Morgan M, Plus Some Thoughts on Freebies

Posted by Krista on July 1, 2009

Morgan m inside

Morgan M
489 Liverpool Road
N7 8NS

Date of Last Visit: Wednesday, June 3rd

The Victims: Sarah, Gaby

The Damage: Gaby paid.

The Background: If you haven't noticed, I do like to eat.

But I like exploring more. Some of my favorite blog posts–the blog posts I really enjoy writing—are not the ones that are all about a dinner out and a London restaurant review.

I like the adventure posts. The getting-on-a-London-bus-and-going-somewhere posts. The something different posts. I enjoy a good day out, with multiple stops, some with food. Some without.

When I first started my blog, I borrowed a post from business writer Seth Godin about creating a blog disclosure statement and posted my own on my About page. My Disclosure Statement has gone through various iterations over the years. For a long time, it said something like "I will go out of my way NOT to write about things that other people want me to write about, except when there's a lot of champagne involved." And for somewhat of a shorter time, I removed my Disclosure Statement completely because I felt like I was violating it so utterly and completely.

Case in point. My friend Sarah runs a site for new moms in London. A month or two ago, she went to an event about women in business and met Gaby, who just happens to do PR for restaurants, many in London. Sarah says, "You must meet my friend Krista." Gaby knows my work and says something like, "Krista from Londonelicious? The London food blog? I'd love to." And we all arrange to meet up for lunch at Morgan M in Highbury, a place I've always wanted to go to. And a place that Gaby does PR for.

I like Gaby instantly. I want to help her understand bloggers and blogging and Twitter and all those good things. I like Morgan M instantly as well. It's peaceful and relaxing and a great "Ladies who Lunch" sort of place, and you know that I not-so-secretly wish that I were a lady who lunches. Instead, I'm a lady with a full-time job, an addiction to restaurants, a passion for blogging, and a train that leaves for Paris at 5 p.m. on a Wednesday.

The Entrance: I like how I'm met at the door of Morgan M. and how they take all my belongings away; I've come straight from work with a lot of stuff that I need to run home with after lunch and throw in a suitcase and turn around again and head back to Kings X with. (Are you still with me?)

Morgan m plates

I like the plates at Morgan M. They're pretty. And I like how while I'm waiting for Gaby and Sarah to arrive, the staff offer me my choice of good magazines. Not bad magazines. Good magazines. (I choose a travel magazine.)

I feel a little pressured to order the tasting menu, which is what Sarah and Gaby opt for. I am on a bit of a diet these days, and really I am not that hungry. Plus I'm heading to Paris and I know I have a multi-course dinner to look forward to. So with some negotiation, I manage to secure just two courses (plus an amuse-bouche) to Sarah and Gaby's five courses (plus amuse-bouche). (Generally, Morgan M prefers that the entire table opt for the tasting menu, but I think I must have looked panic-stricken at the thought of a full menu, so they relaxed their restriction for me.)

The Conversation: After we order, we go back to talking about bloggers and London food and restaurant bloggers and restaurant reviews in particular. Gaby says that she's counted, and there's something like 70 of us London food bloggers these days. I note that she should start looking at the wine bloggers too because for a restaurant like Morgan M with such a nice wine list, I think she's got an additional market.

We talk about the real food critics and I learn that although the big ones have budgets and pay-their-own-way, the smaller ones get everything comped. This makes me angry because here I am, paying my way for everything (or, well, nearly everything), and some of the professional restaurant reviewers actually get all their meals for free? But then, I get angry at myself; if I just went around London accepting restaurant freebies all the time, I'd kinda feel like somebody's mistress. All the nice things, but no respect in the morning… 

Morgan m broad bean

Somewhere around here–or maybe it was sooner–our amuse bouche arrives. It's a chilled cream of broad bean and horseradish foam and I love it. Think summer! It gets me pretty excited about whatever will be coming next.

One blog we talk about over lunch is LondonEater. Kang's blog is a young one–he just started last summer–but he does seem to have quite an appetite and his photography is really great. (I should note that I did bring my real camera to Morgan M, only to find that the batteries were dead. Hence the Blackberry photos.) His prose, in my opinion, is quite effusive and eager. Lately, Kang has accepted invitations to a number of restaurants, who have comped his meals. This has me wondering: what if every guy or gal with a decent food or restaurant blog in London knew that they could possibly bag a free meal at most restaurants, just by dialing for dollars? Would it change the game a bit?

I talk about my own experience with accepting freebies directly from restaurants. There was my meal at Cafe Anglais with fellow London food bloggers Lizzie and Niamh and owner Charlie McVeigh. There was my wine tasting and sushi session at Tsuru. And my German meal at Vinoteca. And now there's my meal at Morgan M with Gaby. All were memorable, fun, and delicious experiences. Maybe that's all they should be. But there's a "but" in there somewhere.

Morgan m tuna

Over my very nice starter of lightly seared yellow fin tuna, provencale vegetables, tapenade, and red pepper and basil sorbet (the sorbet was very surprising–I processed red pepper and basil, but not sorbet, when I read the menu), we talk about my on-again/off-again ethics policy. It's back on these days. Somewhat because of my inherent Catholic guilt. Somewhat because I hang out with a lot of economists and know that there's no such thing as a free lunch. And somewhat because in the last few months, I've noticed a shift in two types of things…

1. The volume of e-mails and invites I'm getting from companies and their public relations departments.
2. The types of things my fellow London food bloggers (myself included) are posting about.

