Food influencers are a fundamental part of the F&B landscape these days.
Some are simply bloggers, documenting their experiences to a devoted audience on Instagram, while some have become much more, building their brands into businesses and making a living through their online personas.
While they previously might have been dining out between three and five times a week, with restaurants around the Middle East shut due to the coronavirus pandemic, what are they doing now?
Caterer Middle East spoke with three F&B influencers who are each reaching out to the community in their own way.
“With the virus affecting everyone and representing a huge threat to the survival of many restaurants, I've realised the importance of delivery services and ordering directly from these establishments to help them stay afloat,” said Mark Anthony Monzon, the face behind the MarkMyWorld blog and Instagram page. “I've been ordering more than ever and reposting the restaurants' posts and stories on my page to spread the word. I have to say that Foodiva's hashtag #uaerestaurantsunite has also been a really helpful campaign highlighting that plenty of restaurants are open for delivery.”
While some have been using social media to present highlights of some of the best dishes they’ve had in the past year, Haiya Tarik, better known as PassMeTheDimSum, prefers to focus on sharing the knowledge and cooking tips she’s acquired over the years. She said: “I personally find that at a time like now, it’s a bit pointless to share images of restaurant food that can’t be ordered via delivery and can’t translate into conversion, as it can come across as insensitive, tone-deaf, and unattainable.”
Published author and food writer Courtney Brandt, who you’ll find on social media as AtoZaatar, has turned her focus more towards the B in F&B, teaming up with The Tasting Class’s Lindsay Trivers to host virtual wine tasting sessions over Facebook and Instagram Live – before stricter social isolation rules prevented them from meeting.
By partnering with restaurants such as LPM, BB, and Jones the Grocer to showcase the foods that pair well with different wines, Brandt is engaging with her traditional audience while opening up new avenues.
“Although we're now forced to remain apart, the episodes have been a fun way to bring people together, and hopefully provide some education as well,” said Brandt. “From my end, I was happy to highlight restaurants that I want to support (and visit again in the future). I look forward to when Lindsay and I can be together on screen as soon as it is safe to do so again, and hope our project might carry forward to when everything is open again.”
The upside of everyone being on lockdown and working, or not working, from home is having a captive audience.
“Is my audience more engaged than before? Oh hell yes. They’ve got nowhere else to be but online,” said Tarik.
Brandt agrees, joking that everyone will now be ignoring their weekly screen time averages. “It may sound silly, but I like to check in on friends, and social media is an excellent way to do so,” she added. “Spending more time online, I can be impressed by friends’ cooking skills and keep up to date with efforts in the community to help the F&B industry (GRIF's Middle East Restaurant Association and Foodiva's call for #UAERestaurantsUnite, as examples).”
But now that she’s spending more time than ever online, what does Brandt want to see from the restaurants themselves?
“Give us more behind the scenes details! There are a lot of chefs getting in front of the camera, which I think is interesting, but I think we'd love to hear from any team members. This could be short interviews, favourite dishes, or how to create a restaurant signature dish at home.”
Monzon also believes this is the time for restaurants to make their online presence felt.
“Restaurants should use this opportunity to connect with their customers like never before,” he said. “Since people are forced to be quarantined for the foreseeable future, more eyes will be glued to their screens so there will be more digital marketing consumption than before. The customers will be looking to see how brands and businesses are reacting to the current business environment so now is definitely the most important time to be visible online.”