What’s behind that four-star rating of a restaurant review at your favorite foodie website? Diners can’t always know for sure.
That’s because as online food sites become increasingly influential in the restaurant business, chefs and owners are offering bloggers complimenary meals to get good write-ups, explains an article in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal.
In fact, publicists across the restaurant industry are now including bloggers and food website forum hosts on their media lists, and regularly inviting them to opening parties, free meals and other events.
But companies have been sending free samples of their products to the traditional media for years, hoping for good reviews. And reaching out to influential bloggers is now a key component to almost any publicity campaign. With restaurants, however, the difference is that when you’re dealing with bloggers, you might have to suffer in silence if they write a bad review.
That’s because some bloggers don’t allow comments at their blogs. A bad review can live online forever, with no opportunity for the restaurant to write a rebuttal. If a restaurant gets a bad review in a newspaper or magazine, however, it has several options such as submitting a letter to the editor.
If you want to invite bloggers to your food-related event, by all means do. But understand that:
—Most writers don’t have to abide by ethics policies like the ones that are in place at many newspapers and magazines. Traditional food reviewers usually try to dine anonymously and pay their own way to ensure that the review reflects the way average customers can expect to be treated. If a restaurant invites a blogger to dine, chances are good that the steak might be a little bigger than the steaks served to regular patrons.
—Unlike traditional food reviewers, bloggers don’t have to fact- check their reviews.
—Bloggers love to link to each other. That means one lousy review can find its way onto other blogs and into discussion forums.
The advantage, of course, is that consumers are increasingly turning to the Internet to research products and services before they buy. One glowing review can bring droves of diners to your restaurant.
The Wall Street Journal article also mentioned that some food blogs and discussion forums are policing each other. Eater.com, for example—which discusses gossip on the New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco restaurant scenes—tips off readers if it suspects that restaurant owners or employees wrote postings about their own restaurants at other blogs or food sites. Eater highlights those postings in a section called “Adventures in Shilling.”
Reach out to bloggers, but cover the all the bases with traditional media, too, by being proactive and trying to generate more than just food reviews. During the teleseminar “Publicity Tips for Restaurants, Chefs & Foodies,” which I conducted with Jaime Oikle of The Restaurant Report, I discussed the importance of tipping off food writers to food and restaurant trends. Suggest profile stories about your chefs. Pitch story ideas on how you recruit and retain employees. And don’t forget to tie into regional and national breaking news events.