Perhaps if bloggers and yelpers waited until they spend their own money, bringing a more critical eye to the table, rather than filling their egos with "VIP" treatment and bellies with free food, their opinions would be more insightful and ultimately more helpful. No offense intended here, of course.
I think Tommy is painting bloggers with a pretty big swath here. I have to assume that I'm one of his targets, given my standing and presence in the NJ food blogging community.
Firstly, I don't believe it is my responsibility nor the mission of my blog to "review" restaurants. I can't even pretend I can review them anonymously with the same criteria that would be reserved for a newspaper restaurant reviewer -- I'm far too well-known and easily recognizable that my own experience will never echo that of the average diner on most occassions. If you take my writeups for what they are -- accurate pictures of food as it is served and observations of what I've sampled, then I think I've done my job. It is up to the diner to comment on my blog posts and report on their own experiences, which I let everyone do. I do not expect a restaurant to perform balls to the wall every time a diner visits a particular establishment, and I also expect them to flat out fail on occasion. It happens.
Tommy seems to be under the impression that food bloggers ask for free food and special treatment. Do they? Maybe they do, but that's not how I personally operate. I don't associate with many other food bloggers on a regular basis, so I can't say I know how everyone else operates.
In the case of Zinburger, they invited a large amount of media and friends/family to their "Soft Opening". Some of those folks were food bloggers such as myself. They asked us to order a variety of food so their kitchen could be tested with a full house. That's the purpose of this kind of soft opening, to "Stress Test" the front and back of the house.
Do I get invited as a high-profile blogger to a lot of soft openings and other restaurant PR events? Sure. Do I get invited by PR firms to try restaurants out and get comped? Sure. Several times a year. Do I accept every invitation? No, not by a mile. Do I on occasion walk into restaurants on the first or a second visit, get "made" and then get treated special and/or get comped by the restaurant? Shit yes. Pretty much unavoidable. I'm walking in with a camera bag, a high-end prosumer DSLR and a giant $600 50mm lens for low light food photography. It's goddamn obvious I'm not an average diner even if they don't know who I am.
Is it my responsibility or obligation to inform the reader every time this happens? No. And if you and anyone else who has a problem with this can go shove a stick up their ass if you think I have to. It takes time and effort for me to blog and cover restaurants at the level I do. Effort which translates into personal cost, be it at cost to my personal time or direct financial cost. If it so happens that a few times a year I get comped, its a piss in the ocean in terms of compensation for the majority of the year when I'm spending a LOT of my own money to provide content for my readers.
Now, do I attempt to compensate for when I get comped by giving the staff really nice tips? Absolutely. Do I spend my own money most of the time when I'm dining out? More often than not, yes. Do I ever demand to get comped or get treated as a VIP? HELL NO
. As a matter of fact I AVOID certain restaurants for months at a time for fear of being comped and then when I return I get the Jewish/Italian/Asian mother guilt routine from the restaurant owner for not having stopped in for ages. It's embarrassing, even.
As I said upthread, I think Zinburger offers good value for what they offer. Do I consider myself a hamburger expert? Probably not, although I've been interviewed extensively on the subject. Do I think it's a solid burger and a nice alternative to fast food? Absolutely. Tommy is entitled to his opinion, as is everyone else. That's why
we have different food bloggers and the mainstream media so the diner can decide who they want to listen to. 10 years ago you didn't have these sort of options when it came to restaurant coverage. Today you do.