News & views
Does complimentary mean complimentary these days?
This week has seen the latest spat in the long-running restaurant critic v blogger debate with the Observer's Jay Rayner getting stuck into bloggers and bloggers revealed as asking for freebies in return for a positive review, according to this report in the Indy.
I’ve my own personal take on this having reviewed restaurants for years, some of which I’ve paid for, some not (but declared) and reckon it’s perfectly possible to write an objective review even when you’re not paying.
The interesting development though is that PRs increasingly don’t like it. They would much rather offer a free meal to a new blogger who might write a positive review than an experienced writer who’s not afraid to highlight flaws in the dining experience.
How do I know? Because I indavertently received this email about me from a PR to a client on which I was mistakenly copied in.
"Well, she [that’s me] can be tricky, I have to admit. Several PRs have told me that they have allowed her to come in early then she slams them and complains about food and service. [This seems something of an exaggeration if you read my reviews] She is so picky about teensy details. [Er, as I should be . . . ]
So am I now on some kind of PR blacklist? I sometimes wonder when I read that bloggers I haven’t even heard of have visited restaurants I haven't received any information about yet I have a regular restaurant review slot and a website that’s read by tens of thousands of people every month.
So why don’t I just pay myself? Well, sometimes I do - and perhaps I now should - but I’d always thought the fact that I was eating at the invitation of the restaurant didn’t carry a price tag in terms of a favourable review. Now it seems that complimentary needs to mean complimentary in both senses of the word.
(Don’t think by the way that professional critics don’t get special treatment. Even if they book under a false name they’re recognised immediately and you can bet the staff in a restaurant will bend over backwards to make sure they have a good time.)
The only way you can be sure of having a similar experience to the average punter is for no-one to recognise you which is why the Guardian’s Marina O’Loughlin so fiercely guards her anonymity.
Restaurants take time to bed in it's true - but as soon as they're formally open and charging full price they’re fair game for any of us - professional writers or bloggers (and there are good examples of both - see my follow-up post 'There are bloggers and bloggers . . . ') After all theatre critics don't hold fire until a play has been running for several weeks. And music critics judge performers on a single gig. Restaurants - and PRs - should be a little less sensitive.
Pic of Le Train Bleu in Paris which I haven't reviewed but can recommend for a cup of tea and a plate of macarons . . .
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