Meeting Zomato

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Zomato international operations director Pramod Rao, CTS and Zomato Melbourne community manager Pranav Singh.

As far as I’m aware, there are three kinds of users for restaurant website Urbanspoon.

For many, it is simply somewhere to go for information about places to eat – including details such as phone numbers and opening hours, but also very much including opinions good and bad.

A second group does all of the above but also contributes what are referred to as “diner reviews”.

The third group consists of food bloggers, who stories are listed and linked on the Urbanspoon website in exchange for carrying eatery-specific Urbanspoon dinkii.

For the first named of the above groups, the recent news that the American Urbanspoon had been bought by the Indian company Zomato is probably of only passing interest, and perhaps none at all.

By contrast, for the contributors of Urbanspoon “diner reviews” – and some, such as our friends Nat Stockley and MelbourneMiss are very active indeed – and the food bloggers, the Zomato transaction is very big news.

Like many blogs, CTS derives many visitors from its relationship with Urbanspoon.

That relationship sees bloggers going unpaid for the goodwill and stature they bring to Urbanspoon but the actual work requirements are minimal – simply cutting and pasting a bit of code and making sure the paragraph or sentence that appears with the Urbanspoon link is appropriate.

Should my relationship with Zomato – once Urbanspoon is integrated into it – become any more complex, time-consuming or problematic, I’d seriously have to consider cutting my ties.

It’d be a bugger to lose all those referrals, but the truth is the number who become regular CTS readers is probably quite small – so I’d do it, no problem.

And from all I’ve read, the existing Zomato operation so far has not utilised bloggers anywhere it operates in the world.

Thus for bloggers, the questions surrounding the Zomato buy-out are many.

So I was surprised and delighted even to get an invite from Zomato’s Melbourne community manager Pranav Sigh to meet for coffee and a chat.

(I am just one of quite a few Melbourne food bloggers they are in the process of meeting …)

This in itself is a big change – my technical or procedural issues with Urbanspoon over the years have been minor and dealt with well and quickly, but always via email with Urbanspoon staff in Seattle.

So people on the ground is a whole new ball game, with Pranav – he’s a Kiwi by the way, having been educated in CTS’ home town of Dunedin – being just one of hundreds of staff being hired by Zomato around the world to manage the transition and the ongoing relationships with bloggers and other contributors.

When I meet Pranav, he has with him Zomato international operations director Pramod Rao.

We have a good frank, discussion.

I am eager to make my point main points – that food bloggers and contributors around the world are feeling a distinct level of unease, and that Zomato would be foolish indeed to discard, meddle with or downgrade in any way the contributions these many people make and the goodwill and stature they lend to their employer.

I can only take what they tell me at face value, but for the record I find them both to be smart operators who are fully aware of the issues and eager to reassure me on every question I have – and hence their pro-active approach to getting out meeting the people concerned.

So …

Branding apart, there will be little or no change in terms of Zomato’s relationship with its contributors, including bloggers.

Links with food bloggers are very much seen by Zomato as an asset.

The various leaderboards will continue, although the exact methodology for determining them has yet to finalised.

Zomato’s Melbourne staff count stands at present at nine but will rise to about 30.

Zomato’s aim is to update the details, including menus, of each and every restaurant every three months.

However, contributors will still be able to “Add Restaurant”.

To much greater extent than Urbanspoon, Zomato will be “social”.

Indeed, what Pramod shows me on his phone looks very much like a “Facebook-for-foodies” and actually very exciting.

Urbanspoon generated income – such as it has been – through the likes of Google AdSense.

Zomato, by contrast, will hopefully derive income by taking a hyper-local approach to advertising.

This throws up a whole new set of questions for me …

“What if,” I ask Pramod, “a potential Melbourne advertiser is prepared to spend big bucks with Zomato – but only with proviso that existing negative reviews be removed or altered?”

“That will never happen,” Pramod tells me.

