Thursday, September 9, 2010

Disturbing, disturbing...

I thought it would die down.

I was wrong.

It was such a non-event, a molehill inflated into a mountain over mismanaged communications. Kinda like that much smaller molehill involving a cake shop threatening to sue some blogger. Total non-event.

But til today, I am still receiving media queries about this restaurant-blogger issue, and I am still seeing it being sensationalised, as though there is nothing else more newsworthy.

I don't think I need to repeat what happened between Brad of Ladyironchef and Private Affairs (if you need details on what happened, you can read Xiaxue's exposé - probably one of the best out there).

However, there are two disturbing elements about this incident.

Disturbing Element #1: How one-sided media reporting has been allowed to get away scot-free.
I'm still stunned by that piece of cowboy journalism from Yahoo Singapore - it fanned the flames of hatred by painting a most inaccurate picture of what really happened, based on only one side of the story. When I read it, I knew it was so, so wrong. The Brad I knew was nothing like that, and it must have been an invited review gone awry. Indeed it had been.

What that Yahoo(ligan?) blogger has done is incredibly damaging. You've added a lot of pain to someone's life, very unnecessarily, and for what? A few more traffic hits? Was urgency really more important than accuracy? No response from Brad, they say. And what was their effort at contacting Brad? Oh, just email. Dude, ordinary people were able to dig up Brad's phone number, home address and all, exposing all this on hate posts in forums and such. But above all, you had access to Private Affairs and their PR person Melanie, who had clearly been SMS-ing with Brad, so she had his number.

There has been no apology from Yahoo to this date for its lazy, erroneous reporting. The post in question still remains there, without any clarification update or link to its follow-up article (which was still pretty bad).

So what's to prevent them from doing the same thing again? And who will the next victim be? 

Disturbing Element #2: How the media has come down hard on bloggers, but strangely, not on Private Affairs.
The restaurant failed in so many ways. Firstly, in mismanaging expectations with poor PR - for example, if they had been too embarrassed to tell Brad his additional guests would have to pay, they could have handled it elegantly by offering him a token discount for the extra persons. But no, they stayed silent when told about number of guests coming. (OK, I know, Brad should have offered to pay too, among many other things he should or should not have done, but he's been blasted well enough)

Secondly, after the awkward incident, the restaurant immediately bitched to other bloggers and the press about their invited guest (technically semi-paying customer). How classy, especially for an upmarket joint. No matter how disgruntled you are with your diners, this is no decent way to respond.

But that's not all. It followed up with a most haughty press statement driving the blade further into Brad's back and "tsk-tsk"-ing at bloggers in general (calling for an association to set up policies for us all), while opportunistically cashing in for some fame and self-praise. Are they really in the hospitality business? I shudder.

Maybe we should rename this the "restaurant PR fiasco" instead of the "food blogger fiasco"... 

But even though many in the online world are incensed by Private Affairs, in the mainstream media, the spotlight is pretty much on food bloggers - oh the greed, the arrogance, etc. It's easier to prey on individuals, it seems, than companies. Have there been any media articles remarking on the restaurant's PR tactics? Have there been any letters in the Forum section of newspapers criticising the restaurant? Please tell me, because I haven't seen any.

So anyway. There were slips by both parties, for sure, and that is one reason this issue has keen debaters who may relate to one side more than the other. But at least Brad has apologised for his behavior, which seems a whole lot less aggressive than that of Private Affairs.

There are also plenty of other issues and media pieces related to this. I will blog them separately.


  1. Everyone loves justice in the affairs of another. - Italian Proverb

  2. Nothing I see on mainstream criticizing the restaurant. Only the ST editors criticizing all food bloggers in the papers openly.

