What Nicky does next.
Now that I’ve hooked you in with a picture of the perfect pain au chocolat, I thought I’d let you know what I was doing.
It’s been a bit quiet on the blog of late, whilst I’ve been trying to decide what to do with it. Writing always helps me come to a conclusion. I’ve been thinking long and hard about what I’m writing about and why. This blog has been the main repository for my written musings, though I do have another one for the legal stuff, which may come as a surprise to you.
Back in May 2011, I started writing about hotels and restaurants simply as practice for writing legal articles. I wanted to stop writing like the lawyer I am and instead to produce something a little more entertaining than one of my property title reports.
I soon realised that there was a whole world of restaurant bloggers out there and that I was, as is so often the case, somewhat behind the curve. I managed to get caught up in the whole blogger competitive thing and the Urbanspoon Leaderboard number was something I wanted to crack. The Leaderboard (which no longer exists) ranked bloggers by page views, so the more one posted, the higher one went up the rankings. I linked my blogs and came in at a sorry number 272. This was out of about 650 in London alone, many of whom had only written a couple of posts. I started to check it quite a lot to see what difference each post made and I started posting quite regularly.
For someone rather competitive and often stupidly insecure, I liked the target and it was quite satisfying to see myself go up the ranks of page views. If I’m frank, there was a little of the quantity over quality to the writing in the early reviews, although I wrote with some abandon, as I knew no-one and hardly anyone that I knew outside of clients and friends read what I wrote.
But then I started to get to know food people and PRs and people whose lives revolved around the industry of food. I became more measured in my writing. As I moved up the Urbanspoon ranks, I started getting invitations to events and would meet other bloggers at them, as well as the chef or restaurateur. I can’t say I wasn’t flattered; after all, this wasn’t really my world but I was starting to infiltrate it quite nicely.
I noticed that I was approximately two decades older than the majority of other bloggers, which was a little disconcerting. I also noticed that there was a formula to these events. Post some nice Instagram photos and write a complimentary review captures it rather nicely. I went to a few, posted a few pictures and then when I went to one which was truly terrible. I wrote to the PR and thanked her but said I couldn’t write about it. I stopped going to events.
Blogger events annoy me because they are misleading. You know it’s a blogger event when suddenly your Instagram feed is full of the same food posted by a number of different people. Very few of them mention that they are at an event. Very few tell you they haven’t paid.
I don’t buy the “I can’t afford to go otherwise” excuse either, which is easy for me to say but there have been times when I haven’t been able to afford to eat out in fancy restaurants and I can say with hand on heart that I wouldn’t have joined the blogger gravy train in order to do so.
And it’s so competitive, the whole scene. I naïvely thought that it wasn’t quite as vicious as the law (never invite competing lawyers to an event; they won’t thank you) but I was wrong. Candy-coated bitchiness is often the order of the day. And obviously I have been subject to massive attacks of FOMO. There’s nothing like Instagram and Twitter for making you feel like you’re the fat girl no-one wants to have in the team.
So I decided to stick to anonymous, unpaid reviews. and the anonymous bit is important too. No point in announcing your arrival to the restaurant by way of Twitter and pretending you’re anonymous. Yes, I’ve been guilty of that and I’m not proud of it either. Once your cover is blown, it’s game over for objectivity. I haven’t done that for some time.
But back to the trajectory and shortly after starting the blog, The Lawyer magazine tweeted that they were looking for reviewers and it seemed to be a match made in heaven. I was one of a group of reviewers, until I became their sole contributor, posting reviews regularly for the last five years. I, have for much of that time delivered a long-form weekly review to them, come rain or shine. That has sometimes had me staying up till the wee hours, not able to start the review until work commitments were satisfied. My deadline was Thursday night and sometimes that stretched into the early hours of Friday.
It was a privilege to write for The Lawyer and I was happy to do it, but after five years I started to think about the amount of time it was taking up and whether that was something I wanted to continue. It’s not just the writing, it’s the preparation, by which I mean all the eating out. I tried go to each place twice, to give it a fair crack of the whip and I always had to have places in reserve. Sometimes I would plan to write about somewhere and it turned out to be dull, or I wasn’t in the mood, or I drank too much to remember the detail, or I left it too long between the event and the writing of it. Then I had to sneak out at lunchtime to get my material for that week. Which would be fine if I didn’t also have the pressures of a busy job.
The thing about the Lawyer reviews is that in the end, that was all I was doing and everything on this blog was written for The Lawyer, which shaped both the form and the content. I’ve stopped writing for The Lawyer, for now. They have kindly agreed to post reviews if I send them, so lawyers may not have seen the last of me entirely.
And it has been a great thing for business development, or marketing as we used to call it. I don’t do sport, that male wallpaper, so it has been a great ice-breaker. Everyone has a favourite restaurant or wants to know yours. And I have a group of clients who email me for recommendations and it’s a service I’m happy to provide, as I really do love helping people find new places to eat, away from the four or five stalwarts that make up their usual repertoire. And often I would write about lunches with clients and they did quite like the namecheck. I’m not saying I won’t do that anymore but it won’t be something I do that often, I think.
And there have been amazing friendships that have come out of doing the blog. I’ve met some truly gorgeous people who have become proper friends; our shared obsession with food a great starting point for a deeper relationship. But I can’t keep meeting new people and I want to put more into the friendships that I have already made. I don’t need to keep replenishing the pool. Sometimes less really is more.
I am not a professional restaurant reviewer and that’s not what I set out to be. I’m not planning to be a searchable resource. My aim has always been to entertain, whilst giving you a reasonable idea about what you might expect, were you to try a particular restaurant. I don’t think there’s any point in my trying to keep up with all the new openings. After you have read the usual suspects, there really isn’t sufficient time to read my take on the next big thing.
Oh and don’t get me started on the next big thing; that collective madness whipped up by PRs, press and bloggers. PRs have their job to do and that is fine but I don’t want to be a player in that particular game. It’s not for me. There’s a tinge of dishonesty around some parts of it that makes me feel uncomfortable. I’m not saying I’ll never be the guest of a restaurant or a PR (although I don’t expect that to happen often), but I am saying that I’ll never write something I don’t believe or feel, or simply to provide free publicity. I’ve never really been an insider and I don’t want to be one now, even though the odd bit of FOMO might make me think otherwise every now and again.
So if I write about a restaurant now, it will be because I really want to and not because I’m writing to a deadline or because I need to fulfil an obligation. I’m certainly not going to stop eating out but I do need to stop trying to do everything, all of the time. I won’t write to order and I don’t want to be part of any clique. And I don’t need to measure myself by page views.