The angle, right lighting and precise placement of the cutlery are all required for the perfect Instagram photo. But is what meets the eye really the truth? And more importantly, are food bloggers doing more harm than good?
Many popular Instagram accounts and blogs like @ladyironchef (658k followers), @misstamchika (38.8k followers), and @sgcafefood (25.5k followers) all have a significant following and can greatly influence the popularity of restaurants through their recommendations and critiques.
Junior Emily Fisher has a popular new food Instagram account, @southfeastasia_sg, has gained 882 followers in the past 10 weeks.
“I started the account to be a part of the food scene here in Singapore. I just find it fun to explore new restaurants and point out hidden places that are good but might not be given the attention they deserve.”
The motives behind most of these food bloggers is to share their experience and opinions. Unfortunately, the sudden influx of food bloggers have altered these motives. Many people start food blogging for all the wrong reasons, like to become famous or to receive free meals from restaurants trying to win them over. If that is the case, they are in it for all the wrong reasons, and that is the danger with it.
An underlying concern among professionals in the food industry is that because blogging and Instagram accounts convey such a strong visual element, as long as the food looks good, people will buy into the idea that it is a good meal. The basis of a good meal according to Aun Koh, a credible industry food blogger (chubby hubby), has always been taste.
“Visuals are important to the overall experience of the meal but should not be the deciding factor for most people. The online culture today unfortunately is slowly steering away from that. For many people, they think if a plate of food looks good, then it must taste good,” Mr. Koh said.
Many bloggers, especially those seeking fame from food blogging, understand the importance of visual appeal. Since followers are unable to actually taste the food through the blog post, the aesthetics of the food and the photograph taken are vital in attracting more followers. The photo then becomes the priority for most fame-seeking food bloggers.
Another underlying fear among most cafe and restaurant owners is that most of these “critics” do not have the credibility or education in food to make these judgements. Ignatius Chan, owner of Iggy’s – ranked 18th best restaurant in Asia and featured on San Pellegrino’s 50 best list – said, “Everyone eats, but just because you eat three times a day does not make you a food critic. People with the lack of a culinary education or a deep understanding of food should not be blogging or Instagramming food, acting like they know it all.”
Mr. Chan also believes that the food bloggers are doing more harm than good to the restaurant industry.
“I can only speak for my restaurant, but I find that most bloggers who come here expect some theatrics. [Because the restaurant is so highly ranked] I find it that they want a show. Something that looks cool for Instagram or Facebook, but that is not the case. The reality comes down to high quality food that tastes good, not because we are using crazy molecular test tube food to put on a show.”
In reaction to criticism by food bloggers, Ignatius said, “I find that many of the bad reviews I have gotten by these bloggers have been because of a lack of a show, but that should not be the case. When they post their review and it is negative, (especially when they have many followers) it hurts the restaurant but then again, do these people really know anything about food? If they did they would understand the concept of food, not just for a good photo and as a result we suffer. But their followers also suffer because they are being misled by looking for all the wrong things in food.”
In response to these claims, Emily Fisher said it is important to differentiate the two types of food bloggers. “There are extreme food bloggers who make a living from it and just regular people who do it for fun like me. Most people who do it for fun only post things that taste good to them. We do not post negative meals or rate restaurants. It is the extreme food bloggers that normally critique these places. That is the difference between the two. My account does not go out seeking to harm or review anyone.”
Senior Sophia Law believes it’s up to the consumer to decide. “I do not think you should rely on one source. The way I use food blogs is if I need a place to start to find somewhere to eat, I will look at people’s Instagram, but then I will go and look at other reviews online and not only look at the one source.”
Senior and online fashion blogger Meera Navlakha knows more than most about blogging. She has been writing her fashion blog for the past six years and understands the power of words and photographs. “Bloggers underestimate their power. In the context of fashion, when I review a collection, I review it very subjectively. I make it very clear that it is from my point of view and it is not for everyone. I think bloggers should make more of a conscious effort to say that it is their opinion and that does not mean they are right or wrong all of the time.”
As a result of the online food world becoming more influential, quality control over content and critiques on social media have become more difficult to regulate. At the end of the day, the only way we can decide on the quality and accuracy of the food review is if we go try it for ourselves.