Why You Can’t Trust Singapore Food Blogs

bright green veggies at chopsuey in Singapore
Ok, it’s time to get a bit contentious. One of the reasons I created Singapore Foodie was to  write honest food blogs for people who like the same sorts of things in a restaurant that I do. Namely; great food, decent service (I’m not asking for miracles here people), good ambience and value for the money I spend. But many times I’ve read reviews that rave about the food but fail to mention that the restaurant is located in the middle of nowhere and has the ambience of a supermarket. Sounds rather simple but in Singapore finding this combination is no mean feat. Do you want to read food reviews that only talk about the good things at a restaurant? Or that only talk about the food and not the environment where you’ll be dining? Are you after a more honest view of the restaurant experience? If you want honesty then that is what I’ll give you. I want you to hear the whole story and not just the shiny, happy bits.

Why Do You Read a Food Blog?

the exterior of blue ginger
I, probably like you, like to try new restaurants, especially when there’s the hope that you’re going to get wonderful food, in an amazing setting and at reasonable prices. Well that combination doesn’t happen very often in Singapore so I’m on a perpetual hunt to find the best of the bunch. I recently wrote about the 10 best places where I’ve consistently found the best combination of food, service and experience. From the feedback on twitter and emails I realised I am not alone in my quest. The trick is that often you need to visit a restaurant multiple times so you can average out the experience, taking into account the foibles that occur at a restaurant on any given night. Next week I’ve booked into four restaurants I’ve never visited previously, as part of Singapore Restaurant Week, so I can decide whether to re-visit them and pay the usual prices that are charged. After that I’ll decide whether to write about the experiences.

What’s Wrong With Singapore Food Blogs? 

gravel floor and fake leather is not what I want to see
There’s a big difference between going out for  hawker food and dining out in a restaurant for two or three hours.  There are plenty of great Singapore food bloggers that will reveal the best places to go for your Char Kway Teow or your Bak Kut Teh. But if you’re after reviews that offer balanced views about the entire eating experience then you need to delve deeper. There are times when I’ve read a review that waxes lyrical about the amazing food, but fails to mention the ambience feels more like a church hall than a place to while away the hours on a Saturday afternoon. The Ascot (pictured above, and unsurprisingly now closed) is a case in point. I booked the venue for lunch with friends after reading several rave reviews about the food. My disappointment on arrival when I saw the faux brickwork, gravel floor and fake leather couches was palpable. Yes, the food was good. But failing to mention the rather odd ambience and the fact that service was poor is a complete oversight. And part of the problem is that so many Singapore food blogs are sponsored.

Why Is This a Problem?

artichoke courtyard and the edible garden
There are several reasons why I think sponsored reviews are a problem. A lot of food bloggers write about meals they’ve enjoyed as part of a ‘media event’ where the restaurant is closed to the public so that  VIPs can enjoy dedicated service in an environment fully prepared to wow them with every bell and whistle on hand. The problem here is that you’re not able to ‘appreciate’ the service that the average punter will receive when they walk in the door. So you can hardly comment on the restaurant in its entirety if the service is out of the equation. As I’ve said on many occasions, eating out is an experience that starts from the time you choose your venue, it’s the expectations, the service, the food, the ambience and the price all rolled into one.

Aside from the service, if the meal is provided ‘free of charge’ even if there’s no guarantee of a good review, I think it’s very difficult to be impartial about what you write if you’re not spending your own money. The ‘value’ you receive for the meal is compromised if you are not handing over your own hard earned cash. Now I’m prepared to debate this topic. In fact my own husband disagrees with me on this one (although every time we discuss it I end up winning the argument).

the wine connection bar
There are times when I’ve enjoyed a meal and a friend or company has picked up the tab, but if I want to write about it I’ll re-visit the restaurant and write a review based on the entirety of my experiences. And sometimes my view changes.

Maybe my resolve will be tested in the future as I’m invited to more food related events, and I’ll have to work out how to deal with that. But I vow to only blog about food experiences from my own perspective, after I’ve paid for my own experience, taking into account all the factors I like to enjoy when eating out.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest I’m off to find some good food :)

Tell me what you think.
Are you a food blogger in Singapore?
Have I got it wrong?
Do you think that locals and expats have different expectations about restaurants?

Comments

  1. Media tastings and sponsored posts are different. For media tastings, a food blogger can say whatever s/he likes. It’s a wild card for the restaurant. For sponsored posts, the restaurants pay bloggers to write, so the bloggers can only write good stuff.

