The internet has become a platform for any average foodie to write about food. Every year, OpenRice records a 20 per cent to 30 per cent growth in the number of food reviewers. To date, the website already has over 800,000 registered users.
The proliferation of online food reviews has completely revolutionised the practice of food writing. Restaurants are only too aware of the influence food bloggers have on consumer tastes and choices. Now, food bloggers are the first group of people restaurants approach when they want comments on their newest dishes. They either contact a food blogger to spread the word among the blogger circle or go through public relations companies to gather bloggers.
In the past, the latest food trends were usually determined by food writers for newspapers and magazines. However, the stories and reviews they write can often be de-facto advertorials as these reporters and writers have good relations with the restaurants they review. As a result, the real food trends in the market may not be accurately reflected. Nowadays, with online food reviews, the situation has changed.
“OpenRice users have their personal opinions, and when these opinions merge they become a form of collective wisdom,” says McCarthy Lee Cham-lun, marketing manager of OpenRice.
K.C. Koo, widely acknowledged as the godfather of Hong Kong food bloggers has no doubt that food bloggers have become arbiters of popular taste.
“[Online] food reviews can stir up new food trends in the market. Since food bloggers are customers as well, the more they write about a certain food the more popular it will become,” he says over a cup of Hong Kong-style coffee in an old-style Hong Kong diner in Wan Chai.
Koo has been writing online food reviews for over 10 years and has reviewed over 1,500 local restaurants. He takes it so seriously that he quit his job in the finance industry to devote all of his time to food writing, making him Hong Kong’s only full-time food blogger. He now explores new restaurants, attends food tastings and writes an average of 4,000 to 6,000 words on a daily basis.
The blogger has also set up Fancook Production, a company that organises special food tastings for foodies in various restaurants. While the company is a commercial venture, Koo also wants to promote food culture and encourage more newcomers to join the food-writing industry.