I can only speak for myself. I won't say it's no fun–it's always fun–but it's less fun for me to blog about a free meal. It feels like work. And although I always say I'll write whatever I want, there is this odd pressure to write in a certain way. Maybe this would be different if I reviewed restaurants professionally. This is, after all, just a very time-consuming and sometimes expensive hobby for me. But writing about free meals all the time feels a bit like cheating. And it's even less fun for me to blog about the same free meal that other food bloggers who got the same free meal are blogging about. I kinda like it when I am able to write about something unique.

Plus–I have to think about it from the restaurant's point of view: If a restaurant were to pay for the meals of food bloggers, one London food blogger at a time, that would be an expensive proposition that may not lead to much in the end. As I like to remind people, never OVERESTIMATE the power of my blog. I may get a couple of hundred visitors a day, but in a city of 8 million people? Drop in the bucket. Gaby pointed out that although I may not think my audience is that large, the important thing is that it's very much made up of London restaurant enthusiasts. I don't disagree. But still…if you look at all the comments on all the main London food and restaurant review blogs, there's a lot of audience overlap. I remember joking at one fabulous event that a bunch of us were invited to, "When do you think they're going to figure out that we all know each other?"

Morgan m main

OK, back to the food. The menu, which Gaby very kindly let me take with me, says I had the seared fillet of John Dory, Braised Cuttlefish, Barigoule Vegetables, Steamed Courgette, Saffron, and Enbeurre sauce. I remember being surprised that there were potatoes in the dish. This was a good, respectable main, but it paled a bit in comparison to the lovely broad bean cream and the surprising seared tuna.

I told Gaby that if she really wanted to engage with London food bloggers, she should do a communal event. Something informative and educational that you could invite a bunch of people to–not just one or two. How cool would it be if Morgan M were to invite a bunch of food bloggers into the kitchen to prepare a dish and get to know the chef and staff? This would communicate the restaurant's key seasonal message. (And the fact that they offer a veggie tasting menu!) Or, I suggested, how about a session with Morgan M's sommelier? Tell us about the wine list and why it was constructed the way it was constructed. Or maybe just a Q&A with the chef along with a few small tastes of menu items? Perhaps I'm weird, but there's more joy in it for me with those sorts of communal and educational experiences than there is in a free meal. I think the content is more interesting than something like "And then we had the freshest of scallops, straight from the sea." And I somehow feel less conflicted about saying yes to a freebie when I'm learning something new. I don't know…you tell me.

The Desserts: They were lovely, but I only had a bite or two of each so I don't feel ready to comment. One was a dark chocolate moelleux and the other a raspberry soufflé. Also, there was a really really great rice pudding. Yes, a lot of dessert!

The Verdict: I loved my meal at Morgan M. And I very much enjoyed meeting Gaby and getting the scoop on things from the perspective of a super-nice and super-knowledgeable London restaurant expert. The experience, however, has me thinking about the ethics and hidden pressures of freebies. (Acknowledged or not.) Do you say "yes," because at the end of the day, you're not getting paid for this and you're just out to experience new places? Or do you say "no" because you don't want to provide anyone with free advertising?

As I wrote earlier, what if every guy or gal with a decent food
or restaurant blog in London knew that they could possibly bag a free
meal at most restaurants, just by dialing for dollars?
Think about it. (I am sure at least a few people have tried and/or will try dialing around. Let me know how that's worked out.)

Shortly after my lunch at Morgan M, LondonEater was invited to dine for free as well, so you can read about Morgan M on his blog too. 

Morgan M on Urbanspoon

53 Responses to “Morgan M, Plus Some Thoughts on Freebies”

  1. Ollie
    Jul 01, 2009

    Great post. I loved “When do you think they’re going to figure out that we all know each other?” Do you write up every freebie, though?


  2. Krista
    Jul 01, 2009

    I think I've written up every freebie and declared it as such, yes…the only thing I can remember not writing up was when Trusted Places invited me on a tour of Borough Market a few years ago. Just too much to capture! Was just too lazy to write it up.


  3. Swedish Mike
    Jul 01, 2009

    Great post! I have had a couple of freebies/review items recently. I try to make very sure that my readers are clear on the fact that it is in fact a freebie that I’m writing about.

    Quite a lot (98%) of what I have written reviews about has been paid for by myself and all restaurant reviews is for meals where I’ve paid myself.

    I think it’s very important that we try to be honest with our readers when it comes to reviews. However, I’m also hoping that my readers are intelligent enough to see through bullshit and that they know whom to trust and not.

    I do wish someone had sponsored the Magimix I bought yesterday though ;)

    Once again, great post! I think bloggers and non-bloggers alike will like it and hopefully learn something from it.

    // Mike


  4. Chris
    Jul 01, 2009

    Good stuff Krista. I suppose with great power comes great responsibility!

    I think Simon M’s writing an article on this very subject for the Guardian blog. Maybe keep an eye out for it.


  5. Kang
    Jul 01, 2009

    Krista, indeed great post :D

    I gotta agree with you on the pressure in having to write up a free meal, indeed ‘no such thing as a free lunch’. Believe me, its hard when I have to pan some places (nahm comes to mind, so too high timber..) and then having to go back to the PR person to kinda apologise for just being frank (yikes). For a young blog, I have little experience with such things, so that’s why my policy with these things is to fully disclose everything and let my readership decide on whether they want to take my word for it or not.

    My bottomline is full disclosure, hence me categorising the free meals as an ‘invite to review’ instead of a straight up review which I paid for.