  3. With all respect, your post (and the language used)is one sided as well. There is no smoke without fire, and the reaction of the world at large towards this incident maybe somewhat justified. It is somewhat of a turnoff when food bloggers treat it like a business i.e printing namecards, actively soliciting reviews, and even running advertorials. No condemnation, but the Internet is a place of free speech, and any online citizen, much less a wellknown blogger, should come to accept the risks being a blogger(which include misrepresentation). It should be no skin off his nose if he has done nothing wrong. I just wish reviews could be independent and unbiased. Sadly, even this blog has taken a commercial slant.
    Now, back to the food and all your nice photos please! :)

  4. can you write this in, a bit more formally to the press, please? it's actually quite important. i mean, i would consider you a pretty famous food blogger and all, but there are still tons of people who read the papers and may never make the effort to get alternative viewpoints so, it'll be great if you can reach to them too!

  5. Your post is a biased one since from your past reviews, it's obvious that Brad is your friend. Naturally you would defend him right? And Xiaxue is also his friend so her silly post is grossly biased as well (though yours is definitely written with more finesse). I agree with you that it's a non-event but you writing this post is not helping matters either, it's stirring up the old news instead of just letting it die down.

  6. i agree with the title, it is sadly disturbing. well what to do, just move on, if people out there are not inclined to the fact that sometimes as food bloggers, we get invited reviews as a way of free advertisements for restaurants, so be it.

  7. This blog follows the same modus operandi as ladyironchef i.e tons of invited food reviews, media tasting events and advertorials. Its is only natural its owner would jump strongly to ladyironchefs defense.

  8. i think you brought up a good point that the media was too quick to blast based on one sided views, and the original blogger who critised ladyironchef had in fact apologised on his own blog for the original post.

    as a new food blogger, i am at least glad that you are bringing this to point on yr own site, just wished more would get to read this in the end ...

  9. Really, is there a need for such a post? From what I've read from the mainstream media, they have chronicled the incident exactly how it happened.

    I think it is dissrespectful to a restaurant to think that an invitation is open at any time and to any amount of people, which is what the minor-league blogger did. He clearly believes that the restaurant needs him.

    Now I'm not saying that the restaurant is right or that all food bloggers are greedy pigs, but the behaviour of Brad was irreprehensible.

  10. Your lack of objectivity makes me question the authenticity of your reviews.

  11. This is not a post defending Brad. Why would I defend him at such a late stage? If you have read this properly, you will see that I do say Brad is NOT blameless. Neither side is.

    However, the focus seems more heavy on the blogger side than the restaurant side. Things are not helped by the initial misrepresentation created by Yahoo.

    Objectivity? I am not reporting a news story - I am merely putting forward two observations that disturb me. It's affecting bloggers in general now, not just Brad.

    And hello Brad haters (I recognise you among the anonymous). It's OK if you don't like my blog - I'm certainly not writing it to please you. You can attack me like the cowards you are, but ultimately, it's you guys who have lost all respect out there. Sorry.

  12. you too eat free food and blog.sure you will favour the free food beggars.and cheat the unsuspecting readers with your reviews.Pay then review,never trust this free food bloggers.No free food throw your card.a true blogger's defense indeed.

  13. The 2 other bloggers who were there never gave their side of the story while xiaxue who was not there blogged her 1 sided view on it. Fishy fishy.

  14. I concur with your comments about one-sided reporting and senationalism. But the root cause of the sorry episode was greed in trying to sponge free meals at an expensive restautant by taking advantage of most restaurants' wish to get into the good books of food bloggers.

    No greed, no grief.

  15. It is very possible to have a blog about restaurants and food while not accepting freebies. Whenever I learn a blogger accepts freebies, it immediately makes me question the quality of the review. If you (general "you") can't afford to go to expensive restaurants without freebies, then just write about the cheap ones. There are enough eateries to write about without sacrificing your integrity.

    I think this (long) quotation from the Yahoo article explains my POV best:

    Renowned food expert KF Seetoh, who runs the popular, said the blogger in question lost his integrity by refusing to pay.

    “The best position is to be invisible, pay for your own food. When you pay for your own food, you don’t take any prisoners when you write,” he said.

    But what if the restaurant offers to give bloggers a free meal?

    “Then I won’t write about your restaurant. Even if they offer me 50% off the total bill, and if I write about it, they will take my review with a 50% pinch of salt. Some of them, after eating, they call the chef out and ask him to change this and that on the menu. Some would then say, let me do a consultancy role for you. You do what I say and I write nice things.

