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Much Ado About Blogging

13 October 2009

Just recently, a couple of things regarding the blogosphere have come to my attention and as I read through these events I can't help feeling amazed (and a bit disgusted) by the way things have turned out. The first, and more well-known, case refers to the latest ruling in the US where bloggers "must reveal ties behind [their] endorsements" [1], and it's not surprising how Singapore is considering to do likewise on the grounds of "[protecting] consumers by enabling them to make an informed assessment about what they read" [2].

I think this is fair enough. I'm glad to say that the local food bloggers I know have been very upfront about their reviews, always making sure to add that some of their posts are based on invitations by the restaurants (some call it an "invited review"), and thus to caution their readers of any bias or leniency that could have developed in the course of writing. Not everyone actually comes out with glowing reviews (in fact, some are less than effusively positive and to me it does seem like a wasted act of generosity on the part of the restaurant) but this is the way the food-blogging scene goes.

I believe four rules should apply here.

Rule #1: Restaurants, like it or not, are in a competitive market economy. If you're good, you stay and you grow in popularity. If you're not, you either buck up or leave.

Rule #2: Taste is subjective, it always is. It differs from individual to individual. I for one don't exactly appreciate French fine dining, but more importantly I will make sure that I point this out to the readers so that they can note my personal preferences and take the review with a pinch of salt. And the best way to confirm a review? Taste it yourself, and then share! The new ruling mentioned at the start of this post may go some way in stamping out biased and paid reviews, but in the case of taste you can't possibly hold it against someone if their tastebuds or personal preferences don't match yours.

Rule #3: Restaurants shouldn't attempt to control or censor reviews. They should learn to accept constructive criticism and try to improve. Managers who constantly check on forums or blogs to see how they are faring as well as to gain feedback on how to change show that they are passionate and dedicated in what they do.

Rule #4: Restaurants, if you're just in it for the money, get out and get lost. You're not going to last anyway once you start your cost-cutting measures like drastically reducing staff size or compromising on good quality ingredients. Do it because you have the passion for food and for the art of cooking, and because you want to share it with people who are more than willing to pay for such delights.

This sets us up nicely for the second case. A talented food blogger recently posted an online letter to Today [3] about a local pastry boutique threatening legal action after reading less than favourable reviews on her blog. Some legal eagles are saying that there are grounds for action, but I'm more appalled by the growing acceptance in this country that everything can be achieved just by suing.

Constructive comments should be welcomed and should in fact be encouraged. By "constructive" I mean sincere and genuine criticism that is meant to let restaurants know where they have gone wrong, or are weak in, and how they could improve. It should not be easily confused with condemnation or taken as an insult. Restaurants should know that the best way to do well is to cook good food, provide good service, offer a good ambience, and most of all listen to what their customers have to say about them, rather than going out there trying to shoot down any negative reviews they can find.

I've seen how some managers have gone on to the "Hungrygowhere" forums or even directly to the blogs to apologise for bad experiences and have tried to make up for them - this is the element of true and committed service that restaurants in Singapore (and anywhere in the world in fact) should aspire towards. Word of such acts of sincerity actually spreads faster than you can imagine, and I'm sure that it will endear customers to you because they know that you are trying. That, my friend, is what really matters!

Food bloggers meanwhile must always be responsible in what they write and should refrain from making groundless or unsubstantiated criticisms like, "This food sucks!" or "The food is horrid, don't ever support this lousy restaurant!". Instead, help the restaurants out by giving suggestions on how to improve or by simply explaining why you felt that way. Was the food unacceptable because it was dripping with so much oil that made it humanly impossible to stomach, or was it because the food wasn't as fresh as it should be, or on another matter altogether, was service bad because the staff was rude to you, and if so, what did the staff exactly do?

It certainly seems to demand a lot of effort and even I have to keep reminding myself to be fair to the restaurant and the people behind it. As bloggers, I think we have to be aware that others are always reading what we write and more often than not people are simply too impressionistic (but this does not necessarily exclude bloggers) that they are reluctant to try out a restaurant that has just received a condemning review, even if it was based on personal preference and experience. So while you want to be honest, always remember to be fair as well.

Now that all been said, food bloggers, please keep eating and please keep blogging! =)

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