    At the end of the day, I’m a foodlover and I write because I love going out to eat and yes, there is always a rush to uncover a hidden gem in the city and be writing about places that don’t often get alot of press around it.

    I suppose I am fortunate to have the chance to take up invitations, but I’m hoping that by fully disclosing the circumstances and by staying as objective as possible, that the original intentions do not get lost.

    I guess that’s where all the effussivity comes from, which hopefully is not a bad thing :S

    Finally, I am still a fan!
    And starting up my blog has been a surreal journey for me.

    I was (and still am) just a londonelicious and worldfoodieguide fan and I remember being in awe of what you guys have/and continue to accomplish with your blogs. To me, as a reader and just someone who loved eating out, you guys were my rolemodels and I’d come back to your blogs for inspiration and ideas, and also abit of lunchtime foodporn :)


  6. the moffer
    Jul 01, 2009

    Interesting post. A cynic would probably want to note that it’s a canny move on the part of restaurant PRs to woo the bloggers. They know perfectly well that no print journalist is likely to get a 1,800 word on a six year old restaurant past their commissioning editor.
    Sorry to be snarky – you raise a lot of interesting points and i like the blog very much :)


  7. Krista
    Jul 01, 2009

    Wow, 1800 words. I don't know my own strength. You probably know that most of my other posts don't get anywhere near that length. And I don't think you're snarky. (Love the word snarky by the way. Are you from my country?) You've stated some facts. I like facts.


  8. catty
    Jul 01, 2009

    I agree with you that having a freebie would feel like ‘work’. I mean, if you’re going to write it up anyway then great but let’s say there wasn’t much to write about… but yes you would still feel like you had to do it. But I mean, do the restaurants actually define that if it’s a freebie, you must write about them? Or are they going on the fact that they know (or think) their product is good enough so you would write a post about them anyway?

    Great post as usual Krista :)


  9. Kavey
    Jul 01, 2009

    Fantastic post!
    I made a post on Monday about freebies, having been offered, like many UK food bloggers recently, some review products from Abel & Cole.
    As a new blogger I wanted to address my feelings on the subject and kind of think about it out loud, as it were.
    As a new blogger I’m not in a position where I’m receiving lots of invitations for comped meals in exchange for reviews (honest or otherwise) but I imagine that I’ll apply the same rules as I’ve mentioned in my blog post:

    * Free products or services do not guarantee a positive review; this should be made clear to the person/ organisation providing the freebie.
    * The blogger should disclose that they received the product or service for free in the resulting blog post.
    * The blogger should do their best to assess and write about the product or service as objectively as possible.
    * Rather than accepting freebies indiscriminately, it is best to stick to products and services that the blogger would genuinely consider purchasing and which fit well with the everyday content of their blog.

    So if it’s somewhere I would want to go anyway, then I’d be open to it.

    However, I’m also thinking that, with restaurants particularly, how does one assess whether one is being greeted and treated the same as regular paying customers when the booking is made via PR?

    I wonder whether it would work to take up the offer on the basis that I would book myself, pay on the day and then have them refund the meal OR even present a letter when the bill came that informs the staff it’s comped. Just thinking out loud again…

    I am also mindful that, those blogs that clearly accept freebie after freebie after freebie just lose their appeal for me as a reader – and I simply pay less heed to their reviews.

    I don’t want my readers to feel same.


  10. Robert McIntosh
    Jul 01, 2009

    Great post and excellent points. The wine fraternity faces some of the same issues, but the numbers involved are often smaller (a bottle of “free” wine usually costs less than a meal at a restaurant) yet many still agonise over it.

    I really love the fact that you mention wine bloggers by the way, as I think we would get much more value for our readers by broadening our scope a little.

    We also face an additional issue which, as far as I can tell, doesn’t often affect food bloggers (maybe you know better). Many wine bloggers are also in the wine business (I am myself) so we also have to face accusations of pushing our own products/partners not just those who offer us freebies.

    I am of the belief that the main blogging currency is trust, not openness/disclosure as such – these help to build trust but are not enough on their own. If you have the trust of your audience, built up over time, the issues of free meals and free wine are less important.

    Keep doing what you want to do, and be honest about how and why, and you’ll find your audience will appreciate it and grow.

    Finally, I agree wholeheartedly with the idea to engage bloggers through communal events, masterclasses, behind-the-scenes access and so on. These are very interesting, and great ways to learn about the people behind the restaurants – but ultimately you still need to experience “the product” if your audience wants restaurant reviews. Nice people can still make bad food and poor wine.


  11. Thanks Krista for an inspiring post. I had a long discussion about it with the husband this morning about this subject after reading your post. It’s been on my mind for months and I feel very conflicted about the whole subject. I didn’t have this problem when I first started blogging, but am receiving quite a lot of emails to review restaurants or products. I think I’ll try and put some of my thoughts down in a post over the weekend if I can. I’d like to be more clear about the whole subject in my head!


  12. The Ginger Gourmand
    Jul 01, 2009

    An interesting read Krista. It’s a tough one isn’t it? Upfront honesty rules for me and you’ve captured that well here. It makes you wonder how many ‘paid’ critics find it difficult to slate a bad restaurant when they’re on a freebie and as a result how many distorted reviews there could be out there.

    I ate at Morgan M a couple of years ago when I was vegetarian (before I slipped back to eating fish…) and all in all had a lovely meal. I like the ‘esprit’ and the vision. I think a lot of a restaurant that takes as much care with its vegetarian offerings as it does with its meat dishes and it shows in the vegetarian tasting menu. All credit to Morgan M for that.