    I agree with you that media tastings and sponsored entries do distort a person’s perspective. That is why it is important for bloggers to state whether they pay the food themselves; or a media tasting; or a sponsored entry. Most bloggers don’t state clearly, but I do. And I am targeted by people who are jealous of the tastings I go because they don’t know other bloggers go for tastings and don’t state it.

    Secondly, while by and large, I agree that tastings do distort a person’s opinion, it is only because the restaurant only has to get one thing right: the food. All other things, like service and ambience, the PR will explain to us. So the restaurant is especially careful with the food, which may be different from the food they serve paying customers. That said, I’ve been to many tastings and after that, I tell the PRs I won’t write on the restaurants because the food isn’t up to par. And if the PRs insist that I do, then I’ll put it in nice terms. For example, if the food is bland, I would say, “the food needed salt.” I have been honest in my reviews, even for food tastings. Like there is a restaurant which uses microwave to heat up the food, I have plainly said so in the review.

    So yes, I agree there are many “rave blogs” that are not truthful, but I try not do fall into the trap. But in the end, it’s really up to the readers to read between the lines.
    Rubbish Eat Rubbish Grow recently posted…Jane Thai, OrchardMy Profile

  2. One other thing is that it took me a while to be confident enough to say what I want and to be critical of restaurants that provide me with tastings. So cut the new food bloggers some slack.

    On the other hand, I know some blogs that sold out. They started out as being critical, but now became rave blogs due to tastings.

    So yes, you can trust food bloggers if you follow their blogs for some time and know their personalities. There are some blogs, such as Cook Snap Eat Love, that are quite honest.
    Rubbish Eat Rubbish Grow recently posted…Jane Thai, OrchardMy Profile

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment RERG. You make a good point that sponsored posts and media events are two different things. And I guess some people are jealous of free food, but my view is different. I also wasn’t calling out new food bloggers at all, I am one of them! :) I direct the comments at the more established blogging fraternity. But I don’t think it’s right to ask the audience to read between the lines, although you make a good point that any writing is written from the writer’s viewpoint and we all come with our own preconceptions and judgements, but purposefully omitting important information is not allowing the reader the opportunity to be properly informed. And yes, as you point out, there are some good and honest food blogs out there and it would be great to see more of them.
      Victoria recently posted…Why You Can’t Trust Singapore Food BlogsMy Profile

      • it’s the internet age, people should be and are skeptical about what they read on the internet, and people should learn how to be good readers. The onus should be on the reader. Even magazines and newspapers are skewed to a certain extent.

        Secondly, it’s hard to qualify as what counts to “omitting info.” Because while some info may be vital to you, it may not be vital to the bloggers. The ambience for example. Singaporeans are used to eating at hawker centers and kopitiams, so the focus is on the food and they may not care about the ambience. Besides, it’s not a full time job for bloggers, so maybe the bloggers may think “Oh this entry is getting too long, I’m lazy, let’s end it.”
        Rubbish Eat Rubbish Grow recently posted…South Korea Itinerary Part 2(d): Seoul, Suwon and EverlandMy Profile

        • I couldn’t agree more that people should be skeptical about what they read – and newspapers in Singapore are probably an even more relevant case in point than blogs! haha And at the end of the day, as ‘h’ says below, readers vote with their feet or their mouse and decide which blogs to read or not.
          Victoria recently posted…Why You Can’t Trust Singapore Food BlogsMy Profile

        • it’s the internet age, people should be and are skeptical about what they read on the internet, and people should learn how to be good readers. The onus should be on the reader. Even magazines and newspapers are skewed to a certain extent.

          Then there are the expectations – if the restaurant falls short of your expectations versus a restaurant which is high above your expectations – difficult
          tim laven recently posted…Uptown Restaurant – coffeeMy Profile

          • Tim, the point you make about magazine and newspapers is very valid. I entirely understand that as readers of newspapers we know that The Daily Telegraph (in Australia) is a Murdoch run paper with right wing leanings, or in the UK that The Guardian is a left leaning newspaper. Established publications have groomed their audiences for years so everyone knows what they’re getting. Bloggers are a little different though. They’re purely opinionated, i.e. the opinions of the blogger will influence the entire blog, as they should, that’s what it’s all about. But if information is omitted and the reader doesn’t have all the facts to hand because that information isn’t in the public domain, then I think that’s slightly unfair.
            Victoria recently posted…5 Quirky New Lunch IdeasMy Profile

      • Victoria, I agree with you!

        I guess RERW is replying from a food blogger’s point of view.

