thing…I dont know how you avoid it. It’s the perfect vehicle for the negative, attention seeking, trigger happy consumer. How do you balance all of it?

tami h. Jun 2, 2010 08:06 pm

Precisely. This is the child…the creation of SOMEONE. Not everyone is cut out to cook, to provide a service, to be in the public eye…but they choose to take that risk…and they deserve to be given a chance to succeed. I don’t think those business owners are invincible nor do I think they don’t have to answer to criticisms…but at some point…making a point about the quality of their business with your own disposable income is much more powerful than some pseudo-anonymous review.

tami h. Jun 2, 2010 08:06 pm

The difference is that you actually CARED if it was about you! I’m glad we spoke briefly today – thanks for reaching out.
Don’t EVEN get my started on Yelp. I’ve reduced my Yelp activity down to next to nothing due to the busch-league, amateurish BS that happens there…
– t*

tami h. Jun 2, 2010 08:06 pm

…and unfortunately, we’ll have to see many other business never get off the ground because of the blog RACE to post THE FIRST REVIEW OF ______ before anyone else…knowing full well that its their first few days of service…or they got hit on an off night. It’s unfortunate and I want to just make my opinion heard about it. Thanks for stopping by :)
– t*

tami h. Jun 2, 2010 08:06 pm

Thank you for coming by and showing your support. I’m glad that most reactions to this post have been in agreement or at least positive & open-minded. We DO write and use our blogs to celebrate all the things that food and the experiences bring to us…at least *I* do…and I know *you* do as well.
– t* Jun 2, 2010 10:06 pm

I like the picture, nice job

chris Jun 3, 2010 06:06 am

This is great, Tami! It brings me back to the conversation you and I had weeks ago. But, that was a conversation between you and me – I didn’t blog about it for all to be exposed to (not that I have a huge
We are all human, even the faces behind the doors of a restaurant, on the line, etc. One not-so-positive experience shouldn’t lead to caustic, irreversible criticism that cannot be reversed. There are three sides to every story and we need to remember that.
Thanks for posting much needed post. ;)

Lana @ Never Enough Thyme Jun 3, 2010 06:06 am

It would be a better world all round if people remembered to think before they speak, to not say anything if you can’t say something nice. This applies equally to all establishments that provide a service or sell a product. One bad experience, or perceived bad experience, should not be the basis for a judgment. Before you press “Publish,” put yourself in the other person’s shoes for a moment.

Russ Jun 3, 2010 07:06 am

Tami – I find that your approach (“I will only present positive reviews”) can be as singular and potentially misleading as the reckless blogging you criticize.
Surely, people should share their unvarnished opinion, whatever that may be.
If you check Kudzu or TripAdvisor (or any travel magazine) they are filled with uncritical reviews offering gushing praise. I suspect many of those anonymous reviews are authored by the owners or managers of these places. Have you ever seen a travel TV program or the Food Network ever criticize a place? No… everything is wonderful and awesome according to them. The hospitality and travel industry has a massive problem of cheerleading itself.
So the reckless problem has two sides to it, right?

Russ Jun 3, 2010 07:06 am

I disagree, Lana.
If a hotel offers poor service in some respect, and I talk to the manager and still receive no satisfaction I feel comfortable in reviewing the stay based on that one bad experience.

Collin Jun 3, 2010 08:06 am

If you are offering reviews that are only positive are you being honest with the people reading your reviews who are expecting a nonbiased review? There are ways to write about flaws in service or badly prepared service that does not reach rabid yelping.