    I seem to recall the rice pudding pre-dessert you mention being really rather delicious…


  13. Krista
    Jul 01, 2009

    Thanks for all the detailed comments, everyone!

    @catty normally when I receive an invite, it specifically says something like, “We’d like to invite you to review our restaurant.”

    @kavey i like your well-documented rules!

    @thirstforwine Yes, great comment about trust. But I like this quote from Warren Buffett “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”

    @worldfoodieguide: The volume of invites has increased dramatically as of late, hasn’t it?

    @gingergourmand: One thing I learned recently…when critics are invited to review, if they do have harsh feedback and their meal has been comped, they may write a letter directly to the restaurant itself rather than publish the review (which could demoralize the restaurant staff and damage the restaurant in other more indirect ways).


  14. Patrick
    Jul 01, 2009

    Interesting points made and something that I’ve noticed and been thinking about recently.

    It was only a matter of time before restaurants started offering free meals to bloggers and it makes perfect sense. I’m sure anyone who read all of the Hawksmoor steak tasting posts across a variety of the blogs would want to visit the restaurant.

    This is old hat on local newspapers – my friend worked for The Argus in Brighton and we would regularly be given free meals by the cities restaurants in exchange for a positive review. There was never a question of a review being negative – the paper wouldn’t have allowed it. I’m sure the majority of readers realised it wasn’t a true review though.

    At least the majority of bloggers are being upfront in saying the meal was free but that doesn’t mean they’re still not influencing their readers. When I read a review of a free meal I do tend to not take as much notice of it as meals where the blogger has paid for it themself.


  15. Kake
    Jul 01, 2009

    At RGL we just don’t accept freebies — life’s simpler that way. If someone asks us to review a restaurant, and the place looks interesting, I might put it on my to-do list (which has about 200 places on it), but I’d never take up their offer to “let us know when you want to come”, because if they know I’m coming, how can I assess them properly?


  16. Simon Majumdar
    Jul 01, 2009

    In the end, it is a personal decision and depends upon the reason for the blog in the first place. If the blog is just for the joy of eating then, as long as you declare it “fill your boots” and good luck to you

    If, however, as a lot of blogs aim to be, you want to offer a challenge to print media, then you need to abide by a different set of ethics. Again, it is a personal decision and most reader’s are smart enough to know when someone is offering up a genuine opinion or are just an aggregator of PR releases and free meals.

    Our own decision on DH is never to accept invitations to review and, when free meals do happen (as they sometimes do say with an invitation to join a PR for lunch) to declare them and offer the restaurant the equivalent money for the staff tips. No restaurant has or should ever turn this down.

    The only other time I get offered free meals is to make comment on the menu for the owners. This happens a lot, but I very rarely if ever do it. Now I am getting paid to write, I have to be careful of receiving what the taxman might consider benefits in kind. But I think a meal in return for a considered opinion is no bad thing, just a simple barter. Although, be careful, the tax man is looking into these freebies, mainly on techie blogs

    I tend not to go to many blogger events, not because there is anything wrong with them, more because of pressures on my time. I am also concerned that a lot of good blogs that I really enjoy reading are becoming homogenized by posting at the same time about the same events (in recent weeks, visits to Sipsmiths, Belgo, Taste of London etc etc) People may write well, but there is only so much you can read about the same event without getting bored. We could be in danger of losing the great variety of the food blogs we have in the UK as PR’s take advantage of our love of eating.

    As for products, that’s a different matter. Sampling is a classic marketing tool and has been used for decades to promote awareness. Taking account of blogs is just a new way of doing that. As long as people only write about products they really love, then I don’t see any harm, unless they

    a)Shamelessly go after suppliers for free stuff. I have done, but only to give away at DINE WITH DH.

    b)All end up writing about the same stuff at the same time. Again, lots of blogs I like have all been writing about A&C recently. At least this time, there are different recipes to make it interesting.

    It’s a grey area and I am pleased that people are talking about it and writing about it on their blogs. It may make some of the more lax ones wake up a bit and the rest, myself included, more careful that we don’t kill off what is a very valuable resource.

    Simon


  17. Krista
    Jul 01, 2009

    @patrick: I agree with your last point: when I notice someone has been on a freebie, I automatically discount the review.

    @kake: I may adopt a version of your first line in my disclosure policy…”Londonelicious doesn’t accept freebies – life’s simpler that way.” Simple is good.

    @hermanosegundo Thrilled to have you weigh in. I don’t think I spent enough time expanding on the unique content angle, which you so eloquently describe here. Homogenized is the right word. I like variety. New discoveries. (That little noodle bar you guys discovered recently is an excellent example of the type of post I love! And I still need to try that Chippie on Farringdon. Great discoveries.) No fun if everyone is writing about the same lobster. (Not that I begrudge anyone their free lobster. I just didn’t read those posts as thoroughly as I would something else.)


  18. Anthony Silverbrow
    Jul 01, 2009

    I think Simon has hit the nail on the head.

    The nice thing about UK food blogging for sometime was the variety and therefore serendipity that came from reading different people with different experiences. That is rapidly disappearing and we’re the poorer for it. We’re heading towards the herd mentality that you see with some of the US (NYC & SF especially) blogs.

    This may not make me popular but I think it isn’t helped by the likes of the London Food Bloggers association and association of UK Food Bloggers. Apologies if I’ve got the names wrong. And for full disclosure I should say I’m signed up to both their websites, but other than that generally don’t partake in the events. This is not snobbery, it’s just that I enjoy writing my blog and started writing purely for myself. That motivation largely remains and I want to plough my own furrow.

    Having said all of that, were it not for a community of London/UK food bloggers I wouldn’t have met some great people and consequently had great experiences.


  19. Kavey
    Jul 01, 2009

    Lots more great comments here, thanks Krista for opening up a great forum for discussion!

    Simon makes an astute observation that “a lot of good blogs that I really enjoy reading are becoming homogenized by posting at the same time about the same events” and this is something I’ve noticed myself and thought quite a lot about, not that I’ve been to said events (with the exception of the Real Food Festival).

    Whilst the food blogging community is a large one and those of us that are communicating here (and on twitter) are just a small subset of it, I’m sure that many of us do share the same readership to an extent. (Of course, I’m not suggesting a fledgling blog like mine brings in a fraction of the readers that well-known blogs such as World Foodie Guide or Dos Hermanos!) Certainly I too recall the flurry of posts on the Belgo Lobster fest, the Hawksmoor tasting (though, to be fair, had I been invited I’d have jumped on that one, repetition or no!) and others. Once I’d read the first one or two I did tend to skip those that came after, with the exception of one or two from those whose opinions I particularly trust.

    I’m one of those who have accepted products from Abel & Cole recently, and this was one of the things I considered before accepting, having seen a few posts on the same subject in recent weeks. However, I decided that, because we’ll all be cooking very different things with our produce, there won’t be quite the same problem with repetition. Especially once we’ve all posted our first blog posts on the subject; the ones in which we discuss our rules about accepting freebies! ;)

    Having invested some time in discussing the products that actually suit my existing purchasing habits and cooking patterns, I’ll be accepting further products from Abel & Cole in coming weeks and will be taking a lot of care to ensure that I continue to review them fairly and that I don’t bore my readers with A & C references.

    Thanks again, very interesting discussion!


  20. Talk about creating a storm ! Great work nonetheless.

    I agree with much that has been and really have 2 opinions on the matter:

    1. Complimentary group ‘blogger’ meal outings that are organised with the sole purpose of restaurant promotion are boring to read about and frankly a waste of time for those who wrote them. Afterall, what restaurant is going to invite a group of food bloggers to dinner and deliver a rubbish meal ???? I agree that food events and tastings (such as dine with DH)are a different angle to the recent efforts of Belgo etc.

    2. When you have been loyally supporting a restaurant (or food supplier) for years with your hard earned, it is damn annoying to see that same estabishment reward a group of bloggers with a freebie when it is highly unlikely that this group will never darken their door again if they actually had to pay.

    I for one hope that the current PR fad disappears and that fellow bloggers get back to researching and selecting restaurants as opposed to following the email invite….. it makes better reading.


  21. Krista
    Jul 01, 2009

    @silverbrow one thing I LOVED about the Nings that have been created was that Eating Eurovision event. Chris Pople’s post on Finland was awesome! Who knew stuff like that existed? If we can use Ning’s more like that, that would be great.


  22. Kavey
    Jul 01, 2009

    That Eating Eurovision was great to read from non-participant’s point of view too!


  23. Peter
    Jul 01, 2009

    In case the thoughts of your audience are of any interest… I’m glad that you have integrity problems with accepting “freebies” (which from any one else’s perspective means paid to do a review). The flip side, unfortunately, is that now that I know that some of your reviews were (effectively) paid, my confidence and interest in what you write is diminished. If you pay for 98% of your meals, is it really worth the loss in confidence for that 2% that are pimped (sorry, but its the reality)?

    @ Kang… In the words of one J.McEnroe, you cannot be serious!!! I would never have imagined that “invited review” meant that you were paid. That’s disclosure like MPs expenses – which is to say, dressed up in a way that might clear your concsience, might even be recognised by fellow freebie-acceptors, but only the smallest minority of readers will realise the true implication of.

    I had wondered why a few restaurants seemed to have rave reviews by bloggers-en-mass. Now I understand why :(


  24. Alex
    Jul 02, 2009

    I’d like to echo Simon M’s point (also echoed by Silverbrow) – the PR people have to be careful about ending up with n blogs publishing a piece on a restaurant in the space of a week.

    I don’t live remotely near London any more and the last thing I want to read is 8 reviews of the same restaurant (or experience – I do like your ideas about chats with sommeliers or chefs) … There are already enough food blogging events where everyone makes the same dish, we don’t need everyone eating at the same restaurant!


  25. Krista
    Jul 02, 2009

    @Peter: Your comments are pretty much exactly why I wrote this post. As I said in an earlier comment, like Warren Buffett says, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” He goes on to say, “If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” I visited Morgan M. in early June; I’ve been drafting this puppy for a month, trying to figure out the right words.

    I can only speak for myself, but in the very few instances where I have accepted a freebie directly from the restaurant, I note it. And in this post, I’ve summarized the instances as well. The numbers stand at 4 posts out of 642, for .62%


  26. sunbeam
    Jul 02, 2009

    Finally a grown up writes! Of course the Prs are moving to get bloggers ‘on side’. It’s their job, the same way Ad agencies now use Youtube to create viral campaigns that don’t appear to be coming from them. Every net phenomenon ends up being subverted by business

    You bloggers have two choices – enjoy a free ride while it lasts or put on a hair shirt and start scratching. With the massive proliferation of food bloggers to the point of web indigestion, the gravy train will hit the buffers for most soon.