        However, I don’t think it’s right to assume everyone knows critical reading. In school, we learn critical reading. This shows that critical reading is learnt and is an acquired skill. In this case, by expecting one’s readers to read in between the lines, doesn’t it mean that one is expecting a portion of the readers to not be able to fully understand the review?

        In addition, I wonder, is a food blogger supposed to write from each point of view, with his own personal motives, and not from a reader’s point of view? If a blogger is writing for a reader to read, and hope to gain some benefit from a reader’s reading, shouldn’t he consider the reader’s need and point-of-view too?

        • Hi Jessica,
          Thanks for popping into the discussion :) I think food bloggers (myself included) will inherently write about things from their own perspective, that’s part of the appeal of food blogs, their real opinions by real people instead of faceless names in a newspaper who are influenced by their bosses. But bloggers obviously have other influences (as evidence by this discussion to say the least!) and being transparent about that is important.
          Victoria recently posted…5 Quirky New Lunch IdeasMy Profile

  3. I completely agree with you about the free food compromising the experience (sorry, husband). The best food critic I ever read was Mimi Sheraton who wrote for “The New York Times” in the late 70s and early 80s. She would visit restaurants in complete anonymity and then write about the entire experience. She became famous for employing more and more elaborate disguises as the restaurant world began to recognize her!

    Great piece and enjoy Food Week!

    • Thanks Chris, it’s funny you say that because in a small place like Singapore I wonder at what point bloggers become recognised and then their service experience changes. Gilles Coren who writes for The Times in London is another who often uses fake names for reservations in an effort to maintain anonymity and integrity.
      Victoria recently posted…Why You Can’t Trust Singapore Food BlogsMy Profile

  4. Hi Victoria,

    What you’ve just mentioned is something I’ve battled with publicly and personally for a long time. I started my blog for personal development, to taste more and to archive the recipes I’ve tried and learnt. I’ve also hated food blogs before I started one, which is kinda silly.

    Somewhere along the way, invites came in, and to be honest it was flattering to think that my little effort in writing was noticed. And more came in, until it became a numbers and popularity game, it’s easy to lose whatever purpose the blog was started for.

    The writers, fearing losing popularity with the public relation companies that “fed” them, honeyed their reviews or just convenient left out the nasty bits. Some of them, who gained a fair amount of traction, started to go: “screw it, i’ll say what I want to say”, and still managed to keep their success with the readers. And because the PR companies still needed their social media reach, invites still come in.

    Some just continue to spiral down that sell out route, continuing to be media mules (I’m commiting suicide with this statement here, but it’s not I haven’t made any enemies in the circle before). These are the ones that we should avoid reading, but strange enough, I don’t see their popularity with the readers dropping.

    I just got quite fed up at one point, when I saw that my content became the same as so many others, tastings done in the same period, come out at roughly the same times. I felt that continuing with this invite thing is just rubbish, and decided to drop tastings for good. But I realised that you need to have some sort of balance, to stay relevant and go out once in a while to meet people. I still attend the occasional restaurant launch or masterclass event, it’s still doing publicity for the companies, but it’s a little different from the tasting thing, in my opinion.

    You also brought something that I’ve subconsciously did but never really realised. Whenever I spent my money, I was able to be more critical. And put myself in the shoes of the consumer, considering to spend their hard earned money on the restaurant. That is something that fades away when you get free food and people shove truffles and wagyu in your face.

    But it’s difficult to maintain, visiting a restaurant a few times before writing about it. It’s not very sustainable especially if the blog is a one main operation. While personally, I just like to cook and photograph food, and I can safely say that my culinary skill has improved significantly since starting the blog. I am doubtful of the reasons why other bloggers go into this “hobby”, maybe they really are just trying to score a free meal. But I wouldn’t deny, that it would be nice to receive any form of returns for keeping up a blog. After all a fair amount of effort and resources have been put into every one of those blogs.

    But with all that said, no matter how much I raged and whined against the whole system of Singapore food blogs, new blogs pop up every day, the successful sell-outs continue to be popular, nothing you do, nothing I do will change the way the majority operates. It’s just like global warming. We can only operate within our bounds, and stay true to our promises/principles/purpose and hope that one day the readers will know better.

    I’m sorry for rattling on!

    Jacob.