    “My stand is, be neutral. I pay, I say and then I rate,” he concluded.

  16. Hi Rona,

    Yes, you are right in saying one can populate a food blog without ever taking an invited tasting. But a lot of people don't understand why we do it. It's not the cost of the meal. Our time is worth way more than that.

    Let me quote Ivan of who put it very well - "I don’t think it’s the 'allure of free nosh', more like the opportunity to participate in an event that will provide enough content for a blog entry. Free nosh is just icing on the cake."

    Content. Yes, because as much as we scour for good food, there will still be some good eateries that we miss, if they had not approached us. We choose the ones that offer the most potential interest.

    And the restaurants or the PR agencies often give us a lot of useful information - on the eatery, its history, what drives them, their food specialties, dishes and ingredients (including their sourcing), unusual highlights, the chef's background, and sometimes the little tricks they do - that we can include for a more substantial post.

    We also often meet the people behind the operations (chefs, owners, key staff), and get to ask questions. Sometimes we even get to peek inside their kitchen and see what they use! Recently I got to meet Santi (of the 3-Michelin star fame) and his daughter who told us interesting things about how the Spanish prepare tapas, and how this influences what they do at their Singapore restaurant.

    Do you think you'd be able to do all this as walk-in customer? Maybe, but they would certainly be much more forthcoming if you were an invited guest.


    As for how "objective" the food review can be...

    It's not difficult to imagine paying for that meal. I feel the virtual pinch each time, and it's funny but a couple of times it actually hurts more than when I do pay! And I constantly assess whether the food is worthwhile recommending to people who would have to pay for it.

    Some people believe you will feel obliged to say something nice because you were given something "free" and the restaurant folks treated you so well, but remember, the meal is not free. You are giving the restaurant your time (not just dining there, but easily 3-6 hours editing photos and writing a post) plus influencer publicity that could be more valuable than the cost of the meal.

    It's really best to be honest to your readers. In the long run, your integrity will remain intact, and readers will come to know and respect that.

    It's quite acceptable to talk about hits and misses, but if the food is really bad, you can choose not to post it. I give my feedback and reasons, and the restaurants are generally quite appreciative. Some take it to help improve works in progress.

    There is the tricky issue of restaurants putting in extra effort for invited tastings. It doesn't always happen - some restaurants believe it only backfires. There are also meals like buffets which are harder to "polish up" just for a review. For me, I try to balance this issue by having much higher standards and expectations for food at invited tastings than I do for food that I go for myself.

    Sure, some people will still instantly dismiss invited tastings, or take them with a pinch of salt. That's perfectly fine because everyone does these reviews differently. This is also why I always declare when my post is of an invited tasting, usually thanking the folks for the invite.

    At the end of the day, there are many ways people get content for their blogs. I respect those who stay away from invited tastings because of their own preferences, or because they feel they cannot deal with the internal disharmony. But I don't chastise those who feel they can deal with it. Go for it, by all means. If they post reliable reviews, all well and good. If they post reviews that aren't fair, then they will reap what they sow eventually.

  17. Regarding objectivity, a reviewer who has received a freebie cannot possibly think the food and treatment s/he received is equivalent to that a paying customer will receive.

    When you invite people to your home, how do you prepare? You may make sure your house is spotless, or buy flowers as a centerpiece that you would not normally have, provide more expensive wines than your daily beverages of choice, and you certainly will spend more time preparing and perfecting the dishes you will be serving than you would for an ordinary meal for your family or yourself. Would you not?

    Of course a restaurant that "invites" someone to dine will go all out for that guest, more so than with a regular patron. So is the experience you're getting the same as that a regular patron will receive? Unlikely.

    So then how can you give an objective review of the place?

