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“How can an engineer judge food?” – Hospitality industry to sue ‘non-genuine’ bloggers for defamation. The ‘influenca’ conundrum

Naming and shaming on social media, not just for restaurants but for any brands, has now become a norm and not exception. Instead of raising grievances with the management or customer support, the first instinct is to trash the establishment on social media

If you have spent considerable time on social media, you’d have come across ‘social media influencers’. The ‘influenza’ bug has bit people across platforms and there are ‘political influencers’, ‘make up influencers’, ‘food bloggers’ and people selling just about anything they could, most of the times, for money.

“Influencers” like to feel important by calling themselves one, the way ‘intellectuals’ refer to themselves as one. They introduce themselves as one because otherwise no one would know who they are.

Now, the Hospitality Industry of India has started scanning the food-blogging community to weed out non-genuine reviewers, bloggers and influencers who mislead the public by giving opinions about restaurants. As reported by Mumbai Mirror, the hospitality industry is keeping a close watch over the blogger community to take legal action against those who defame the restaurants. Those food bloggers without certification or recognition from the national hospitality body can now be booked for defamation.

Hospitality Industry of India Chairperson Sanee Awsarmmel says that only 25% of these food bloggers and ‘influencers’ are genuine. “How can an engineer and IT professional judge about food? It is like an an engineer treating a patient and not a doctor,” he reportedly told Mumbai Mirror.

Echoing his sentiments, Shambhu Sharan, Executive Chef of Emcure Group said that most of these influencers are good at taking pictures and writing creatively about food. He said they do not know about the chemistry that goes behind the making of the food. He added that food bloggers write about this with little knowledge about food.

Sharan further alleges that new bloggers write good reviews about restaurants, then take it to other restaurants in a bid to get them to pay them to write for them or for perks. If things go sour between them, the blogger then goes to write bad reviews.

While the engineers can very well review food because you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to judge whether the food is good or not, the fears of the hospitality industry are not completely unfounded.

There is a food-blogger who wrote a really trashy book on the street-foods of India which made me feel bad for the trees that were cut to print it, regularly likes to visit restaurants for free food. He regularly posts pictures of restaurant food which he just got delivered, without putting disclaimers that he didn’t pay for it. Another influencer likes to talk about restaurants in his food column in newspaper he works for so that the restaurants buy ad space!

A newly opened restaurant in Ahmedabad invited bloggers for free pizza, hoping they’d use their influencer power to spread word of mouth. However, the day the meet was organised, genuine paying customers came up, that too in large number that they could not accommodate so many people. They requested bloggers that the meet is postponed and well, bloggers were so offended they trashed the restaurant on social media for being ‘unprofessional’.

Many of these food bloggers are an entitled bunch and would not think twice before either creating a scene in a restaurant or immediately logging on to websites and giving a negative review. Some of these have their own following on social media platforms where they would trash an establishment, most of the times, ‘just because they can’.

Here’s a little story. A bunch of food bloggers were invited at opening of a restaurant. The restaurant had said you’d pay for your own food and give genuine reviews on various platforms as well as to the team. Of course, one of them took an offence at the preposterous idea of having to pay for own food as an ‘influencer’. He created a scene and even called out the restaurant for not ‘paying them’ (over and above free food) to write good review. On the same day, he posted on a Facebook group of foodies how he hates bloggers who charge money for reviews.

Irony just gave itself 5 stars on Zomato.

Social media has given power to people on their fingertips and with this power has come great irresponsibility. Naming and shaming on social media, not just for restaurants but for any brands, has now become a norm and not exception. Instead of raising grievances with the management or customer support, the first instinct is to trash the establishment on social media.

Unfortunately, this is not limited to just food bloggers. A lot of people use it to virtue-signal as well. Recently, a lawyer from Delhi decided to take to Twitter to ‘name and shame’ a restaurant in up-scale Khan Market area of New Delhi because the restaurant did not allow him to take along a ‘poor boy’ who was in the street, to eat with him. To begin with, private restaurants reserve the right to admission and it is up to them whom they choose to allow to dine in. Secondly, instead of raising the issue there, or perhaps taking the child elsewhere where another restaurant would accommodate them, the virtue-signaller chose to just trash this restaurant.

His tweet went viral and got over 2000 retweets and 4000 likes. A lot of similar virtue-signallers decided to boycott this restaurant. Mind well, he is a lawyer and has influential lawyer friends who could have taken the restaurant to court. But what did he choose to do? Trash the restaurant on social media.

While the fear of restaurants is not completely out of place, one really wonders whether taking a legal course of action will help? Unless the ‘influencer’ industry as a whole stops taking free goodies and brands stop giving free stuff to them, a genuine customer should continue to trust no one else but themselves.

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Nirwa Mehta
Politically incorrect. Author, Flawed But Fabulous.

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