  5. Wow Jacob, thanks so much for taking the time to write your views. You’ve given me food for thought too. I certainly thought hard about writing this article and I’d had it in draft for a while when something I read last week just tipped me into “f*** it” mode and I thought I’d just get my view out there and see what other people thought too. I’m new to the blogging game and still working on exactly what direction I’m going in so this blog was partly about seeing what others thought too. I’m not one to make enemies usually but sometimes it’s important to voice an opinion and plant a stake in the ground. I feel quite passionately about the integrity required to write a fair review but at the end of the day we’re all human and open to manipulation in various guises.
    Your point about your ‘epiphany’ of realising that your reviews were like others, all done in similar time frames and for the same restaurants is interesting. I realised quite early on that I wouldn’t be able to compete with these kind of reviews when I’m only one person and I don’t have any contacts or experience in the industry so to speak. That’s kind if why I like the idea of reviewing places where I’ve consistently enjoyed the service and quality. But you’re right, there’s no way I could only write about those places so I still write about other venues that have impressed me. Anyway, no need to apologise for rattling on, thanks for joining the conversation!
    Victoria recently posted…Why You Can’t Trust Singapore Food BlogsMy Profile

  6. Hi Victoria,

    I guess that epiphany was inevitable, I am in the food industry as well. And I often have the mindset of: what does the reader/customer want that I can give, and what is the difference I bring to the table. Plus 60% of the time, I am a reader more than I am a writer. I spent a whole lot of time reading these blogs, and when they started going south, I started getting bored because across the board, the content was the same.

    Honestly, I’ve stopped following a lot of local blogs, and tend to look overseas, where everything seems to be more exciting. From the way the blogs are designed, the photography and graphics, to content.

    I guess if the writers start focusing on the content and they’d snap out of it.
    Jacob recently posted…Word of the Week: GnocchiMy Profile

    • Jacob, that’s a great point about following o/s blogs. In fact, I don’t think many food blogs in Singapore would survive long in the outside world as they’d be torn apart. But I guess if that’s what the audience here wants to see then there’s no great harm. It just means people who are looking at a more holistic approach to eating need to look harder.
      Victoria recently posted…Why You Can’t Trust Singapore Food BlogsMy Profile

  7. wow you really opened a can of worms with this one ! all good points made by the others above — all i will add is that, if i dont like the food/service from a restaurant, i will vote with my feet; if i dont trust the blogger, i will vote with my mouse. simple as that !

  8. Hi Victoria!

    Indeed, some Singapore food blogs give other food blogs a bad name. I too started my own site (Six&Seven, with Saunders) amidst the boom of ‘praise-blogs’, so that we could have our own space for honest and impartial reviews.

    Whenever a blogger posts something good – be it about food, or some other product – we are putting our reputation on the line, and it is truly disappointing whenever a restaurant/service fails to deliver that same enjoyable experience to others.

    Personally, I do try to visit (or get a good friend with similar taste) a restaurant before, or after, an invited session just to confirm some thoughts – especially for the more outstanding reviews. And should I receive any negative feedback regarding a reader’s experience, I always drop the restaurant a note so they can improve.

    Taste preferences varies, but that being said, thank you for creating another honest space for us to read! :)
    Jasper recently posted…Crab in da Bag, Big SplashMy Profile

    • Thanks Jasper for your thoughtful comments. This discussion has really brought forward many thoughts I’ve had on the topic of food reviews. Your point about putting your reputation on the line and the establishment then failing to deliver is so right. And more often I realise how inconsistency is the bain of the F&B sector. And I like your tactic of getting a friend, or yourself, to revisit independently, I guess the value is in the numbers and if 10 people with similar tastes all agree that a place is good then there’s a better chance that it is. And the point that you and others raise about giving restaurants feedback is very good – I think almost every place would take comments on board if they’re constructive, so let’s hope that this happens more often and we see things improve. Happy eating to you this weekend!
      Victoria Milner recently posted…14 of the Best Things to do with Visitors in SingaporeMy Profile

  9. I couldn’t say it better myself! I had a look at the top 10 food blogs in Singapore and was astonished that a whopping 80% of their posts are sponsored, invited tasting and product sampling. How do you trust a Singapore food blog that covers everything and anything, including McDonalds. Yes, McDonalds! And in the last year or so, many food bloggers have lost the plot. They take up a lot of sponsorship and are even starting to cover hotel reviews that come with a complimentary staycation. And as you rightly pointed out, many restaurant “reviews” take place in a manipulated setting, in this case for A&P. Sure, food bloggers are allowed to write with discretion but most of the time, they don’t.