  18. I think these post's comments are getting way out of context. Be it invited or not. One can chose to accept or not to. If you are talking about objectivity or a sense of morality, let's just take a look in everyday life. Are all things justified? We do see plp living in landed properties queeing and arguing for FOCs. The stand is, this debate will go on forever. When you read about a blogger's contents, you can chose to believe or not to. It's all about a difference in perspective. And yes, I do agree with this blog that the media is indeed a scarily objective influence. One can say she's jumpy because she's a blogger but look, how many of us blog? Plenty. It shows the vulnerability of any cyber user and the distastfulness of their ways in vicious cyber attacks with not much considerations to the reputation of the person being judged and it also sadly personifies what a foul odour in character the attacker has with no sense of brain for the long run about his/her own reputation as a whole. That itself is really plain stupid.

  19. to be fair, like what camemberu said, there are different food blogs as there are different types of reviewing eateries.

    for myself, who just started out, i prefer to be incognito and just review based on any regular diner's experience, but just like an outlet taking special attention for an invited tasting, there are also instances where a regular can go on a very bad nite, esp when the restaurant is running full or short of staff.

    ultimately, as i spend more time on bloggin, i realise that food bloggin is also very diff from food critics writin in publications, where there is a specific governed set of ethics and rules.

    food bloggin evolve out of the web and the freedom of this medium means that there are less specific guidelines on things like food bloggin. in the end, i think what food blogs benefit is that it is meant to be honest and truthful.

    if a food blogger reviews based on invitation, then clearly state it in the blog so the reader knows and has a certain of expectation. i think the integrity of the blogger will still remain as long as his/her review remains true.

    this post was more on how other media hopes to take of what in the end of was a simple mis-com to sensationalise, and that itself is not only stupid, it's wrong.

  20. I have been reading this blog since almost when it started. Way before when you were totting a dslr.

    Personally, ever since it gain popularity and with the introduction of food tasting invites, the writeups have subtly changed to being lesser and lesser objective? And the food price count goes up higher? Was joking with my wife it has became a taitai food blog before we realised its all invited.

    As for the other blog in the news, the reviews wasnt worth its salt in the first place. Nice pics, but the write ups are....

    Well, i still visit to look for more food to explore. Cute kids btw, part of the reason why it was so good visitng this site. This used to be a peek into real life of a foodie.

    But i do agree not much people can afford to eat like

    And those are not invited.

  21. me, i'm just curious about that blob in the picture. what IS that thing?

  22. That blob I think I saw in a previous post -

    It's like some gob of slime. I can see why it was used!

  23. Excuse me. But I do believe you post is very one-sided as well. : (
    Also, Brad himself admitted to having a nasty temper and throwing the card on the table.

    If you were the waiter or waitress or manager there, you would have taken it badly as well.
    Sure the restaurant shouldnt have told this story to the press, but Brad also was somewhat responsible for the blow-up.
    Before you criticise others about question whether you yourself are affected by biaseness too.

    I myself am horrified that food bloggers expect to eat FREE at such sessions.

  24. I am a chef-owner of a restaurant and am appalled at Rona's insinuation that restaurants would treat their paying customers any less than the media. We put our hearts into every dish that goes out of the kitchen. We do not create false expectations.

    And the analogy of the invited guest to one's home is flawed. I sometimes cook some of the most spectacular meals for my family that no invited friend will ever get to taste. Why? Because my family (and their analogy's counterpart, the paying customers) are the ones that matter the most.

  25. Wah lau eh, got this kind of fuss over what free food and invited reviews!? Maybe other people don't mind or like to read? You don't like, don't read lor. Internet so big! Got so many places to go, so many things to see. Some places can even make you very happy!! HAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!

    And what? You think food bloggers owe you people some big favour issit?? Must do as you say? This is people's blog, they can do what they like. Nabeh you cyberbullies and cyber sour grapes try to impose your own ideas. Your stinking morals so high, go and start your own blog with your own pattern lah! KNN KPKB here for what! SM Goh also say dun complain so much!

  26. Yeah I also say the comments are getting out of hand.

    I think this post is about unfair media portrayal. Not about whose fault is bigger.

    And not about bias, but balance. Some things have been done to death, some things have not been said enough. It's true, the media only zoom in on the bloggers, not the restaurant.

    As for Yahoo, I can only hope they've learnt their lesson through the subsequent backlash they got.

