The idea of getting free meals and free beer strictly for the purpose of review is one that I’m not a fan of. I have in the past turned down free beer because it came with the proviso of a review. I think something as subjective as taste is pretty easily swayed by good experience and I don’t want to give judgement on something under those circumstances.
It’s also a bit tacky and even more tacky when reviewers and bloggers ask for freebies. I know there are a lot of bloggers out there who disagree and some who take the whole idea of being a blogger entirely too far by demanding free stuff – check out this post from Fooderati that has some pretty shitty examples: http://fooderati.blogspot.com.au/2012/04/ethics-in-dining-landscape-do-they.html.
Unfortunately because a lot of food and beverage mongers are desperate to get publicity online, the demand-whores often get away with it.
I’m not saying I’ve never taken up someone on the offer of a free beer, or free evening, because that would be a lie. At the end of the day, free stuff is free stuff – but if it is a beer, I’ll give feedback directly if they want it but I probably won’t review it unless I really want to. And me wanting to might just be down to being a little bit bored one day, or that I really want to tell people about the beer because it is unique or great.
And to be honest, the benefit of getting a positive blog-post, particularly for a beer, is pretty minor. Restaurants are slightly different as the market is much wider and more competitive, but craft beer is still a very small audience so the amount of eyes you are getting on a review is probably not that beneficial.
Being active on twitter, and facebook – as well as using untappd.com to actually engage with people already drinking your product is probably more beneficial to your brand in the long term, rather than getting a few cheap points from a blog.
I recently wrote a piece with some solid advice from a social media specialist which if you are a brewery wanting to get more involved online, you should probably read: http://www.brewsnews.com.au/2012/10/social-drinking/
What got me thinking about this was recently the Alehouse Project (a place I featured here) emailed; inviting me and a friend to dine on the house to give feedback on the food. When I mentioned to the owner that I was going to put something on my site he made sure that I was clear on the fact that he wasn’t expecting that and legitimately wanted feedback from the invitees.
However, because I like the bar so much I want to give them some acknowledgement. Not only am I impressed by them wanting genuine feedback but they also are a great example of how to do taplists right. Every time I’ve been in, I’ve found at least one or two beers that I would love to try and at one that I could happily drink all night. Often more than that.
Actually engaging with the customers is something that a lot of bars forget to do and it is something they also do well. As someone who spends a lot of time in bars – and has spent a lot of time behind a bar – I know that it can radically change the feel of a place. When you have a product such as craft beer and a tap list that features some confronting beers at a higher price than your usual pub fare, then your staff need to know what they are doing and be willing to chat to the customers about it all.
My point here is: Don’t under-estimate engagement. Whether your a bar, brewery or restaurant, it is better to get people actually engaged with your product both on and offline, rather than whoring out freebies.
And bloggers, please stop asking or expecting stuff. It makes the rest of us look bad. Blogging has a pretty shitty image as it is. Signing up for a free account doesn’t entitle you to special treatment and you’ll probably find you’ll get more respect in the long term.
Note: I sent back legitimate feedback to the Alehouse Project prior to this. Both positives and negatives – but nothing negative enough to stop me going back for dinner on Friday, and to a tasting on Thursday. They’ve also got a Feral dinner coming up next week, which I can’t make but I do love Feral’s beers and some wild game meat, both of which are being featured. Check it here via Crafty Pint: http://craftypint.com/events/event/the-alehouse-goes-feral/