On Tuesday a blogpost on FoodBlog.Cape Town, entitled “My opinion is important because I am a blogger”, caught my eye, and was reTweeted by a number of bloggers.  On reading the blogpost a number of times, it appeared to focus on the ethics of both restaurants and bloggers in respect of free meals, and pleaded for blogs to be respected as a viable source of information.  Tongue-in-cheek, we have turned the title around in this blogpost!

In her blogpost, Kayli highlighted the poor image she feels bloggers have, with the strong statement ‘People hate bloggers’, and ‘People are bloggist’ (meant to imply anti-blogging).  She does not explain her view, nor does she give examples of such negative sentiments.  I have only seen one article that was anti-bloggers, written by Mandy de Waal in Mail & Guardian about a year ago, and  was an attack against food bloggers, and the threat that they pose to the traditional food writers in mainstream media, especially magazines. The reality is that blogs are gaining in popularity, with ordinary citizens from around the country and even internationally reading blogs, and participating in the dialogue on blogs through Comments.

We have previously written that the output of food bloggers appears to be on the decline, well-known local bloggers such as Andy Fenner (JamieWho), David Cope (‘The Foodie’), and even the polemic Spill blog publishing blogposts less frequently compared to when they started.  However, blog readership must be on the up, as more and more readers get hooked on the views of their favourite bloggers. The lack of statistics about blog reading and publishing makes it impossible to quantify the size of the blog market, relative to readily available figures about mainstream media circulation and readership.  Each blogger can read his/her readership on Google Analytics, but cannot compare this with that of other blogs.

Kayli attacks restaurants for offering free meals to bloggers, in the hope that a positive review will be written.  She told the unbelievable story of a restaurant to which she was invited, and that she had to endure the presence of the manager throughout the meal, who encouraged her to eat more and more, and then had the ‘pleasure’ of having the bill presented to her!  There must have been a serious communication problem for something so unreasonable to have happened.  One wonders why Kayli did not dispute the payment, and why she did not ‘name and shame’ the restaurant concerned.  Sharing the details of this incident, which sounds far-fetched, has no value if the perpetrator is not mentioned.  Is this a criticism one can level against the majority of bloggers – that they are trying to be too nice, and thereby compromise their own ethics by glancing over the flaws of the restaurant experience?  If ‘honest reviews’ are written for the public, as Kayli claims in her blogpost, then she must be true to the honesty she emphasises. ‘Honesty’ does not mean that faults should not be mentioned – in fact not mentioning them would be dishonest to the reader!

No blogger is obliged to write about a product or service they have experienced, as much as a mainstream media journalist is under no such obligation.   A restaurant invitation is no guarantee of any, or even of positive, coverage.  Many bloggers don’t want to offend their hosts, and would rather not write a review, than have to criticise the meal or service.  Every blogger is under the obligation to disclose the free meal, and it is likely that the blog reader will evaluate the information about the restaurant differently to the restaurant review of a meal that was paid for by the blogger.  Ultimately an anonymous visit to the restaurant is the best way to write a review, but taking photographs of one’s food and asking lots of questions can give the game away.

Kayli also mentions ‘hot-shot’ bloggers, who she says are loved, have been around for a long time, and inspire others, but then attacks them for implying that they are better because they have worked in restaurants or have trained as chefs.   I have never seen any such criticism from bloggers, and perhaps Kayli, who describes herself as a younger and newer blogger, may be over-sensitive on this issue.

Bloggers need restaurant news to feed their blogs, while restaurants (usually) benefit from reviews that are written about them. The restaurant-goer Googling a restaurant has one of five options in being informed about the restaurant:

*  Reading a short write-up on Eat Out, usually high up on Google’s page one for the restaurant

*  Similarly, reading a short write-up on Food24

*  A review by Rossouw’s Restaurants‘ owner JP Rossouw, but increasingly one picks up readers’ reviews via Google because of a special security sign-in procedure, not being conducive to JP’s own reviews being read.

*   The restaurants’ own websites, which rarely feature on the first page of Google, because they don’t have one (mainly being listed on Dining Out), or because they don’t update their websites regularly, to obtain a SEO benefit (via their own blog, for example).

*   The remaining five – six reviews on the first page of Google will be by bloggers, and would not feature on Google’s first page if they are not read regularly.  Obviously a first page Google review will ensure more frequent readership than those on subsequent pages, which means that bloggers need to get to write the reviews first, or have a huge readership to ensure that their reviews land and stay on page one.  I have never heard anyone discount a restaurant review written by a blogger, because the writer is a blogger.

Ultimately bloggers will only have their blogs read if they remain relevant and interesting to their readers. Bloggers blog because they love to write.  Blogging takes up a lot of personal time.  The dedicated and regular bloggers will be those that will retain their readers, as will be the bloggers who have an opinion, and are not afraid to express it, even if they know that they may never return to a specific restaurant because of their opinion!

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage