Food Bloggers: Ethical Culinary Scourge Or Mouthpiece For Puff Coverage, Or Both?

The eternal question about food blogging popped up again in the Wall Street Journal this weekend: are food bloggers (21,000 strong, according to the article) providing positive restaurant coverage in exchange for free food? The short answer is yes.

While the potential ethical pitfalls of the new review “paradigm” are many, the WSJ highlights a few points in defense of the practice. Chef Robbie Lewis of Bacar restaurant in SOMA openly admits courting at least one food blogger, who, he says, offers valuable advice on improving new dishes before the “real” critics descend: “I can't get feedback from other critics before publication,” he says.

Trying to adapt to the new crop of word-on-the-street food sites like Yelp, Chow and Tablehopper, it seems some restaurants are acting preemptively against bad write-ups by throwing bloggers a bone, which usually involves free food and/or booze.

Overall, it sounds like an innocent symbiotic relationship to me, which raises another important question: even if restaurants are occasionally kowtowing to food bloggers, who does it hurt? Yes, the traditional food criticism game may suffer in some instances, but what about the restaurants?

When you consider that after NYC, San Francisco restaurants have the second highest fail-rate of any city in the country, a free meal to a starving freelance blogger seems like a small price to pay for a little puff coverage. Any takers out there?

— Brian Bernbaum

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