Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Bloggers ; No rights without responsibility

My last post seems to have upset a few people. I received a lot of emails and messages about it, many of them from bloggers. They ranged from mildly miffed to incandescent with rage, the majority falling somewhere in between.

On foot of the apparent confusion about the points I was trying to make, I thought I'd clarify my position. 

The relationship between bloggers and restaurants has changed considerably over the last few years. In the UK it is not unusual for food bloggers to be flown off to exotic cities and destinations in return for reviews of their experience. This practice operates on a smaller scale here, with bloggers mainly being invited to dine in restaurants in return for a review. 

I can see all sides of this relationship as I organise PR events for some clients, I used to operate a restaurant, and now I write a blog.

I have no difficulty with bloggers being invited to restaurants or events. If I invite bloggers to an event, I do so with a completely open mind. If they attend, enjoy themselves, and write a good review, that's the best case scenario. If they do not enjoy themselves, then I would have no issue whatsoever with them expressing that view on their blog. I have far more respect for those who give their honest opinion.

I believe strongly that in order to exercise your right to express your opinions on a public forum, you are duty bound to be honest. You should also declare that you are an invited guest. People may rely on the information you provide, so as a minimum you should be truthful. 

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence about bloggers approaching restaurants looking for payment in return for a positive review. The reverse also seems to happen. Either way, both parties should hang their heads in shame. 

I know from experience that there are PR companies out there offering x amount of positive reviews on Trip Advisor as part of their package. They should also be ashamed of themselves.

In summary, if you have a blog, the absolute minimum people have a right to expect, is that you declare when you are an invited guest and that your opinions are honest. If they are well written and well informed, then so much the better. 

Hopefully this clears up my position on the matter. Please feel to use the comment function below or email me on if you wish to share your views.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Everyone's a Restaurant Critic...

It would appear these days that no matter where you are in Ireland, if you throw a stone, you'll hit a restaurant critic. The spawning of myriad blogs and review sites has meant every man and his dog now has an opinion, and isn't afraid to use it. I say this without any hint of irony! 

For my money, those reviewing restaurants in this country can be broadly categorised as follows:

  • Professional critics with a good enough knowledge of food, wine & restaurants to write about the subject.
  • Professional critics with sketchy knowledge who could just as easily be writing about travel or gardening.
  • Bloggers with a good enough knowledge of food, wine & restaurants to write about the subject.
  • Bloggers who like going out but don't know very much at all about food, wine or restaurants.
  • Joe Public keyboard warriors who can't wait to get home from a restaurant to fire up Trip Advisor or Yelp.

Let's start with the professionals. Like any profession, some are stronger than others in their chosen field. It should be borne in mind that the role of a professional critic is to write entertaining copy as much as express their opinions. 

We have some excellent critics here but I certainly enjoy the writing of some more than others, even if I don't always agree with their opinions. Some I don't bother reading at all. I was once asked by a professional critic if they could have their beef cheek cooked medium with the "gravy" on the side. Safe to say they fall into category two above.

Blogs in the UK have emerged as a very powerful force in the industry. Bloggers such as Elizabeth on Food and Andy Hayler are taken every bit as seriously by top restaurants, as any of the major print media critics. 

We don't have any blogs here with that kind of power and influence, but there are no shortage of armchair critics. I counted 21 restaurant review blogs without making too much effort. I counted 4 that were worth reading. The rest were either freebie puff pieces or more geared towards booze, the food element being little more than a sideshow.

There are some questionable goings-on between bloggers and restaurants which sparked a huge debate in the UK recently. I hear that similar murky doings are now happening here. I have strong opinions on the issue which will be the subject of an upcoming post.

I save my most bilious contempt for one particular breed of amateur critic. There are people out there who will sit in a restaurant, eat a meal, tell the staff everything was lovely, before shooting home to write a scathing review on Trip Advisor. 

This is wrong on so many levels, but mainly because it is totally unfair on the restaurant who never get an opportunity to address whatever issues arose. Then again, maybe that's not the point.

It also serves to underpin Trip Advisors' reputation as a flawed, skewed and totally untrustworthy source of information. A quick scan of their top 10 restaurants in Dublin will illustrate this point. Nothing against those listed, but if a tourist visiting Dublin relied on this information, they would miss out on most of the best dining options in the city. 

Before anyone screams "hypocrite" and points out that I have recently reviewed a restaurant on this very blog, let me clarify. I have no issue with reviewers, professional or amateur, once their content is honest, informed, and readable. Reviews can give restaurants the oxygen of publicity that they may otherwise be starved of. 

From my own perspective, my review was a once off but I took the responsibility seriously and my views were 100% honest. I feel strongly that people should do likewise when posting their opinions in any public forum. 

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Buying smart is key to success for restaurants

Back in 2002 I was appointed financial controller of a medium sized construction company. One of my first projects was to design & implement a centralised purchasing system. This would replace the existing decentralised system of individual sites all over the country buying their own materials. The objective was to save 3% of the €25m per annum spent on materials.

Before I got into any of the details I contacted two of the biggest and best companies in the industry and asked if I could sit in with their purchasing departments for a few days and learn how the market leaders operated. They kindly obliged and put up with me asking endless questions until I got a clear idea of how good purchasing systems work.

The project took 12 months to develop and a further 6 months of tweaking to get right. It was worth the effort as it highlighted so many weaknesses in the old system and revolutionised the way the company bought. The target savings were exceeded and the system is still in use today.

You may be thinking " so bloody what!?" but bear with me, there is a point to all of this!

Purchasing is a key area for any business, especially those with high input costs, such as restaurants . Regardless of the size of a business, the same basic principles apply. 

In my experience, it's an area where restaurants can be weak and exposed. Ordering tends to be done on the back of a napkin and phoned in after service. Goods arrive, often during busy periods, are signed for by whoever answers the door. The invoice arrives, gets processed and paid. Shortfalls are often filled in by sending the KP to the local supermarket. 

Bigger operations may have more structure, but I know for sure that what I've just described applies to a lot of small independent restaurants. 

With a few small changes, requiring very little extra effort, restaurants can reduce their purchases by 10%. To put that into context, if a restaurant has a gross turnover of €15,000 per week, they will spend approximately €4,000 just buying food & drink. A 10% saving would deliver €20,000 per annum into their bottom line and, ultimately their bank account. When you add in consumables and other non food/drink purchases, this figure rises to €25,000. Not an insignificant sum, I'm sure you'll agree.

It goes back to what I've said in many other posts about the skillsets required to operate a restaurant. I would never knock a great chef for being less than great in the paperwork department. Everyone should play to their strengths. 

Purchasing is a skill that is very much valued by large organisations but often unrecognised by small ones. It can literally be the difference between success and failure for some small businesses. 

If you think you could buy better or would like to find out more information, please feel free to drop me an email.