Bloggers and free meals… my thoughts

by Karisa

Before we start, I just wanted to give you some context:  I am not a full-time blogger.  I do not make money from my blog & never intended to.  I have a 9 – 5 which pays the bills and therefore don’t need my blog to generate an income.  Why do I do it then??  I do it because I love writing & have always loved sharing cool discoveries/experiences with anyone who’ll listen.  Starting a blog felt like a natural progression from me simply bombarding my friends & family with info.  I also do it because my day job is very technical and I felt like I needed a creative outlet to balance things out.  My views, therefore, will likely differ from those who are trying to make an income from their blog… but here goes…

Also… full disclosure… these are not my hands… BUT, if you’re ever looking for cool stock imagery that’s free to use, check out “40 great sources for free stock photos (that don’t suck)” over here.

So I saw a post on Facebook last week which resonated with me, mainly because I do think there are bloggers out there who are doing things that cast all other bloggers in a bad light.  The post was about a Cape Town blogger who was approaching restaurants asking them for free meals in exchange for coverage on their blog.

Now I don’t know who the particular blogger was, but I do have the following issues with this approach:

  • If this is an established blogger with a good following – restaurants will contact you if they feel they want to collaborate with you.  You should never try force your way in, throwing your stats and following at them.  Just be cool man.
  • If this is a new blogger starting out – you need to be creating your own content, proving yourself & building your following, until you get to the point where people start taking notice.  Asking for free meals is definitely not the way to get ahead in this game.

Over the years, I’ve been lucky to build some great relationships with a smallish group of Cape Town-based PR companies who I enjoy working with & who get who I am and what I stand for as a “blogger” (I really do hate that term – mainly because people tend to pull a face as they say it).  Through them I do get invited to review restaurants from time to time, but I definitely don’t rely on these invites to generate content for the blog.  I get my butt out there, I eat out on my own account, and then if I feel something’s worth sharing, I blog about it.  If only 1 person ends up reading a post of mine and happens to find it useful or interesting, then that in itself makes me feel all warm & fuzzy inside.

The PR companies I work with also understand that if I didn’t like an experience, I’m not going to blog about it.  In these instances I would provide them with detailed feedback on what was not good & more often than not they come back confirming that the restaurant’s taken the feedback on board & made some changes to improve things.  So that way, I still feel like I’ve contributed to the greater good in my own small way.  I know other bloggers may jump at the opportunity to write a negative review, because let’s face it – people love reading negative reviews, it’s just our inner voyeuristic tendancies that kick in – but I personally feel that if they’ve taken the time to invite me & ask me for my feedback, they’re looking for real input to help them be the best they can be.  Me writing a nasty review is not going to help them reach that goal. 

I currently don’t add a “sponsored” tag on any of my posts, because even if it’s a free meal, I approach it exactly the same way I’d approach a meal I’ve paid for.  I fully consider pricing, the same way I would if the bill was on me, and I always mention if I think something is way overly pricey, etc.  I would never edit a post to make it sound better, just because it was a “freebie”.  But maybe I should still be adding a “sponsored” mention to the post?  (Any input here would be helpful)

As an example of my free meal vs self-paid meal ratio, if you look at the restaurants I featured in my “My top 5 restaurant experiences of 2018” post:

  • Of the 3 notable mentions:  2 out of the 3 were invites (ie. free meals) – that would be Coco Safar & Charango Barbacoa.  Mulberry & Prince was a dinner with a friend & something I paid for myself.
  • Of the top 5:  Only 1 was an invite/free meal – that was The Skotness which made it into my number 4 spot.  All the others (Indochine, Marigold, Belly of the Beast, Chefs Warehouse at Maison – which was my number 1), were paid for by myself.

So yeah, in summary – a free meal is great.  If you’ve worked hard at building a following, these will come to you.  You should never expect them to be handed out to you just because you have a blog.  I also feel it’s important to balance out “sponsored” content with content that’s true to you & your own experiences.

What are your thoughts on this topic?  Any questions for me?  Or just general observations about blogging/bloggers, particularly here in SA?  Leave your thoughts/questions in the comments section below… (I know my readers aren’t normally the chatty type – but hey, this is a safe space, drop me a line)





Nicola Jan 25, 2019 - 1:59 pm

Interesting! When I saw your post title I originally thought this was going to be about that “free meals for models” thing that’s surfaced recently. I’d love to hear your opinion on that.

Karisa Jan 25, 2019 - 4:56 pm

Sheesh… have to be honest, I had to Google the “free meals for models” thing quick to see what’s been going on there. An app handing out free meals to models?! Now there’s a plot twist I wasn’t expecting… I’m perplexed by the following section on the Beauty Pass About us page: “Beauty Pass is a great tool to relieve models from costly everyday expenses and to help them save money in cities they are currently working in.” Does that mean us non-models don’t have the same day-to-day money stresses? On the surface this just seems like a ploy to get beautiful people to post Instagram posts of them in your establishment with the hope that this will draw the crowds. Which, you know what is fine by me, but just call a spade a spade. Don’t try to be all like “we’re doing this to help models”.

