The One With Guidelines For The Novice Food Blogger

Dinner at Sushi One, Causeway Bay

If you are a social media junkie like yours truly and live in this part of the world, chances are you would have heard of the food blogging ethic fiasco that involves renowned Singapore food blogger Lady Iron Chef and Hungry Epicurean, and one chi chi dining establishment at Joo Chiat Road, Private Affairs. If you don’t, I have compiled a list of resources as foot note to this blog post that will give you all the information you need.

That’s me, the ever helpful and resourceful novice food blogger.

China Bear at Mui Wo

I have been following the online debacle with avid interest because (1) nothing beats a good blogger-vs-blogger fight, even if it involves male bloggers; (2) the whole thing was meant to be private but got blown out of proportionate into the public domain, no little thanks to the unfortunate staggered reporting from the media; and (3) it was a real life case study on how you should handle (for the lack of a better word) public relations as a food blogger.

When it comes to writing about my dining experiences and food reviews, I am certainly a novice. I have no standard procedure, I did not have a blog editorial calendar (though I have one now), and I certainly have never been invited by any restaurants for a bit of (complimentary?) food tasting.

If you are like me, a beginner in food blogging, here are some PR guidelines I should think you and I can adopt to protect our (budding) reputation online.

Room Service Lunch in My Room at Hotel Sofitel Ponte 16, Macau

Never ask for free food.

Just like in a date, if the other person paid for everything – dinner, movie, drink – you feel obliged to sleep with him. Is there such thing as a free lunch, literally? In most cases I would think not; a sponsoring restaurant would expect at least a piece of review from you if you are “freeloading” on their fare; some might even insist on a good review.

Raw Seashells @ Golden Thai Restaurant, Kowloon City

Give full disclosure if it is a sponsored meal.

Free food offered by restaurants is normal and will continue to be a PR practice; the question is how upfront you are going to be in your post. Just like how you should never ask for free food, a complimentary meal should be treated as an invitation; a grateful invitation and not of something granted from the start.

If a restaurant is organising a food tasting session and invited a group of food bloggers for a night of review and merriment (gosh, wouldn’t that be awesome?), or extending a private invitation to you (and perhaps some guests) to try out their menu, then in all honesty you should accept the invite. Not everyone has the capacities, be it time or money, to dine at different places to produce the kind of content that readers will appreciate.

It is an invite after all. Just like how I would throw a dinner party and will be very pleased if you bring a gift (wink wink), and won’t be entirely offended if you brought only your empty stomach. At most, if you keep turning up empty handed, I will just stop inviting you, heh.

However, clearly state that in your blog post that your experience is sponsored. Empower your reader to make informed decision and opinions after reading your review. Tread an intermediate path and disclose that in your review; to be courteous to your gracious host and to be fair to your blog subscribers.

Afternoon Excursion to Lamma Island

Never assume. Make your blogging policy clear in all invites.

Like they say, ASSUME makes an ASS out of U and ME (if you don’t catch that I can’t help you). If you are offered a free meal in exchange for a blog review, have a standard response. If you are invited to a gathering of food bloggers on-the-house, make sure the host knows your policy, whatever that is.

While you are it, make it even simpler for all PR agencies and potential restaurant hosts. Have a page on “review policy” and “FAQ” on your blog. They will love you for that. At the very least, there will be no staggering misunderstanding to the epic proportion only to be unraveled under the scrutiny of the public eye.

Ask Brad or Glenn. It’s painful, no matter whether you are right or wrong.

The Naschmarkt of Vienna

Always be truthful. Be responsive. Don’t play the stabbing game.

At many turns of the series of unfortunate events in this debacle (see footnote below), much of the misunderstandings could have been avoided if you are responsive to enquiries from the media, meticulous with your communications, avoid sayings things you shouldn’t, and stay neutral. Don’t insult others, just like how you won’t want others to insult you.

Writing an open letter is just another way of saying that: “Hey, I am not happy with you, and I am going to tell the whole world about you, but I don’t want to be known as the petty guy, so I am going to name it an open letter”.

Play nice. Remember, you reap what you sow. Protect your right to blog, and your right to blog the way you want.

If you are a novice food blogger, what other tips you have? Do share in the comments below.

Footnote (1)
In writing this post, my thoughts and opinions were largely influenced by some of the best in the field, such as Jason Bonvivant, Daphne Maia, @TomEats and Pat Law. While I may not agree with everything they shared with me, this post has changed in essence due to my interaction with them, and as a result I even developed a Blogging Policy for this blog. I hope this will help you, the novice food blogger, to develop something similar of your own. And guys, thanks a lot for the tweets, emails, and comments. I really appreciate your input!

Footnote (2)
Like I said, I am reallyyy a novice food blogger, and I am not really someone who review food dish-by-dish. I prefer to write about my food experience; you know, like weaving a food review piece into my daily life. Here are some pieces I have written recently:
My seafood epiphany on Lamma Island published on
Hong Kong: Off the Beaten Path – Food Heaven in Sheung Wan published on
Review of China Bear at Mui Wo, Hong Kong published on
A Triple O Dining Experience published here on You Got Me Blogging
The Surprising Chocolate Cake at Zelo Bar published here on You Got Me Blogging

Footnote (3)
Here’s a list of blog posts which will give you quite a thorough overview on the food blogging fiasco in Singapore:
The first blog post I read which pique my interest
The blog post on FTP Yahoo! which started the public furore
Lady In Chef wrote a public response after an almost 48-hour of silence
The blog post by FTP Yahoo! trying to balance up the coverage but failed (just look at the commentS)
The official press release from Private Affairs
A kick ass response from Xiaxue, Singapore favourite blogger

7 Thoughts on “The One With Guidelines For The Novice Food Blogger

  1. Nonsense on 25 August, 2010 at 12:25 am said:

    if everything failed, remember to throw credit card at the cashier

  2. persimmone on 25 August, 2010 at 10:25 am said:

    Have subscribed to your blog – as I find you write very well, and am further impressed when you openly state that you are a novice food blogger – which I would beg to disagree – you are too modest.
    Initially, when I read the name 'razlan', my reaction was 'uh oh, poor guy, it will all have to be halal, and that would definitely limit your choices, which would translate to 'boring'.
    Anyway, I have subscribed to your blog, and am looking forward to your posts.

  3. @ persimmone – Thank you for the compliments! I enjoy dining out and traveling whenever I can. Writing to me is like therapy. Hehe. Glad that you subscribed, but I won't be publishing my newsletter anytime soon. Suggest you get email updates instead.

  4. A very well written post, my friend. I like the idea of a blogging policy, although I think it'd be more credible if it came from an association. A shame really, that our existing Blogger Association of Singapore is perpetually non-existent.

  5. @ Pat – I always thought the Blogger Association of Singapore is best positioned as a resource centre (like providing a sample on food blogging policy) instead of a regulating body. But it was disbanded some time back due to some saga, no?

  6. there was no saga, there is just little support for it, with even femes bloggers like mr brown n mr miyagi saying no to it.

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