Chef Chris Shepherd; Shots Fired, Decency Desired

Houston Chef Chris Shepherd recently made a bold statement on his personal Instagram page regarding the ‘food for post’ blogger trend.

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As you may know, restaurant revenues have been cut by more than 70 percent due to COVID-19, and every dollar we have is going to pay rent or our staff to keep them employed. The best way to support restaurants right now is not to ask for free food and write about it on your blog but to purchase food and drinks so they can stay open amid this crisis. Another way to support restaurants is to donate to @southernsmoketx , a crisis relief fund for those in the food and beverage industry nationwide. @southernsmoketx has received more than 30,000 applications for assistance since Covid began, and we expect many more since restaurants have not received any stimulus from the government and unemployment benefits have expired. It’s not possible for restaurants to give free food to anyone right now. I would like to thank all of you fine folks that come in and post our dishes and restaurants all over you social media platforms because you like us and what we do. My hat goes off to you. Thank you @nuray_e_t for posting this

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Essentially the social media driven cottage industry of food critics around the country visit restaurants and ask for their meal to be comped in exchange for a review / social media post.

The exchange could seem fair, but if you really think about value received versus value delivered, then maybe it’s not a fair deal at all.

Imagine the cost of the meal being $100 with a 20% margin. That means, after paying rent, utilities, employees, insurance, cost of goods, etc… the restaurant owner maybe keeps $20.00.

This is of course assuming the A/C doesn’t break that month, suppliers don’t increase prices, the freezer breaks causing food to be thrown out or a myriad other surprises that eat into that $20.00; like a pandemic.

In order for this deal to work, the blogger has to be able to deliver at least 5 new patrons who spend a minimum $100 in order for the restaurant to break even on the food they comped for you.

But no business owner spends on advertising just to breakeven, they’re a for profit business and any ad dollars spent need to produce a return greater than the cost of the actual advertisement.

If a restaurant is popular, then you can imagine more than one blogger is hitting them up for this exchange and you can see how quickly cost overruns can happen.

Compound that effect with Covid-19 and limited seating capacity, then you can see from the restaurant owners point of view, its not a good deal at all.

There are only a few ‘social media only’ bloggers with the kind of influence that converts their followers into patrons of restaurants, so Chris isn’t off the mark at all.

My belief is that bloggers either don’t understand the math or naively overstate their influence. In business if you can’t measure it, then you can’t count on it.

Unless a blogger has a means to measure actual results, then any promise made is just a hope and hope is not a business strategy or business model.

One of the reasons I shut down one of my previous sites is because I could not with any level of integrity charge for advertisement to pay for operations. I knew that my readers were spread too far around the world and not niched enough to actually provide customers real ROI.

If you’re a blogger reading this, I am not advising you stop what you are doing, but I am asking you to stop asking for food for post unless you truly understand the financial element behind the service you’re offering.

You’re doing harm to the local restaurant community and I’m sure thats not your intention. If you want to support your local restaurants, then just pay for the meal and then do a review on it.

Don’t even announce who you are; that makes for more of an authentic experience and an unbiased review.

Once you build up a measurable following, then organize a promotional event with your local restaurant where either you share in the profits generated or you charge based on actual results that you’re tracking.

If you follow this model and others like it, then you can build a real business around it.

But simply assuming that by posting on behalf of the restaurant, they’ll get equal or greater value than their investment in you, that can’t be farther from the truth without numbers to back it up.