Mark Jun 3, 2010 08:06 am

Crap! Are we supposed to be reading what the bloggers are writing instead of just looking at the pictures? Damn, there goes my weekend.
: )

foodnearsnellville Jun 3, 2010 09:06 am

I can’t speak for other bloggers or food blogs, but I went with a “no negative review” policy because I felt if I started posting bad restaurant reviews, any anger I felt (perhaps personal and not relevant to the average reader) would be amplified and the result no good for me or anyone else. I’m opinionated enough as it is.
But at another level I think the complaint, that review sites are trite and their opinions often shallow, is unfortunately missing the point. People make food decisions on the smallest of things, things like whim, or bias or style. I understand how a restauranteur who has spent man-years in his business can get irritated by the very trendiness of food choices, but this is an area where trends and style matters.
Take Tejano food, for example. Is it trendy, or is it just Tex Mex? Robb Walsh has covered this better than I can, and I toot his horn often. That doesn’t stop even the best critics from dismissing a restaurant from being “mere Tex Mex”.

jessica Jun 3, 2010 01:06 pm

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Thank you,
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bettyjoan Jun 3, 2010 03:06 pm

Tami, the issues you bring up in your post are why it takes me a zillion hours to write a “restaurant review” entry (and why I don’t do it as often as I go out to eat). Thank you for highlighting – on BOTH sides of the aisle, so to speak – the things that can get in the way of honest, interesting discourse. I appreciate what you bring to the conversation, my friend!

Karen Jun 4, 2010 10:06 am

Nice post! Thanks for addressing this topic. 2 things to add –
1) it is estimated that people are 20 times more likely to tell someone about a negative experience than a positive one. With so many blog/yelp posts you can just tell the person came home angry and spewed it out into a nasty post. So the negativity totally skews the whole system! Annoying.
2) on my own blog, I just talk about things I love. If I eat somewhere not great, forget it. I would rather just share great things than my mediocre or negative experiences.

StephieZ Jun 4, 2010 11:06 am

Nice post and while I think you make some good points, I agree with Russ…if you are only posting positives how can anyone trust you. You shouldn’t bash businesses just to bash them, but you should show that not all restaurants are all sunshine and rainbows. I am a Yelper and not as horrible as you people make us seem in your comments. Not all Yelpers hate on business for every little issue. I always keep an open mind; my father is a small business owner so I know the effect bad PR can have on a business. That being said I still accurately document my experiences good and bad and I always keep an open mind. Don’t believe me, feel free to search for me, but please don’t automatically label all people who use a certain site as negative, attention seeking, trigger happy consumers. Thanks

Michelle@TastyThailand Jun 6, 2010 09:06 pm

Absolutely agree. I write for a living, mostly articles on Thailand and reviews of restaurants, hotels etc. I am honest about my experiences as I expect others to be, as I think it’s less than honest to paint a rosy picture for my readers, who may try a restaurant after reading something I write and, not only waste their money but have a miserable experience.
I recently wrote a review on a restaurant in Bangkok, where I live, and ended up with three messages from the owner begging me to try other branches of his restaurant. As sad as that is, I stand by my review. I visited two locations several times before writing the review and the food was less than stellar. On my last visit, I even took a trusted friend and she disliked the food too.
But….I do live in Bangkok where, honestly, very few people take notice of reviews and, the last time I drove by, his restaurant was packed so my review didn’t hurt overly much :)

Michelle @ Taste As You Go Jun 9, 2010 09:06 am

The restaurant reviews that I write are always the ones that require the most energy because I try to present balanced information. I may not entirely like the food at a restaurant or the service (or both) but I try and keep everything in perspective — the chef may have been having an off night, etc. I very rarely slam a restaurant for things that rubbed me the wrong way because I know my viewpoint is just one in a thousand. Hopefully, the establishments I have reviewed have taken my opinions as constructive criticism and those people reading my reviews understand that I haven’t built a career out of writing those reviews.

What's the Harm? Jun 23, 2010 06:06 am

Here’s what the professional critics think on this subject.
Suprisingly, most don’t mind the amateurs, and some actually like the “everyman” opinions.

Leslie Cohen Jun 12, 2011 07:06 pm

Well, said and so correct. There is always something nice to say and even if there is not, try to be constructive and polite.

Happy to have stumbled across your blog. Shall happily add you to my favorites list.

PS—Love! the “side-eye”. -))

Susan Hillyer Nov 3, 2013 02:11 pm

Wasn’t this a recent broo ha ha when Martha made mention? See you brought light to this in 2010.