I’ve pissed a few people off of late. I say few, really I mean fucking loads. Bloggers, blaggers, washed-up has-been journalists, more bloggers, PR people, social influencers (whoever the fuck they are), more bloggers, an award ambassador (whatever the fuck that is), and bloggers. Some have been vocal about it, others chosen to shun me. One even went to the trouble of setting up a fake twitter profile – @farlow_clayton – to attack me publicly. And all because I said that I was no longer going to accept free meals for my restaurant blog.
The blog is four years old now. I started it purely out of love for food, genuinely expecting no one to read it. I remember the first time I got a hundred views in a day; I was elated. Now the same amount of hits is a bad number to wake up to. I don’t tend to make a big thing out of it, but I have won awards for it. It has grown beyond belief. But the morality of it has also changed; it took me eleven months to accept my first freebie. The preceding time afterwards has seen me take a lot. Too many, if I am honest. I started with the best intentions and learnt very quickly how to play the game – do it right and PR relationships can be very fruitful. I’ve had complimentary hotel stays and special tasting menus made especially for my visit. I have been showered in champagne and sent home with wine purchased specifically for me after the owner had read I drank it in a previous post. As a result many of the reviews I have posted have probably not been a true reflection of the restaurant. Looking back I can clearly see on a few occasions that I have been too generous with my opinion. Occasionally I have chosen to miss off dishes that may not have been very good; embellish others that were average. I tell you this because I want to tell you the truth. And I am not alone in this; it happens with just about every blogger I have ever met. More recently the traffic I have has allowed me to be more picky, yet I still feel obliged to attend certain restaurants for certain PR companies. I will go because if I don’t, others will and I want to stay top of the pile. I go because the PR company has an active role in an awards I want to win at. I go because the line has been crossed between work and friendship with some people.
I have nothing against those who chose to take free meals, but let’s be very clear, there is only one argument for it, which is “fuck off, I like eating free food”. It has nothing to do with wealth or disposable income. It is not a reward for the time it takes to write a blog post. Those who take a free meal are doing so because it is free and they want to eat at that particular restaurant, where upon they are willingly entering into the marketing cog of the restaurant. It is tainted, there is absolutely no doubt about that and to say that freebies have the same meaning as a paid meal is a big fat lie. I have taken enough freebies to see how the system works and I have also taken enough abuse to understand how it is perceived by the reader. Like it or not, accepting an invite means that you are in some way in debt to whoever has invited you. You are eating their food and drinking their wine because they chose to put you there. I have only once not written about a place I was invited to and that was because they gave me food poisoning. On every other occasion I have done what has been asked. I have made my opinion very clear on this of late and have seen some ridiculous arguments: One told me that their blog was not like that and proved on inspection to have eleven free meals out of twelve. Another made the point that the restaurants she recommends were all paid for, a statement that casts obvious doubts over the freebies she had recently raved about. I don’t have a singular problem with this, I’ve played the same game. But I want out of that culture. I’ve pressed the reset button.
The notion of giving up the invites has been there for a while. I have started to hate myself for not telling the entire truth the entire time, annoyed that this blog has lost sight of the very reason I started it. Now I have made the change and having recently finished my last PR invite post, the sense of relief is huge. The blog can go back to its very roots; I can say whatever I like without fear of upsetting someone. I’m confident that it will reignite my passion for the blog, though if it doesn’t I’ll gladly pull the plug on it. I’m sorry that the truth may have been blurred in the past, but that will completely change as of now. The meals on this blog will be paid for 100% out of my own pocket, with the views honest and undiluted. It is the only way I am happy for it to continue.