If you follow my instagram account or any other foodies on instagram, I think you might find this interesting! Let me start by introducing myself so you know where I am coming from.
I am a Clinical Researcher and a Food enthusiast. When I moved to Dubai from Karachi, Pakistan- I loved the food scene here since this is a city where you can get Pakistani, Indian, Middle Eastern, Egyptian, American, Italian, Lebanese and so many more cuisines. All in one city. I splurged on innovative restaurants and trendy meals weekly when one day I noticed a couple walking in the restaurant and instead of sitting on a table, they spoke to the manager and were immediately looked after. I thought to myself maybe they are special guests. Soon, they pulled out a professional camera out of their bags and started taking pictures of food in creative ways. I then thought that they were perhaps food photographers. Later on, I found out that they were food bloggers.
Somehow in that moment I felt that I want to feel the same way. I too wish to walk in a restaurant and aim my professional camera to the glass of pinacolada and be creative with it and also get free food. I started writing food reviews on zomato and instantly loved the feeling of sharing my honest opinion on a fried chicken I devoured or a salad. But my reviews were usually lengthy and I loved talking in detail about a restaurant experience so I started this blog last year and received my first restaurant invite ever to review the menu. Yes, that was an amazing feeling that can not be described into words. Receiving the first restaurant review invite is a happiness that is unlike any other feeling, in fact it is so addictive that I wasn’t able to say “no” to any restaurant invite after that for a year. I blogged about 50 restaurants around UAE in the past year that makes me rank among the top ten bloggers in Dubai today.
That sounds cool right? Free food? Foodies to gather with on different ocassions? making new friends? Yes, please.
Let me walk you through this. This is how a restaurant review proceeds- the restaurants provide good food and efficient service (two relatively inexpensive things, compared to the cost of paid advertisements), and the food blogger shares photos of their food with tens of thousands of people and writes an honest review in return.
Now here’s the truth- A few years into my blogging journey, I’ve stopped accepting many of the restaurant invitations. In fact, the longer I blog, the fewer free restaurant meals I accept and the more I pay for everything on my own. Following are the main 5 reasons for this:
1. Honesty is the best policy?
The major problem arises when I visit a restaurant and do not like their food and give them my honest feedback. They ask me to sugar coat this in the blog and that their restaurant rating shouldn’t drop which becomes contradictory to why I started this blog. I try my best to stay neutral in a blog where I did not like the food served at XYZ restaurant because of strict UAE defamation laws and also because I don’t want to hurt anyone.
I was once chased by a Restaurant PR because they wanted me to give them the highest rating when I didn’t like their food at all but it was disturbing and what was all the hassle for? I asked the restaurant- had they treated me the same way if I were a customer instead of a blogger?
2. Time is money
The 2018 version of me would be quite baffled by this statement but over the time I have realized that restaurant tastings take 3-4 hours of my evenings when I can visit the same restaurant as a non-blogger and pay for my food and save 50% of time. Why you ask? simply because the cost of all that food is not worth 3 hours of my time. Heck! I don’t even eat that much.
3. Free food does not pay my bills
I have to drop this truth bomb because its all fun and games until you have to get back to the ultimate reality of life. Sure its fun but it doesn’t pay my rent or the bills.
4. Turn the tables
I love the experience of dining at a restaurant, and when I show up to media tasting as a food blogger, I don’t always get to experience that. Now, I do get to enjoy some other unique things, like talking with the chef, being shown a behind-the-scenes look into the kitchen, and getting vouchers as a take away gift. But none of that is a realistic restaurant experience for the average diner, so I don’t think it’s a realistic way for me to give my opinion of a restaurant.
5. It’s just not the same
I get so many comments from foodies on my restaurant blogs saying- we went to xyz restaurant on your recommendation and the service was so bad and etc etc. I actually feel for that person who was influenced by my opinion of a restaurant and regrets later. For instance, my instagram feed is full of gorgeous photographs of food because I had been to various food blogger gatherings and restaurant tastings. But when I really like a restaurant and their service, I make sure to go back after a while as a paying customer because I just wanted to be sure that I loved it just as much. But sadly, it wasn’t the same.
Am I still accepting Restaurant Invites?
Yes. My criteria to saying yes for a restaurant review invite is:
- Instances when there is a new small business in town that needs help. When a new food truck invites me to try their menu; I definitely say yes.
- An older restaurant with great reputation. If PF Changs sends me an invite, I’m running barefoot for this one.
- When it’s a second or third meal from a restaurant that I really love- I loved the salads at abc restaurant and now they are offering me to review their brunch menu? Yes sir!