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Food Critics vs Food Influencer.. Is there a Difference?

The rise of social media as a money making platform has caused the professional climate to take a serious look into its business strategies. COVID-19 especially created a stir both for businesses and individuals to look for new ways to monetise and both have met in the middle with going digital. We see more businesses depending on direct-to-consumer strategies and individuals are understanding the hold they have on companies. In the food industry, the power of word of mouth through content creation has sky rocketed and social media influencing has become the go-to profession for many tech-savvy individuals. Do customers still value the opinions of professionals? Does the Nigerian restauranteur understand the difference between professional critics and respected influencers?

What is the Difference?

A food influencer is an online content creator who has amounted a loyal following through posting food related content and sharing visuals and experiences. A food influencer is respected due to their ability to provide authentic user generated content to a large group of followers providing awareness and reach for a business.

Food influencers are very important because individuals are becoming more sceptical on paid advertisements and prefer genuine feedback and experiences. In Nigeria we see many food influencers carve their niche and it is exciting to see such skilled content creators make a name for themselves and get promotions and pay for their hard work. Starting off as a foodie, I understand the amount of time and skill it takes to make content attractive, authentic and targeted. Many content creators are working 9-5 jobs whilst using any other time they have to visit places, edit videos and provide an attractive narrative for online viewers. It is not easy! But does the value of an influencer diminish when they begin to take more paid work? What is the balance between getting paid for their efforts and getting paid off? Can food influencers be true critics?

A food critic is a professional enthusiast who visits establishments and provides reviews and informative feedback. Most food critics are journalists or writers who have gone through some sort of culinary exposure to accredit themselves. Food critics are able to provide competent comparisons, opinions, and notes on dishes.

Unlike food influencers who are very public, food critics tend to take a more back-seated approach, with many being anonymous, writing for columns or having a platform where their profiles are not public. This is the popular route to take for critics as they aim to visit restaurants without having a biased experience, in order to write successfully for the day-to-day customer.

Food critics are essential to the culinary industry because every establishment needs constructive criticism from a professional that understands flavour profiles, food pairings, technical execution and so forth. A review from a food critic may also be identified as more impactful due to the credibility they have.

Some platforms you may love and know who use food critics are The Michelin Guide, Guardian Life

Are Nigerian Businesses getting the Balance?

To answer this question bluntly ... No. But let's discuss.

Many restaurant owners (not all) in Nigeria have a main objective.. Cash out ASAP! This needs to be called out as we all know this is the case. We see a restaurant open, go viral, become so full, then after a few months disappear. The hilarious part is when said restaurant pops up with a new name.

But why is this the standard? Are restaurants using influencers incorrectly? Are influencers chasing views or authenticity? Where is the demand for critics? Let's look at this from all angles.

As said above, until the shift changes on the type of individuals coming to open restaurants/bars, this will be the case. We see a very unbalanced level of trend-led restaurants to passion-led restaurants. Both are needed and both have their markets. Nevertheless trend-led restaurants will inevitably be focused on using food influencers by attracting them via launch events or free meals to "trend" online and stopping there. It becomes problematic when restaurants rely on this alone and not focus on creating value through an extensively thought out menu, well put together team and time taken out to try the menu and get constructive feedback. These are categories outside of a food influencers scope. What I am seeing is restaurants put on so called "tastings" and "soft launches" inviting influencers to create content on the space. Let's call a spade a spade. This is an influencer or PR event.

Now food influencers as mentioned provide value in awareness and knowing when a new restaurant has launched. But can we rely on critical feedback on the holistic offering from them? Theoretically no. We still need those professional platforms for unbiased opinions not led by promotional ideals. A professional will also be able to break down dishes in a way an influencer cannot due to either going to culinary school or having attended some sort of training. This is where restaurants should be using industry professionals such as critics, chefs, culinary enthusiasts etc to have a tasting to provide expert feedback on the menu. Then we can move onto influencers for awareness and authentic reviews.

Where do I Stand?

I do not think we are doing anything wrong. The industry is growing and coming to its own. We will get a balance some day. As a Chef and also an avid social media creator I lie somewhere in the middle. It is truly an awkward place to reside because although I do want to focus on the amazing things happening in our industry, there are still necessary standards that need to be put in place. Customers deserve the best in hospitality, and we need to strive for that.

I see myself as a Culinary Enthusiast who challenges its climate. I want the best for Nigeria. And with that, we must call out the rubbish and praise the good! Constructive criticism is something we need to value. But we also need to understand the roles of different culinary groups.

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