    Just stop all this pious hand wringing. Real journos are all on the grab and always have been :-)


  27. Krista
    Jul 02, 2009

    @sunbeam 17 years of Catholic school = much pious hand wringing.


  28. Anthony Silverbrow
    Jul 02, 2009

    And with Peter’s response, therein lies the rub.


  29. Krista
    Jul 02, 2009

    OK, 5 out of 642 for 0.78%. I just remembered The Westbridge.


  30. Simon Majumdar
    Jul 02, 2009

    Peter’s views are valid and sites filled with “reviews” based on invitations from the restaurant and PR’s have little or no value (to me anyway) being no more use than those reviews in the local free sheets which inevitably end “and they have a superb dessert trolley” Once I know that all or even a preponderance of reviews are garnered in this way, I avoid these sites.

    However, in Krista’s defence, not that she needs me or anyone to defend her, reading her site it is clear that the vast, vast majority of posts are about meals that are paid for out of her own pocket and that a tiny, declared percentage might come from an invitation and an event. Even on those, she writes well enough that these are worthy of attention. Many do not.

    The offer of free meals is an occupational hazard when you deal with the food business, even at our peripheral level. I am finding it even more so now I am delving deeper into its murky depths.

    A few years ago,when the blog first started, the offer of a meal from a PR would have made me giddy with excitement even if I still realised then that I could not write about them. Now, most PR’s begin their mails “I know you wont accept, but just in case…..” That’s progress I guess.

    As I said above, depending on what you want for yourself out of a blog and what you hope to deliver to any audience kind enough to read it, you have to come up with your own standards and state them very clearly.

    That does not mean posting a poe faced set of guidelines, for God’s sake, writing blogs is supposed to be fun, but just being clear in your intentions, sticking to them and, on the occasions you waver, saying why you thought it was valid to do so.

    My main concern about the proliferation of events and free meals is still the decline in variety of our UK websites. It is, as with all sub-cultures, something the mainstream has cottoned on too and is now marketing to so it is in danger of losing what made it special in the first place. For those old enough to remember, a bit like punk.

    Baggsy I be The Clash


  31. Lizzie
    Jul 02, 2009

    I have noticed that many blogs are posting about the same events and same blogger invites that they’ve been invited to. I myself am guilty of this. However, I think that some events, such as Taste London, was worth reading different perspectives of, as many of us had vastly different experiences.

    I myself have never been invited to review. Sure, I met the owners of both Le Cafe Anglais and of Camino but they were lovely people and we got on well – not once did I say “hey, let me come for a free meal and I’ll write about it” nor did they offer a meal in exchange for a review; it was to have a good evening nattering in the setting of their restaurants. Whether or not I blogged it was up to me. Thankfully, they were both fantastic meals which I wanted to write about.

    I am suspicious of all these ‘invite to review’ blog posts. Especially one particular blogger who refused to answer my question on whether they think their experience is better than that of a normal punter bcause they know you’re coming.


  32. Great post, Krista, and some really excellent comments.

    Of the variety of opinions expressed, it’s Kake’s (“Just Say No!”) and Simon’s (“It’s Pointless and Boring to Read About the Same Exact Meal on Everyone’s Blog”) responses that resonate most with me (bc, you know, it’s what I think, too).


  33. pete
    Jul 02, 2009

    How about the howls of indignation from the clique of bloggers when they were forced to pay at ‘taste of London’.
    I think a few have commented above so interesting to see their new point of view today.


  34. Krista
    Jul 02, 2009

    Hah! How timely. Look what I just got…

    Hello Krista,

    I would like to invite you to experience our lovely (blah blah blah). (Blah blah blah.) (Blah blah extra details.)

    If you would like to come and try the (blah) with a friend in order to do a review on your site I would be happy to book you in.

    I have a press release and some images if you would like some further information.

    Kind Regards,

    Ms. Blah


  35. Gaby
    Jul 02, 2009

    I really enjoyed meeting you too, Krista, and it’s a very interesting debate you’ve sparked here! We do understand that the issue of free meals is sensitive but, from our point of view, the reviewer should feel able to write honestly about their experiences, good and bad. If we are inviting someone out for lunch, as I did here, there isn’t any obligation that that person would review – it is just a good opportunity to meet people. Our role as PR’s is to get our restaurants, products or chefs etc talked about! Bloggers are an increasingly huge part of that and we’re hopeful that we can find a balance of working together – be it simply to provide information or gossip, arrange exclusive events or, where appropriate, arrange meals.


  36. Gourmet Chick
    Jul 02, 2009

    Krista great post and good to see so many people are engaging with this issue. I have discussed my views on freebies with you previously but I guess it is worth putting them here to join in the open debate.

    Essentially 95% of the posts on my blog are paid for by me and anonymous (as let’s face it bloggers are not really famous apart from Dos Hermanos, Chez Pim etc). In the remaining 5% I always state that I have not paid and usually engage with the issue a bit as I think that in general when people get something for free they tend to like it more.

    I do think Dos Hermanos stance on paying for everything is very admirable but personally I don’t really have the cash or the willpower to say I won’t eat somewhere for a freebie when I am invited to do so I just will always be very upfront about it in any post.

    Good point about blogs not being as interesting if everyone is reviewing the same places – the tiny, out of the way discoveries are always the best and I agree that I do tend to be less trusting of posts where someone has been invited to review a restaurant or product.

