The internet. The world wide wonderful web. The excellent computer box. It’s a place where tremendous things happen, opportunity is spawned, communication is easier than ever. Love flourishes. Dreams are realised. It’s a place where we can all have a chat, share our stories and get along nicely.
50 per cent of the time, at least.
My love/hate relationship with the internet machine knows no bounds. Much like the joys of sending daily ugly snapchat selfies to my best friends the internet has, in a lot of cases, been good to me. Opportunity, communication, education, employment fit for a Young Creative™. I’m sure many others can relate to me on this happy internet friendSHIP.
The other 50 percent of the time… well. Despite the internet providing a beautiful soapbox for worthy voices it has also conveniently placed a loud unwarranted megaphone in the hands of any person with an entitled attitude. After starting a new job in social media within the ~food biz~ and becoming more involved in food/interior photography therefore meeting more and more restaurant owners my anxieties surrounding said amateur reviewers are beginning to worsen. I’m not sure where to begin but I’m going to try because we should open more dialogue about the internet; an unregulated wonderland used for both good and evil.
Anything anybody writes on the internet is deemed as publishing. Whether you, professional writers or traditional printing houses like it or not this has become a new truth. The moment somebody hits publish or submit on a CMS of any form the words are essentially set in (online) stone, forever cached somewhere in the internet air buzzing all around us. If you strip back website layouts, logos and author credit a piece of text reviewing an establishment looks just as official as the next. And herein lies the problem.
Before I begin, a disclaimer: food bloggers aren’t professionals and I understand that. They don’t need to be food experts. There are so many lovely blogs who are very kind in documenting what they eat around town (Vegetaraian’s post Is Loving Food Enough? is a good read on this). This is not a hate post to all the review blogs out there, because I enjoy 95% of them; this is a post outlining where I feel some troubles lie and both bloggers and reviewers may not realise the potential harm they may cause with even a couple of stray, reckless yet unintentional words. This issue is relevant to me because I see it happening on a mostly daily basis as part of my job.
What I’m about to say refers to people who have either transcended the positive hobbyist (whether they realise it or not) or those who just love to have a bloody good whinge on the internet (boo; these guys can be simply summed up in example 2). This post is directed at the at those causing a ruckus on the amateur review scene, food bloggers with (sometimes unknowingly) harsh tongues and entitled complainers of the nation. Here are three personal eyebrow raisers feat. relevant examples indicative, in my eyes, of an unjust review.
Example 1: Fact checking / Assumptions
Owners of an establishment I’m working with at the moment mentioned, amongst all the wonderful and positive reviews of their business, somebody had mentioned one of their side dishes contained too much sugar and they should fix it. In actual fact their dish contains no sugar and the sweetness derives from slow cooking the veggies until completely caramelised. It’s ok to write without being an expert but in this case this sort of assumption is not kind to the owners. Furthermore, another food review said something to this effect when writing of a restaurant I’m also involved in “… don’t be surprised because you might be maybe waiting for a take away coffee for up to an hour”. Might? Maybe? Did you actually wait for an hour? No. Stop that.
Example 2: Don’t write what you wouldn’t say in person
I read a review based outside of Sydney which described a situation wherein a staff member had spilt food on a customer and reconciled the accident with free drinks. They were not satisfied with this outcome. The blogger then went on to say they did not want to make this known at the time or in person but instead felt compelled to write about their discontent in the blog post as the right thing to do. There’s a lot wrong with this and I feel most people who make unwarranted complaints on UrbanSpoon and Eatability etc easily fall into this category. If you can’t say it in person don’t publish it on the eternal book of the internet. That’s what I like to call straight up internet cowardice.
Example 3: Writing critically does not make you a critic
I came across this particular food blog review at work whilst researching what people had to say about the establishment. The blogger was estimating prices (much higher than the actual cost) despite having attached the receipts to the end of the post and constantly made (in my opinion) snide remarks about the smallest detail in almost every dish. After reading around the entire blog it seemed to be this blogger’s “thing”. Cool story bro, and this goes for everyone; unless you’re trained in the culinary arts I’m not sure it’s fair to be making calls like this on absolutely every morsel you place into your golden mouth hole.
As we all know there’s a great difference between the amateur food reviewer and the professional food writer and it seems, unfortunately, the most overlooked attribute is thus; professional food writers are held accountable for their words whereas amateur food reviewers are not. This is a big deal. And as aforementioned, strip back a website to just the text and a review will look just as legitimate as the next (typos not withstanding). If Terry Durack wrote an uninformed review about a new up-and-coming establishment he would be crucified whereas an amateur foodie, despite having published the same hypothetical piece to a similar audience, glides on by. We are in a position where hiding behind the guise of “amateur”, “foodie” or “honest review” is no longer legitimate. Dude, you just published a really negative review, would you say this to the face of the chef and all of the staff? Would you really tell the head chef his canapé needs less batter? Would you get up off your seat to tell the barista to use different beans? If the staff member was as nonchalant as you say to the point of wanting to say something about it shouldn’t this matter be resolved in person? Now the whole internet can read it and anytime somebody googles “[restaurant]” these potentially detrimental words are available for all to see in glowing, web standard font. The owners will read it and if your review was unfair they will be incredibly hurt. We don’t know their situation, they could be struggling, it’s a tough economic climate. We should be supporting small businesses as best as we can because, as we know the rent is high here in Sydney, times are difficult and restaurants are closing here left right and centre and it’s a damn shame. Yes, the service may not have been great, one of your coffees wasn’t perfect. They might have a staff shortage that day, something in the kitchen might have broken. You just don’t know what could be happening in the background.
Online reviews are now such a big deal the Restaurant and Catering Association have today called upon the ACCC demanding further accountability from sites like UrbanSpoon, etc (relevant article here) and, in my opinion and the opinion of some restaurant owners I’ve spoken to, it’s only a matter of time before blogs are brought into the spotlight. I foresee defamation cases in the not-so-distant future. I am not accusing you, dear reader, of restaurant trollin’ but am instead encouraging others who review towards the negative side to check themselves. This is classic Internet vs IRL disconnect applied to food blogging; one negative comment can ruin the chef’s day, the owner’s day, the social media monkey’s (hello) day. Speaking up at the time of issue seems to be a lost art thanks to Dear Internet.
So, the point I’m trying to make here is before you hit publish or submit on a review or comment, before you head to that Facebook page to voice your concerns very publicly, just think; is it really necessary? Is this the type of thing you would outwardly shout to room full of head chefs and staff without filter? Don’t be critical for the sake of wanting to be a critic, ensure your food facts are correct because you’re writing to an audience of impressionable people and what you say could be detrimental to both a person’s business and livelihood. Yes the internet is unpoliced but that is exactly why we have a responsibility to treat social networking with respect and not exploit the privilege of freer-than-ever speech.
And, if your experience really is that bad you can’t possibly give them the benefit of the doubt, speak with the establishment directly, privately and in person rather than shouting it across the online seas for all to see and hear. I know they’d appreciate the (IRL) feedback.