Chefs and restaurateurs shouldn’t judge those that agree to give free meals to bloggers and social media influencers, says Melbourne chef, Victor Liong.

Earlier this week, Sydney bar operator Tim Philips set tongues wagging when he turned down an Instagrammer’s offer to post a positive review in exchange for a meal for two, reposting the Instragrammers correspondence and replying “With all due respect, I’d say you have as much right to review my restaurant as I have to review your menstrual cycle.” The hashtag #couscousforcomment was then created, and chefs across the country used social media to vent their spleen about such requests.

Like many of his industry colleagues, Victor Liong, chef and co-owner of Le Ho Fook in Melbourne, has never agreed to give a free meal away in exchange for positive coverage.

“I don’t buy cash for comment, really. If I wanted to advertise, I would advertise. All the positive publicity that we’ve gotten has been through integrity and hard work,” he told Hospitality.

“Everybody pays for a meal. Everybody at Le Ho Fook gets a bill, because if they don’t pay, I have to pay.”

The same goes at nel. restaurant in Sydney, headed up by chef Nelly Robinson who said he’s never approached by Instagrammers.

nelly2.jpgNelly Robinson

“I don’t think they’re cheeky enough to come to us and ask for a $500 meal for free. I think in cafes and bars, where it’s a little bit cheaper, it goes on a little bit more. [But] if they want to come to this restaurant, they’ll come of their own accord. If they want the experience, they’ll come. And if they don’t want to come, that’s not my problem,” Robinson said.

nel. opened just over a year ago and was an overnight success, taking home Time Out Sydney’s People’s Choice Award just months after launching. This, according, to Robinson, was the result of a strategic marketing plan devised with a hospitality focused PR firm, which saw restaurant reviews and bloggers enjoying a meal at the Wentworth Avenue diner, and paying for the privilege.

“When we first opened, because I wasn’t known, we approached certain people in the industry who we thought were influential, and then we said ‘why don’t you come down and try it, and in exchange you write your honest opinion.’ So we weren’t bribing them, we were basically asking them to write their honest opinion.”

Liong said he manages his restaurants’ social media accounts himself, is well regarded in the industry, and as such sees no need to enter into such agreements with bloggers. Having said that, he said the industry shouldn’t think badly of those who do.

victorliong.jpgVictor Liong. Image:

“I’m not against it, to be honest. I’m a realist. I’ve been very fortunate to have the career that I have, and to be in the position that I’m in. There are a lot of people out there who don’t have the opportunities I’ve had; that don’t have the contacts; that aren’t as lucky. This kind of shit could be good for them … it’s advertising. It’s like getting an ad in the paper but the messaging is more effective. It’s direct marketing,” he said.

Allowing a blogger or Instagrammer who has a significant reach online to visit your restaurant could be a very cost effective way of getting bums on seats, said Liong, who feels that social media is one of the most powerful marketing tools for hospitality businesses at the moment.

“If I was Joe Blow in a corner caf and I was sitting there going ‘I think the food I do is nice, why aren’t the people coming through?’ Well, what’s it going to cost the guy? Like $200? And he’s reaching 30,000 people directly?

“I’d say go for it.”


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