    I think with your blog you have struck an admirable balance of occasionally having freebies on there but the majority being your own cold hard cash which is why Londonelicious is so well respected and trusted.


  37. Douglas
    Jul 03, 2009

    I’m sure I left a comment here somewhere.

    Anyway, so how long before Morgan M goes out of business?


  38. sunbeam
    Jul 03, 2009

    PR and journalism has always been an uneasy symbiotic relationship and always will be. Right now PRs are as unsure about bloggers as you are about them. I don’t think pondering it all out loud, as it were, is going to be helpful.

    The main thing every time is to simply write what you feel to be true as far as your own likes and dislikes are concerned. It’s only a personal and, technically, an amateur opinion on a blog after all. It doesn’t have the the power to destroy or create that’s inherent in a major newspaper review, one that reaches a much wider demographic and carries a stamp of professional authority (deserved or not).

    If you simply say ‘no’ every single time to any free offers you won’t need to agonise over them and the PRs will move away.

    I also see a bit of envy creeping in here, those not being offered freebies casting stones at those who are.


  39. Niamh
    Jul 03, 2009

    Food for thought! I read this post earlier in the week, and many similar on the blogosphere, and have been thinking about it alot since.

    It’s interesting, as lots of comments above say, journalists have been doing this for years, but this is different. One journalist in one newspaper writing one thing, people accept it and don’t query it. It’s also filtered by an editor. The blogosphere quickly fills up with lots of reviews of the same thing, and I have been part of this.

    I agree that I sometimes feel compromised, and I try to take care with what I post. It must be interesting and it must be valid, I won’t just write about somewhere because they asked me to go.

    As Rob says, the key issue is trust. If I feel I don’t trust what someone writes then I won’t read it. That’s what it boils down to for me. Therefore, it’s really miportant for me, that people trust what I write.

    Simon M raised some good points, he can view from both sides of the fence now, as an author and blogger. I agree that accepting products is all good, sometimes you happen upon something really good and worthwhile that you want to promote and that’s great. There are lots of small producers and companies struggling to survive in a competitive market, and I am always happy to get behind them.

    I agree that we need to take care that we don’t become homogenised. I started blogging because I wanted to explore writing about food, it’s simple. Channeling a passion, creating a hobby, it’s been great and I have no regrets. The people I have met and the community that has evolved is a lovely surprise and a bonus, and I am very happy to be a part of it.

    Re: Silverbrow’s comments on Ning, I set up the London one, so clearly I am pro it. I think it’s a great space to meet like minded people. However, I am mindful of people wanting to abuse that, we’ve had lots of PR people and people from industry try to join so that they can add their events or promote their products, we refuse them or kick them out when they’re found out. We don’t want to lose the integrity of the group.

    I almost feel that you should publish a digest of this Krista! I am sure you will have many more comments.


  40. Chris
    Jul 03, 2009

    Krista: Thanks for the kind words about dear old Finland :)

    Simon/Silverbrow: Remember too, though, that you will often see a number of people writing about the same event/restaurant just because a) we talk to each other, and b) it’s a new place. It’s not always because we were all invited along for a jolly, although of course that does happen occasionally.

    But yes I think the copycat postings (and I freely admit I’ve done a few of these myself) will slow down eventually as the impact is diluted and people start getting a bit more aware of what’s going on.


  41. Melanie Seasons
    Jul 04, 2009

    @Peter – Wow, does that mean you think all those tech bloggers actually buy every gadget they review too? ;-)


  42. canelvr
    Jul 05, 2009

    My main priority in terms of blogging is writing about where I’ve been, what I’ve eaten, etc, because I want a way to record experiences that are over too soon and that risk just whizzing by. Unfortunately I barely have enough time outside of my day job to write about the home-grown experiences I feel strongly about.

    If I were to be told where to go and what to eat then it would become much less personal and a lot more like work, and considering the time involved in visiting and writing up I’m afraid I’d expect more than a free meal as renumeration for that. And seeing as I don’t see my blog as the right forum for paid writing, it just ain’t gonna happen.

    Not that it’s something I have to worry about, I’ve never been invited to review anything related to my blog. But I’d imagine that the kind of gig I’d go for would be the behind-the-scenes type of affair where there’s more on offer than would typically be available to me as a paying customer, although even then only under certain conditions would I accept.

    Thanks for opening the discussion with a gripping meta-post, Krista!


  43. SinoSoul
    Jul 06, 2009

    The pay for play PR/blogger interaction is totally in effect in Los Angeles as well. So far, I’ve mostly observed from the sidelines. On the one hand, it’s great staying mostly neutral. On the other, it’s hard to say no to mostly tasty grub.

    So far, my only salvation is to hardly write about comped food, and to always somehow remark on the nature of the meal, if free.


  44. Reemski
    Jul 07, 2009

    Exactly the same thing happening in Australia. A sudden realisation by the PR industry that foodbloggers may be a valid segment and away they go…
    I have accepted some freebies, but feel pretty yuck doing it.

    Krista, I pretty much feel the same way: the homogenization created by blogger events or freebies makes for boring reading, both for me, and my readers. I like to feel special and unique and hope my point of view offers up something a little different from the mainstream…


  45. marmitelover
    Jul 08, 2009

    One blogger asked me if they could come to review the Underground Restaurant in exchange for a review. I explained that I am a small operation and that I could not afford to give freebies. The blogger no longer wanted to review The Underground Restaurant.
    If you are a well off restauranteur then of course it’s no problem to give the odd freebie, but home restaurants simply can’t afford to do that.
    On the other hand, I can’t afford to eat at most posh restaurants so I’d be happy to get a freebie! And of course I’d be lying if I didn’t feel obligated to then give a good review.
    I recently went to an event which I really didn’t like. My way of dealing with it was to tell the organisers…I thought that was fairer than slagging it off on my blog.
    Relations are strained since…


  46. congrats on the free meal. sounds like it was a good one.