Megan Richards Jan 25, 2019 - 2:29 pm

You’ve raised some interesting points Karisa. Personally, I would never ask for a free meal either, I believe in working hard and allowing brands to come to me. I can relate to many of your points because I also enjoy eating out and receive media invites from time to time. The content is a mixture of paid and “sponsored” posts.

Great article, I enjoyed reading it!

Karisa Jan 25, 2019 - 4:46 pm

Hi Megan 🙂 Thanks so much for the feedback. I love that you also mix up sponsored with your own content – I think it’s the only way to maintain an authentic voice in all this influencing madness. xx

6000 Jan 25, 2019 - 2:31 pm

Good thoughts. As I mentioned in my post this week (I shared the link with you on twitter), I think that there should be FULL disclosure of ALL freebies or sponsored content. Sadly, a few bad apples have ruined the entire cart, and telling people up front what was exchanged between you and the business in question is the only way that good, ethical, honest writers can distinguish themselves from the bleggers.

Karisa Jan 25, 2019 - 4:43 pm

Blegger – I really do love that term because it paints the picture so perfectly 😉 But yeah, I do think it’s sad that the influencer/blogging world has become one that nobody seems to be able to trust anymore, mainly thanks to some very bad behaviour. But agree that the only way forward is to force every one (good or bad) to provide full disclosure. I’ll definitely be taking that onboard myself for future posts.

PS. Thanks for the link on Twitter. Was a great read.

Nyasha Mzezewa Jan 25, 2019 - 2:44 pm

This rings similar to the YouTubers who get paid for / free devices by large companies and they expect a positive review. I think where you do get a free meal it should be noted, even in fine print – but it is important. I’ve followed your blog since it started and know you ‘blog’ from the heart and are never shy to give less than flattering reviews. I also know that i can trust your feedback because I’ve tried a number of places and experiences you have blogged about and had similar positive experiences.

Karisa Jan 25, 2019 - 4:37 pm

Thanks Nyasha 🙂 I think I will start adding a “Sponsored” tag, just for complete transparency. But it makes me very happy to hear that you trust & have enjoyed my recommendations. Thank you so much for the ongoing suppport. I really do appreciate it more than you know. xx

Melain Jan 25, 2019 - 3:30 pm

Great article Karis. Enjoyed reading your thoughts. Totally agree. x

Karisa Jan 25, 2019 - 4:29 pm

Thanks Melain 🙂 Definitely think it’s good to open the dialogue on these kinds of topics. Thanks for taking the time to read my post. xx

Aleta Jan 25, 2019 - 9:56 pm

Love you being transparent and honest. I have been following your blog for a few years and Love it.

Karisa Jan 25, 2019 - 11:36 pm

Hi Aleta! 🙂 Thank you so much for the kind words. It really means so much to me. Also a massive thank you for the ongoing support. xxx

Maggie M Feb 1, 2019 - 9:50 am

I enjoyed reading your post. We have very similar views on writing for a blog. I also generate content for Mother City Time just because I enjoy the process of writing, and after working in different countries, found I had a lot of stories. And I’ve been paid to write for academic journals on a freelance basis, when I feel like doing that. I guess there are so many digital nomads now, who are relying on sponsored posts for income, which is different. Thanks for sharing your experiences on your blog. We went to Skotnes after reading your review. Check out Mother City Time when you have a moment.

Karisa Feb 1, 2019 - 12:57 pm

Hi Maggie 🙂 Thanks so much for your comment. I hope you guys enjoyed The Skotness as much as I did. Just read your post about Zanzibar & the fact that they’ve removed all references to Freddy Mercury. That’s so sad! I visited Zanzibar back in 2016 and managed to get a shot in front of Mercury House which at the time still had his photos up as well as the commemorative brass plaque. I did however find it interesting that our tour guide had never even heard a Queen song…

Louda Feb 2, 2019 - 7:03 am

Hi Karisa,

Thought I’d also give my two cents 🙂 As you mention in your post, you won’t necessarily post below average / not so nice experiences to your blog so whether you add the sponsored hashtag or not, I’ve always trusted your reviews. I can see that your reviews are honest opinions and always enjoy reading / watching your stories. Personally I think your posts / reviews can stay as is but there are a few bloggers out there that should add the sponsored / ad to everything, punting every silly product thrown their way 😂

Karisa Feb 3, 2019 - 10:28 am

Hi Louda 🙂 Thank you so much for this amazing feedback. You’ve really made my weekend. It makes me so happy to hear that my posts do come across as honest/genuine, because that’s what I strive for. Hope you’re having a kick-ass weekend and thanks again for dropping by & for your ongoing support. xxx

Peter Marx Feb 7, 2019 - 6:49 pm

Well said, Karisa!!! That’s why your blog is one of the best. xxx

Karisa Feb 7, 2019 - 6:59 pm

Thanks Peter! Very thankful for your support & kind words. 🙂 xxx


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