Wednesday, May 29, 2024
HomesingaporeF&B outlets offering to pay more for top reviews should be 'unreservedly'...

F&B outlets offering to pay more for top reviews should be 'unreservedly' rejected, say some food bloggers

SINGAPORE: When an F&B outlet offers extra money for a top spot on a review listicle, the answer should be a straight “no”, according to some food bloggers.

Others stressed that whenever payment is received in exchange for any form of coverage, this should be clearly declared to readers.

The food reviewers were speaking to CNA in the wake of popular blog SethLui.com causing a stir after asking an F&B owner, Charlene Yan, if she would like to pay S$2,300 (US$1,678) for a spot on a listicle on the best places to eat in Everton Park.

Ms Yan was also told that she could be placed in the top three spots on the listicle, for at least a year, if she forked out an additional S$400 to S$600.

According to guidelines from the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS), a disclosure is required if a client sponsors content like listicles or articles, in return for a mention.

Disclosures are also required when the client pays for messages in the content that promotes their products, or when the client solicits a review by providing a product at its own expense – such as in food tastings. 

In response to Ms Yan, Mr Lui himself put out a statement saying his team had reached out to her as a media company providing advertising services.

He said that when working with clients, one or more members from SethLui.com would try their food first and write about it.

“If the food quality is far below average, we would still drop the client so as not to mislead our readers,” he said, adding that it was “patently false” that his team randomly picks eateries and sends them proposals of cash-for-content. 

Mr Lui also said that in paid reviews, a disclaimer for branded or sponsored content is “placed clearly” at the end of those articles. 

In SethLui.com’s correspondence with Ms Yan, she was sent examples of listicles including a Northpoint City and Labrador Park food guide.

Both are not labelled as advertorials or paid content. Mr Lui declined to respond to further queries from CNA. 

“MONEY CAN’T BUY FAVOUR”

Mr Tony Boey, who has reviewed food on his site Johor Kaki since 2012, told CNA that he does not accept payment from food stalls and restaurants that he reviews. 

“I pay for my own meals as an anonymous customer, unless it is a hosted media tasting event, which I attend occasionally and will declare it as such in my post,” he added. 

Instead, he earns revenue from other activities such as giving talks, writing for other publications, consultation work, doing research and hosting Google ads. 

Ms Nobelle Liew, who reviews food on Instagram under the handle @chocolatetbasil for her 13,000 followers, told CNA that she usually does not accept free tastings unless she already feels positive about the outlet.

If she does accept the tasting, she also makes sure to tell the restaurant owners that she will only post her honest opinions before heading down. She has only accepted payments for marketing campaigns twice, both with food delivery platform FoodPanda. 

When asked for her opinion on paid reviews that go undeclared, she said: “I understand why people do it, but I don’t like it.” 

“I don’t like being paid because I feel like it restricts me from saying what I really feel,” said Ms Liew, adding that she considers her food reviewing account a hobby. 

As a freelance photographer who also accepts social media marketing clients, she also cautions clients who want to pay for reviews to look for influencers or reviewers who have cultivated a following by posting their honest opinions. 

Food reviewers shared that restaurants also often “try their luck” and reach out to them to try and pay extra for a high-ranking spot in listicles that are not sponsored. 

Mr Daniel Ang, the founder of DanielFoodDiary, said his team unreservedly declines such proposals, and informs them of their stance on declaring paid reviews. 

“Our listicles, such as those spotlighting the ‘best of’ hawker centres and cafes, are crafted following numerous anonymous visits and are fundamentally impartial,” he continued. 

Makansutra founder Seetoh Kok Fye, better known as KF Seetoh, said he also receives some of these requests every week, but rejects all of them. Instead, reviewers with the Makansutra team will go to the restaurant to try the food anonymously. 

“Money can’t buy that favour. It’s just our style since day one,” he said. 

Related:

The power of online food reviews: Can negative reviews damage an F&B business?

CREDIBILITY AND AUTHENTICITY

Food bloggers CNA spoke to agreed that reviewers should make it clear to readers when posts are advertorials, and when payment has been taken in exchange for reviews. 

This is so that they can judge the authenticity of the post at face value, said Mr Seetoh, adding that many readers can read between the lines these days. “It’s only being honest with your readers.” 

He noted that the response to paid and sponsored online content is dwindling, compared to five years ago. 

Mr Ang also said that there have been occasions where his team has declined partnerships with clients when the food or other standards did not meet their criteria. 

This is because it is crucial that they retain their credibility and authenticity with their readers, he added. 

Paid reviews and advertorials are explicitly labelled in posts to maintain transparency with readers, he said. 

When working on advertorials, the DanielFoodDiary team goes through a “collaborative process” with the client in shortlisting dishes, reviewing the food and featuring them, said Mr Ang. 

This is to ensure that the team’s “genuine opinions” and style of content are represented in a way that is consistent with the DanielFoodDiary style and ethos. 

Ms Liew said it comes down to keeping readers’ or followers’ trust in the reviewer.

“They would think it’s a real opinion or a decision that’s based on facts and your version of the truth, things that you like, because they trust your palate,” she noted. 

Learning that a blog they follow has been paid to give a good review, said Ms Liew, can lead readers to realise: “Oh they’re just doing it for money.”

RELATED ARTICLES
- Advertisment -

Most Popular