"Tupperwaregate" and What It's Confirmed About Food Blogging
Etiquette is made up of many fine lines. It is, for example, considered crass to voluntarily ask for seconds, but equally impolite to refuse the host scooping up extra forkfuls of spaghetti onto your plate. Nowadays, those lines are just getting blurrier and blurrier, but with the Internet mixed in, those lines become a squiggly mess.
So when a blogger attended a massive food event last week ready with Tupperware for leftovers, the Internet was quick to pounce (no thanks to the fellow blogger who dutifully status-posted the whole issue). The lesson could've quickly ended as a reminder about manners. You can graciously accept takeaway only when they're offered but you can't come in expecting it. Period. Life moves on.
But like all Internet popcorn, the comments section turned out to be much more revelatory than a person who—like everyone else, to be honest—just wanted to skip making dinner for the next couple of days.
Facts concerning Tupperwaregate have become muddled. Names weren't revealed, but people reacted anyway. The woman reportedly asked permission from the public relations department. Her daughter got involved. Woman has supposedly been sacked from the blog that she contributes in. But amid all the scathing remarks of B-rated bloggers are the replies that show the terrifying inevitability of the food industry’s future.
Free food. Paid reviews. The writer in question even replied: "For the review thing, restos are scared of me talaga, but check my site as there are no bad reviews as I don't want to close a place n make people lose jobs.---yan ngaang pangit eh nag ta takehome ka ngbpagkain di yan feista na pwede mag balot. Not unless the pr insists. [sic]"
We didn't bother checking his site because his reply is pretty much a summary of food coverage in the Philippines. When restaurateur and culinary personality JJ Yulo tried to dissect why Filipinos are afraid to give bad reviews, he said: "No one wants to hurt anyone’s feelings, because who knows who will read the review...We don’t want to offend any sensibilities, nor burn bridges, because it’s such a small town." Not everyone has the talent to separate criticism—constructive criticism, that is—from hate. For most of the Internet, it's all just the same.
Reviews are costly, and with the number of restaurants and food establishments opening every year, how much you're paid as a food writer will hardly be able to keep up with your credit card bill. Freebies, even if we don't admit it, are hard to say no to, and as they say, don't bite the hand that feeds—quite literally in this case.
But what happens when the steak they served was overdone? What about the overcooked eggs benedict or the slimy fish? Do you skirt around the mistakes and sweep the negative under the rug? It’s extremely idealistic to say that you can quietly whisper your comments to the chef, but in truth, only a few people can do that. And what of the followers who see your write-ups quite unsure if the picturesque sundae you posted is as mouthwatering as it looks?
There are far worse horror stories than a tita who was extra hungry. You have bloggers who walk out because they demand to be paid for their posts. You have bloggers who expect to have concessions for their family. You have editors who expect special treatment and private events. But everyone wants freebies. Whether it’s just a basic meal to a new restaurant or those little goodie bags that are loaded with gift certificates (a week’s worth of dinner!). I’m not going to be “holier than daw” (sic; more gold from the comments section) about that. Even the most credible journalistic institutions benefit from those little PR visits that come with trays of sustenance.
You write something good about a restaurant and they reward you with gifts. You write something bad and they still reward you with gifts for that second chance. It doesn’t even matter if you’re a famous social media personality or it’s a Facebook rant of a fluke experience. A restaurateur once told me about a “blogger” who sent him a negative commentary about one of his establishments only to later suggest that he (the writer) could be appeased with gift certificates.
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t—and PRs are programmed to never say no. After all, we all remember the story of Chic-Boy and how it never recovered from the social media worm that eventually infested their whole franchise.
The game has changed to prioritize reach and visibility. At big food events, you see the familiar faces of long-time food writers and established bloggers mixed with many, many unfamiliar ones. Even people who’ve never been quite involved with cuisine except for the fact that they need it to live are present, with their several thousand digital followers in tow. It’s good for business but what about the industry? What about the future of Filipino food that we’re trying to uplift so much?
The more discerning marketing professionals have a stricter standard when it comes to handing out invites. Maita Quesada of The Moment Group mentions credibility as an important factor “either on a personal level or if they’re affiliated with a credible group.” She meticulously checks followers and the comments. “The comments give you an indication of the kind of readers they have.”
Gwen Cariño, who handles the press for several restaurant groups, including Raintree and Mother Spice, agrees with this criterion. “They don’t necessarily have to have thousands and thousands of followers, but enough legit ones that will capture the right target audience.” Aware that followers can easily be bought, she diligently compares the margin of likes to the number of comments and followers.
It’s already an indication of where the industry is going. Writing skills have become according to them, a “bonus” and knowledge of food, which doesn’t always come part and parcel with credibility, is hardly mentioned.
Focusing on the business is good, but what about the big picture? What have we learned really except that you shouldn’t brandish your empty Tupperware in public because you never know who might be judging? What’s unfortunate is that at a time when we should be talking honestly about the food, here we are laughing at a blogger.