A little over a year ago, I wandered down the rabbit hole of the food & beverage industry. Like any outsider, I was slightly apprehensive; but I promptly learned two things: influencers make up a large part of the marketing of a new restaurant or pub (and the blogger family is small), and PR companies are always on the look-out for new influencers.
Any PR representative worth their weight in salt will invite social media influencers to restaurant openings, food tastings, and chefs tables (usually all the same people) in order to put the word out and “create a buzz” for their client. It’s widely accepted that ‘blogger tables’ and ‘blogger meets’ play a significant part in reaching ‘potential clientele’.
According to some research done by Fleishman-Hillard PR & Hearst Magazine and Nielsen, 73% of millennials believe that it’s their responsibility to help friends and family make “smart purchase decisions” with a whopping 92% of people overall who trust other people (yes, even strangers) over any form of advertising.
But, honestly, if you think about it, those numbers aren’t all that hard to believe. How many times have we bought an item of clothing online after reading the reviews on Amazon? Or, a little closer to home, how often have we succumbed to a Zomato rating that was definitely decimal points (I’m being kind) higher than it should have been?
Who’s To Blame?
Zomato claims to “weed out fake reviews and bring 100% genuine reviews to you” but, in an industry, like food, that certainly doesn’t deal in absolutes (you know that old saying, different strokes) how can anything ever be a hundred percent? While I certainly have no problem with a paid review (well, so long as you say that it’s paid) written on a blog or social media page, Zomato reviews are a tad bit more tricky because people actually believe that you’re being honest (gasp).
With every Tom, Dick and Harry armed with a DSLR and a season’s worth of Masterchef Australia under their belt; spewing out reviews about the “chicken that was nice” or the “yummy food” and getting paid for it (nevermind that they can’t string a grammatically coherent sentence together to save their life) the integrity of other food bloggers and connoisseurs who have devoted years to their craft (and, it is a craft) falters.
For every food blogger that raves about the “subtle hint of lemongrass in the curry” there are ten others bandying about a badly worded epithet about the “ambience” (for chrissakes pick up a cookbook). I’ve heard about influencers writing an honest review (flaws and all) and never being invited back to said location, which is certainly a failing of the current influencer system. If influencers are paid to write a review that toes the line to appease the restaurant, or uninvited for every criticism, then how can we ever expect an improvement in the food scene in India?
The thing is, the food industry needs influencers just as much as influencers need the food industry — it’s a bit of a strange bedfellows situation. However, both need to smell the coffee. With more Indians travelling and opening themselves up to new experiences (and yes, even watching Masterchef) it’s hard to imagine that their palates haven’t broadened. Basically, they know their beurre blanc from their rouille and no number of whitewashed influencer reviews are going to change that.
Unless influencers start being more transparent about their experience (with restaurants allowing them to be) and knowledgeable influencers receive the recognition they deserve, we’ll never get the chance to see the ever-changing food landscape in India reach its full potential – and that would be a shame indeed!