  47. Richard Trenholm
    Jul 16, 2009

    “On the grab” is a bit rich – you wouldn’t expect a film reviewer to pay to see every film and you wouldn’t expect techology journalists (like me) to buy every gadget. The expense would make it impossible. Eating out regularly is expensive too.

    Bloggers have a right to free review stuff as much as professional journalists. The Internet is a level playing field (I just Googled Morgan M and agirlhastoeat’s review is higher than the Guardian’s) so your content has the same accessibility as as mainstream press.

    It comes down to the reciprocal relationship between press and PR. Bloggers can try and blag free stuff but PRs aren’t going to give it to them unless they rate the value of your content. The point that a lot of people miss is that free stuff is not an inducement to write nice things, it’s an inducement to write something. That’s it. I understand Kang’s point about being awkward with the PRs just for being honest but that’s part of a PR’s job. I’d suggest not dining with the PRs to lessen the pressure. PRs may even ask you to make changes to stories (this has happened to me) but as long as you’re factually accurate you have the right to refuse. No truly professional PR will let that damage the relationship.


  48. Jeanne Horak-Druiff
    Jul 23, 2009

    Clearly I have been going about this all wrong – where is this avalanche of free meals that I’m supposed to be drowning in?!? :o) Would be welcome in these financially straitened times…

    Seriously, though – I can count on the fingers of one hand the free meals I’ve had via my blog, and I’m always upfront about it, in which case I see no ethical issue. I have definitely noticed more of a PR push from companies wanting yuo to review their stuff. Some I just reject out of hand (especially the ones who start talking in their introductory mail about guest blogging for me, required anchor text and SEO. Others I accept occasionally, particularly if it’s a type of product I would ordinarily buy and could make sensible comparative comments on it, but I also make it clear that I may not write a positive review. And some I think long and hard about (a certain organic veg box scheme) and then say no for precisely the same reason that others have mentioned: if I take the beautiful organic chicken, then I have to write abotu it, even if I want to put my feet up and watch trashy movies all weekend – and then it starts sounding like work.

    I must say, I have been somewhat saddened by the homogenisation of blogs over the past 6 months to a year – there defintely has been a move towards more group activities and therefore more similar posts and reviews of the same places. It’s great for a spirit of community, but not really for original posts. I love meeting other bloggers as much as anybody, but I think Silverbrow & Simon hit the nail on the head there.


  49. Harriet Fisher
    Aug 21, 2009

    Hi, I thought this was really interesting. I have wanted to go to Morgan M for a while (not least because they have a vegetarian menu) but still haven’t, mainly as it is a bit pricey and so I will wait for a special occasion. Which brings me to the next point; one of the main reasons I liked food blogs, and started to write one, is because they review unusual restaurants, cafes or events. I have noticed recently that this has started to shift a little and a lot of the ‘big hitters’ are being reviewed on blogs. to be honest I usually skip those reviews as I know I am unlikely to go, mostly because of financial constraints, but also because of the meaty nature of a lot of them. The writing on the blogs is still good and the photography often excellent but I suppose that originally I liked that they were written by people ‘like me’ who could rarely afford to go to an expensive restaurant. Don’t get me wrong, I spend a lot of money on eating out but not all in one go!

    I am still a food blog fan and a food blog writer, I am not in the position of being invited for a free meal, yet, and would probably be so excited I would say yes without hesitation. However, I think i is a good thing to remember that blogs can be appreciated as a different slant on food writing rather than people who are just waiting to be invited to be ‘proper’ food critics.


  50. FatBanker
    Aug 28, 2009

    Hey Krista, nice post. Glad to see you like Morgan M as much as I did (my thoughts on it here). The chilled broad bean and horseradish amuse is one of my ‘dishes of the summer’, so green-tasting, but decadent at the same time.

    I haven’t been doing the food blogging for very long, so I’m not sure where my morals on freebies lie at present; when one arrives I’m sure I’ll find they’re in the gutter along with other important aspects of my banking character!

    For a blog post that is not the usual ‘and then we ate…’ check out my latest, which is an interview with a Fine Wine Commercial Manager from Berry Bros. & Rudd.

    Keep up the great debate-inspiring blogging!

    FB


  51. Krista
    Aug 30, 2009

    that’s the thing…your first few invites will make you feel special. loved.
    powerful maybe. but then you will become the jaded and cynical bore than i
    am.


  52. RhythmVick
    Apr 29, 2010

    I found my way here from eatlikeagirl and then spied this. I know it’s an old post but I loved this restaurant so much – that tuna dish was lovely, and those sorbets were so clean and truly flavoured. I got a bit starstruck when he did his sweep of the tables at the end of the night (I used to be a chef) and, as we’d had the wine flight to accompany our tasting menu, my sister was also fairly mute. But I did wax lyrical to him for about 15minutes about his olive oil sorbet, which was faultless. Thanks for reminding me about the b.b veloute – it was liquid summer and the best textured soup I’ve ever eaten.


  53. Been thinking about food bloggers and accepting free meals. A couple of interesting articles http://t.co/hQpglC2O http://t.co/7MmgrXBy



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