  27. Re: "I am a chef-owner of a restaurant and am appalled at Rona's insinuation that restaurants would treat their paying customers any less than the media. We put our hearts into every dish that goes out of the kitchen. We do not create false expectations."

    There is a famous chef in NYC (can't remember who off-hand, but I'm inclined to think it's Mario Batali) who admits to giving reviewers a different experience than regular customers. It is human nature to try to be better when you know you're being reviewed, and I'm not just talking about chefs. Even as a teacher, when I know I'm going to be observed, I prepare more carefully than when I'm not. I think few people do otherwise, and if you're one of those few, well, you must be a very confident person and have incredible confidence that your staff also gives 100% to every customer all the time. Even Michelin-starred chefs don't have that kind of confidence, so that makes you very special, indeed.

    To whoever wrote about ethics--there are a few codes of ethics out there to which food bloggers can voluntarily agree. All of them address the issue of accepting freebies in different ways.

    Back to the original topic, I had read the Yahoo piece first, then attempted to read Xiaxue's "expose" (hardly an expose, but whatever). Clearly both parties had some fault, and perhaps the situation got far more publicity than deserved (similar to what happened with the article about the recent wedding of a well-known NYC blogger who accepted very very expensive freebies). But if bringing such a situation to light makes both restaurants and bloggers review the way they do things, then perhaps it's a good thing. (Although I suspect the "quid pro quo" style of reviewing will never disappear. Too many restaurants want publicity, and too many bloggers enjoy having experiences to which they would not otherwise be privy.)

  28. We should just ban restaurants from giving free meals to food critics. It is human nature to be slightly biased when one is given free meals, personal attention, kitchen tour etc. As a walk-in customer, I would be expecting the same experience (taste and service level)of another walk-in paying customer.

    As for chefs cooking differently for walk-in and invited guest, it is just natural that one would take extra effort and precaution when a food critic is involved. I remember when local TV station came to Thai Express, the owner personally prepared the food to be reviewed.

    Anyway, after all these, hopefully restaurants are wiser now and stop offering free meals to bloggers (anyone can be a food blogger). And hopefully, bloggers don't expect to get free meals. If you want to blog about food sincerely, go as a walk-in paying customer. This way, your reviews will be more truthful. Sorry if this is not what you want to hear.

  29. Ban this! Ban that! Ban chewing gum too! Oh we did that already?

    I think you guys should take a chill pill. WTF man, taking all of this way too seriously. So what you're saying is even TV stations cannot review food, because it will be "specially prepared"??

    And if blog reviews are giving you so much anguish, I suggest you cancel your Internet connection, and enrol in an ashram. Far far away...

  30. This whole controlling mindset is starting to smack of censorship. Come on. Readers are smart enough to judge for themselves.

    We know how to take reviews with pinch of salt, even those that are paid for by the blogger. Paying money does not automatically make you 100% accurate in describing flavours and tastes (which are already subjective).

    I enjoy all kinds of reviews, even the invited ones. I don't need someone to moderate the blogs for me.

    Let bloggers blog. We'll be a lesser society if we deny freedom.

  31. Aiyoo... yogi, use ur headlah. He or she is just saying TV can review food but for some cases, food may be of different quality compared to what will be served to actual paying customers.

  32. Aiyah, so this site is also written by another paid food blogger. Wasted my time reading the reviews....

  33. Food bloggers are not paid for invited tastings, stupid.

  34. Kudos to you for writing about this incident. My stand is definitely similar to yours.

    I do not think there is anything wrong with accepting an invited event, nor do I think it is wrong to blog about food that are given free or paid for or self cooked. I blog for the sake of writing my point of view, and I stand by my own integrity. Bloggers put our own name, reputation and efforts for all to see.

    Most of us (bloggers) do not stand on either sides of things, but urging everyone else to look at the whole picture. And lastly we should speak up, as no one else in the media or public seemed to care what would happened to any of bloggers.

    The whole incident just bring to mind how no one would help, if someone got stabbed in Orchard road.

  35. Regardless, i can't read Brad's blog anymore.

    All responsible food blogger should pay for their meals, if it was otherwise, state it clear. Like how you, Camemberu did here :)


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