As the internet explodes with self-proclaimed criticism, food has become an unexpected battleground.
There is noise. So much noise. A barely penetrating haze of shrill, impulsive, shameless voices. The attack of the Internet trolls? If you imagine a The Lord of the Rings-style scene, stop there. As always, the reality is considerably less romantic. For the “bad guys” are armed with nothing more dramatic than a disproportionate ego, a slight disdain for spell checking, and a propensity for caps lock.
As the internet explodes with self-proclaimed criticism, food has become an unexpected battleground. With the help of social media and blogging, a legion of “foodies” are taking hold of the once-consecrated “art” of restaurant criticism. Of course, it is questionable whether established critics – traditionally from the print media – should be the arbiter of good taste. However, this new strain of influencers has introduced an unexpected facet to the formally conventional discipline of evaluation. They are fast. They are laid back. And, very often, brutal.
Browsing through Zomato, Burrp, and food-centric Facebook groups, it highlights just how crude and often inarticulate this kind of criticism generated by social media can be. A random example? âOne of the worst dishes [sic] I have already tasted. After tasting it, my stomach is completely ruined. Let’s move on to a positive review: “Crazy awesome place with delicious delicacies [sic]. “
Obviously, even if you overlook what appears to be a grammar allergy, this new world for food review is riddled with problems. Yet no one can deny that it is becoming more and more popular. Especially when it comes to food bloggers, many of whom are multidimensional, operating on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, in addition to posting regularly on their blogs.
“There are accusations that these are monsters created by the public relations (PR) community,” said a public relations official, requesting anonymity. âBut restaurant reviews in the newspapers are rare these days. So how do you generate publicity for a client? There are both good bloggers and bad bloggers, she says, “some are advanced and objective, others are just looking for a free meal. But undeniably, these bloggers reach out to a different community than what professional critics target: ordinary people. And restaurants can’t just serve niche customers.
While there are a lot of bad amateur reviews making their way through the blogosphere, there are exceptions as well. A small group of committed food bloggers from across the country continue to eat out and regularly post about it, proving that an amateur’s opinion can be relevant. Pawan Soni’s popular Indian Food Freak (http://www.indianfoodfreak.com/), which serves as a platform for a group of bloggers, has around 20,000 people. âI started five years ago at a time when food blogs weren’t so trendy,â he says. âI am not a food critic; I am the voice of a customer.
Discussing their attitude to criticism, Soni says, âReaders expect you to be frank. We’re not just saying, âI didn’t like it. We try to explain what went wrong with a dish. He admits that, for many online reviewers, this has become a way to grab a free meal. âBut readers aren’t stupid. You can cheat on them once or twice, but after that they’ll be looking for bloggers they can relate to. Soni casually adds, âNone of the bloggers can increase or decrease by more than 10%. Considering the number of readers they have, in reality, these are pretty impressive numbers.
In Bangalore, Ruth D ‘Souza Prabhu (www.bangaloresrestaurants.com/) gets around 17,000 views per month. She insists that she is not into the “number game” and that she always does because she enjoys writing. The scene, she says, has changed rapidly over the years, especially after the food blogging boom a few years ago, when âBloggers Tablesâ (where food bloggers are invited to a restaurant to interact with the chef). ) have become popular. âAt one point, I don’t think anyone even read blogs; PR people only cared about how often their product was mentioned. Bloggers have given rave reviews so they have the restaurant’s mileage. And more invitations.
Chennai also saw the rapid rise of food bloggers in 2012, of which only a group is still active today. Dr Wasim Mohideen, a doctor who blogs as Chennai Foody (http://www.chennaifoody.com/), begins by stating that he still proudly calls himself a foodie. âTo me that means someone who loves to eat,â he says. “I think the word has gone wrong because of all these ‘foodies’ who assume that just because they love to eat food, they can write about it.”
Mohideen started writing for fun. âI used to post my reviews on orkut, and they were only read by 10-20 people. Then in 2011, he took a food photography course. âOnce I started posting good photos, it took off. Now I get about 45,000 hits per month. I see my role as a writer, not a critic. Traditionally, I don’t write bad reviews. I just want to describe my experience. Discussing the angst against ‘foodies’ on social media, he says, âI’m afraid this could, over a period of time, kill food blogging. But that means only the good will survive. In 2012, I knew about 50 food blogs in Chennai; only eight are still functional today.
Anoothi ââVishal, a food critic based in Delhi, says that “considering they have become a younger, faster and more mainstream alternative medium than the mainstream space, blogs could have redefined the scope of writing. on food in India â. However, she says, the quality tends to be “strictly pedestrian.” She adds: âTo be unregulated means free will; there is no accountabilityâ¦ âThe hotels, restaurants and public relations pampering these perceived new influencers mean that any individual can go out for a free meal with theirâ blogger âtag.
Chef Manu Chandra – Executive Chef and Partner, Monkey Bar (Bangalore and Delhi) and The Fatty Bao (Bangalore) and Executive Chef, Olive Beach, Bangalore – explains what worries him about these kinds of food writers. âIn many ways, food is the easiest and most tangible thing to tackle, but it’s hard to do it smartly. When it comes to restaurant reviews, I respect everyone’s opinion, but unreported food articles should not be published; they damage the establishment as well as the examiner’s credibility.
Like many other chefs, Chandra also hosts blogger tables. âOver the past decade, many newspapers have abandoned their culinary columns. This is the worst time to do it, given the size of food today, âhe says, explaining why chefs need to look beyond mainstream media. Bloggers’ tables, he warns, aren’t free meals. âI explain the menu, not just a sales pitch. It is as much an educational experience as it is for meâ¦ â
Of course, watching bloggers photograph their food for 20 minutes can’t be fun. âIf it’s not the bloggers, it’s the customers,â Chandra shrugs. âI was sitting in my restaurant in Delhi today watching eight young people take selfies with their food for an hour. It’s a discomfort that’s right there now, and we have to face it. “
Chef Rajesh Radhakrishnan, director of food production at The Park, says that despite reluctance, chefs are going to have to accept that online reviews are the future. âThere is a paradigm shift in reporting because of social media,â he says. âIt’s not just bloggers. I tell chefs that everyone is just as important now, more than ever. You cannot say that this person is a critic and this one is not. Everyone has about 1,000 people on their Facebook friends list; therefore opinions can very easily be made.