    To be fair, some readers like variety and this could be a local style to food blogging. But I’ve certainly stopped following food blogs in Singapore because they have become a commercial media for F&B marketing and there’s an apparent lack of originality in content. These days I use Singapore food blogs mainly for pics. We may decide on a restaurant and I will google for pics to find out what they reserve and what the food looks like, but I keep an open mind at the same time.

    Cultural differences also determine what expats and locals are looking for in a restaurant and its offerings. Example – I have a problem with fusion where its really one thing pretending to be two and “Western” food. Most people I’ve come across here are happy to eat in busy restaurants/malls, form long queues at much raved about restaurants, and can’t differentiate tacky from cool. In addition, they put up with pretty average food and bad service, and thats probably why numerous overrated restaurants survive.

    Nonetheless, its very refreshing to discover your blog Victoria, this post especially. It confirmed my belief re. media driven food blogs. And no, I wasn’t really looking. I got here because of a google search for iClean ;-)

    • Hi Kathryn, it’s great to hear your thoughts on this post – it has certainly been interesting to hear everyone’s views! I think the biggest take out I have from this all is your point about local preferences that include a penchant for eating in malls or busy restaurants. This is very different to an expat preference for an authentic ambience and a more ‘natural’ setting. I guess it’s all about finding the bloggers and writers that like similar things as you do, so hopefully this post will result in more people finding what they like. I think it’s rather funny that you found me for a search on iclean!! Gotta love a google search :) Thanks again for your comments, they’re much appreciated.
      Victoria recently posted…14 of the Best Things to do with Visitors in SingaporeMy Profile

  10. I realise I am bit late to the party given that this posting/debate is a few months old, but just a few thoughts:

    – First, I didn’t even realise that so many Singapore food blogs were sponsored – hey, where are my free invites? (just kidding…)

    – Second, for me, one of the most important points Victoria made was not about the sponsored nature of food blogs around here, but about the subject matter of the blogs: from what I’ve seen, there is rarely anything about ambience, not much about service, not even that much detail on what the food is really like… in fact, sometimes not much narrative at all.

    A lot of food blogs seem to boil down to a series of gigantic, zoomed-in food photographs, and not much insight into what it is actually like to eat at these places. It’s just so much gastroporn. It’s not easy to write interestingly about food (difficult to find different ways of saying: ‘it was delicious’, I suppose), but I get the impression that a lot of people don’t even try, and even seem to think that they can get away with the pictures alone.

    I realise that in the internet era and in a time of supposedly shrinking attention spans you cannot expect everyone to plough through huge wordy reviews online, but I just find myself feeling shortchanged whenever I try to read dedicated Singapore food blogs. Actually, I’d even say I get more insight from the non-bloggers who post on Hungrygowhere, and many of them aren’t even trying to be serious food-critics.
    Richard recently posted…Review of Salt Tapas & Bar by Luke Mangan, #01-22A Raffles City Shopping Centre, 252 North Bridge Road, SingaporeMy Profile

    • Hi Richard,
      thanks for taking the time to comment on the post. I’m glad the conversation continues and I have to say that the more feedback I get the more committed I am to maintaining the stance I’ve taken. You actually made me feel a bit guilty for the brevity I take at times :(
      Loved your review of Salt btw – I’ll keep an eye out from now on. Happy eating!
      Victoria recently posted…Where to go for Vegetarian and Vegan FoodMy Profile

  11. Came across this post after looking for reviews of FOC.

    Completely agree with the underlying theme that many food blogs are just paid adverts with very little review or informative content. Last year I emailed the popular blog of the weird guy that likes to call himself a lady on the exact subject matter asking that he (or more aptly his team) be more honest with their audience by clearly stating when they were being comped or when their “review” was simply a paid advert. Unsurprisingly I never did get a response despite following it up.

    To me there are two other reasons why many Singapore food blogs are limited or have material shortcomings. One is that many supposed foodies/foodblogs aren’t really about the food at all (aside from over zoomed over filtered photos), they are more an excuse for the bloggers to post “cute/faux-glam/doe eyed” photos of themselves or their gf/bf’s. They have zero critical content of any substance other than throwaway comments like “the truffle fries were a-h-m-a-z-i-n-g-!-!-!”. Secondly, and this is just my own very subjective opinion, I just don’t think many foodies/bloggers have a clue about what certain cuisines are meant to taste like or what constitutes high quality cooking, particularly when it comes to European offerings. I realise this could be construed as an arrogant statement however I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read glowing reviews for very average Italian restaurants that wouldn’t last 2 seconds if they served food of equivalent poor quality in Italy.

    Heading to FOC in Nov and looking forward to see how the food stacks up.

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