In what I imagine will be a regularly updated post, I thought I would collect some of the best practices I’ve picked up on in the past few months. Of course, there are other, well more established bloggers than myself, and this is by no means the definitive list, but rather, a place to start!
I’ll assume you’ve already set up your blog and various social media accounts related to your brand. If not, go ahead and get those set up and then keep reading.
Use your manners.
- Respond to all invites. I’ve been rather terrible at this recently and need to get back to ensuring that even if I am not attending, that I politely decline an event. And guess what? It’s okay to say no. Certainly, I know there are a few PR companies I might not be on the best terms with at the moment, but my reasons for declining usually circulate around whether or not a venue is a good fit for my blog. For the most part, I try and focus on fine dining, hospitality, or quality independent restaurants and cafes. If I accepted every single invitation, it would dilute the type of restaurants I want to cover. I will consider exceptions, but usually when it comes to a venue, restaurant group, or PR company I really want to work with.
- If you are responding and accepting an invite for a lunch or dinner, throw out a few dates that work. I also tend to mention, ‘at a time that works best for the kitchen.’ After all, if you’d like to establish a working relationship with the venue and/or PR company, help them help you.
- Confirm the day before. A simple, ‘looking forward to x event or y reservation’ is my modus operandi. At this time, you can confirm who you need to look for on your arrival to the venue.
At the restaurant.
- Bring some form of identification. I’m not talking about your Emirates ID, but something more along the lines of a business card. Don’t have a business card? Get one. A business card is a professional presentation of yourself and gives you some form of credibility. After all, if a meal has been coordinated via a third party (PR company), then chances are the venue you’re going to dine at has no idea who you are. Give them something that they can use, or keep on record.
- Bring confirmation of your meal. As with above, there is a relatively high chance that someone at the restaurant knows you’re coming, but it’s very possible that the wait staff or first person you interact with does not know you’re coming. Having a screen shot or piece of paper with the details of who sent you, and who you are going to see is always helpful.
- It seems very obvious to say this, but show up on time. If you are going to be late, call ahead and let them know.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for a table with the best possible lighting. After all, you’ll want you pictures to pop, so ask politely, but be firm. At the same time…
- Try to pick a table out of the way. Given you will be contorting yourself and lighting your food, you’d have to admit, it might be distracting for some of the (ahem) paying guests. This is why, if possible, I tend to dine on an ‘off’ night. In the Middle East, the best fit for me is a Saturday night. That way, I’m not interrupting other people’s meals. If you are at a fine dining establishment, people might be paying a lot of money and their experience does not include a blogger standing on their chair to get the perfect flat lay.
- Be polite to everyone.
- I come from a culture that tips. While comped meals don’t tend to be places where I leave a gratuity, I will usually bring along cash in the case of an incredible service experience. Just last week during a meal, Hubs and I were so impressed we had to recognize our server in some way. You do you, but you’ll know what is right.
- If the event is a launch party or some other social gathering, make time to go and personally thank your PR contact for the invitation.
- Unless a dish is inedible (or a beef dish comes out incorrectly cooked — why is medium rare so difficult to get right?), be positive about the dishes. Certainly, you might have points to make or suggestions, but keep them to yourself unless the chef asks you directly. You’ll be more composed the following day to put your thoughts together and share them accordingly.
After the experience.
- At a minimum, send a thank you the day after. Unless you’re amazing at turning around reviews (and please, teach me your secrets), you won’t have a blog post or link available to share. I still think it’s important to thank not only the restaurant, but also any PR representatives you came in contact with.
- If you had any issues with the food, service, etc., be honest. There have been a few times this year where I have had to contact the PR person, company, or liaison and give them some bad news. It hasn’t been easy, but I’ve asked first if they wanted to hear my feedback and then written out where I thought things could be fixed or improved. In these instances, I give direct feedback. I give my opinions, but do my best to back them up in fact and give suggestions on how things can be improved.
- If you are going to be paid, be sure to uphold your part of the agreement (posts, photos, etc.) and then invoice accordingly (and in a timely manner).
- More than anything, be honest. It seems to be a trend recently, but not every brunch can be the ‘best brunch’ or ‘most amazing experience.’ Yes, I fully realize I can be hypocritical in this context. Certainly, there is always something for a kitchen or chef to aspire to. And your voice is important — speak your mind about your suggestions, let your audience know what the value for money is or the best dishes to try.
- With above, think first before posting out and out negative reviews. I try and stay away from these because I don’t want to be known as a pessimist or someone who finds fault in everything. If you look at my reviews of Muchachas and Zoco, you’ll understand my approach to a bad experience. It’s important to let other diners know, but I think you also have to remember kitchens work hard to produce the food they do. (Sorry Zoco, I’m still not over the ridiculously terrible treatment you gave me and my friends).
- Network your review once it’s posted. Why stop with your blog? Why not Pinterest? Instastories? Tumblr? And of course, Zomato or TripAdvisor. The further you can have your review reach, the more potential readers you’ll have. Tag everyone involved.
- Network as much as possible. Tweetups, dine arounds, blogger events — go to all of them with an open mind. Invite people to go for coffee that you admire. Everyone had to be the new kid once (and if it makes you feel any better, I still very much feel like the outsider in the Dubai food scene). And you never know, you might make a friend for life.
- Don’t be afraid to pitch! I subscribe and follow a number of different PR companies who represent a wealth of clients. Am I a perfect fit for them? Maybe not! However, I’ll always politely inquire if there are reviews available. The worst they can say is ‘no.’
- Don’t shade others. Imagine the other week when I read a fellow Dubai blogger’s tweet which was absolutely making fun of something silly I decided to include in a post. People are going to have their own approach to blogging and food. People come from all different backgrounds and add their own unique version to an experience — it’s what makes this city great. And while you are certainly entitled to a difference of opinion, maybe think twice before posting about something bad about another blogger, yes? More than anything, I’ve found other bloggers are a wealth of information and experience. They are not my competition, because we are all doing something a little different. I can promise you, my target demographic isn’t going to be the same as anyone else’s.
- I mentioned it above, but do invest in high-quality business cards. Opportunities for situations of how and when my cards get handed out. Mine are from Moo.com and I always get asked about them. It’s the positive impression I am always happy (and confident) to give.
- Watch all the food programs you can. Honestly, hearing others discuss food, cooking, products, and culinary styles is so important.
- Similarly, subscribe to food and travel podcasts. I love Prince Street, Conde Nast Travelogue, and Taste Trekkers. As with above, hearing about food (in any capacity) will help your understanding.
- Always keep your camera charged! In addition, think about investing in some equipment that will make your photos better (a Lumee case, or better lenses, for example). You never know when you’ll be out and find the perfect shot!
- Go solo! If there’s a restaurant you want to visit and review and you don’t have anyone to join you — just go for it!
- Don’t dilute your brand. I cannot stress this enough. While there will be plenty of invitations coming your way, if a venue doesn’t match without your style, then don’t accept it. Sure, I want to keep PR companies happy, but I also need to be true to myself.
- Whether or not English is your first language, I find that a good grammar program (Grammarly or Hemingway) is a great ‘last check’ before I post. Even though I easily write 10,000 words a week — without an official editor, it’s important for me to have another check on my work.
- Know your worth. I am well aware of where I currently stand not only in the local UAE market, but also on a global scale. For me to ask for compensation at this point is an insult to pretty much everyone. As I certainly don’t want to get caught up in a #lolratecard scenario, I’ll know when the time is right to start charging. In the meantime, this has not stopped me from pitching to website who do pay for articles.
Do you have your own suggestions for new food bloggers? I’d love to hear them!