How CTS finds food

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Musing on how Woven’s Facebook page had a direct bearing on my choice of Sunday lunch spot has got me thinking about the various and varied methods Consider The Sauce utilises to find cool places to chow down at and write about.

Those methods have become more numerous and, dare I say it, more sophisticated since CTS set sail.

When pondering such things, it’s instinctive for me to immediately wonder how and why our friends and readers do likewise.

The truth is – an amazing truth it still often seems to me – is that for many that means reading CTS!

 

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JUST DRIVING AROUND

This is our default, bedrock method for finding new eats places – and is simply a lot of fun!

Food-spotting adventures can range from driving to or from school or work (in Hoppers Crossing and Keilor West respectively) through to places noted on the way to or from a specific restaurant or food precinct, or just simply aimless tooling around.

Like all locals, including very much our readers, we keep a keen eye out for developments on all the main thoroughfares – Anderson, Ballarat, Gamon, Charles, Victoria, Barkly, Hopkins, Hampshire, Alfrieda, Pier, Racecourse and so on.

But beyond doing that, Bennie has gone from resigned acceptance to enthusiasm about his father’s keenness for avoiding retracing our steps, taking a left turn or right turn when straightahead is the obvious way home, and for checking out even the smallest and most humble neighbourhood retail precincts.

We find new places to try doing all of the above, and also these days find material for the ongoing series of “eats goss” posts that have become a CTS feature this year.

For sure, there will be a heap more of them in 2015.

 

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MAINSTREAM MEDIA

Early on in the CTS piece, I commented upon being “scooped” by The Age.

Since then?

I can’t recall a single instance of the likes of The Age or the Herald Sun or any other organ of the MSM enlightening us in any way in terms of western suburbs food.

Both Melbourne major newspapers do include western suburbs food in their coverage, but that coverage is hardly consistent and often seems tokenistic.

That’s OK – they have their own readership imperatives to address in what is a very tough game.

If anything, it seems more likely these days that western suburbs businesses will get the sort of exposure offered by The Age or the Herald Sun after CTS or one of the several other blogs who cover the western suburbs have already started the ball rolling.

These days, the western suburbs are serviced by only two suburban community newspaper groups – Leader and Star Weekly.

We generally don’t get Leader delivered and I work for Star Weekly.

In either case, the food content – be it editorial, advertorial or even advertising – is minimal.

Where Star Weekly – and, thanks to my sub-editorial role there, I am across the content of not just the Maribyrnong-Hobsons Bay edition but of the entire group – really helps CTS is through stories and “community calendar” inclusions concerning wonderful community events such as this bread jamboree in Lalor.

This is a very fabulous thing!

 

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NICHE MEDIA

As both food blogger and media junkie, I keep an eye on outfits such as Urbanlist and Broadsheet.

Truth is, though, they seem even more constrained by dedication to inner-city trendiness than the major newspapers.

So … no.

 

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TIPS BY READERS, FRIENDS AND FELLOW TRAVELLERS

These are right up there with “just driving around” when it comes determining CTS content!

They can take the form of comments on blog posts.

They can be in the form of suggestions on the CTS Facebook page, private FB or Twitter messages or emails – or even the result of face-to-face encounters.

In all cases, we love them to pieces.

I’ve long been in the habit of chasing down such tips and rumours with alacrity – not because I feel obligated but because I really, really enjoy doing so.

In this way, CTS often seems – wonderfully – to be not simply a matter of a blog and its readers but more like a collective adventure!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

 

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OTHER BLOGGERS

Yes.

I habitually follow a dozen or so Melbourne blogs and bloggers I admire most and do get post ideas from them.

 

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URBANSPOON

It’s no secret this international food/restaurant site has its faults and many detractors, but for CTS it is an invaluable resource.

We use it not just by scanning the recent blogger and “diner” reviews but by checking out – several times a week – the “recently added” listings for the “western suburbs” and “inner west”.

Often there’s little to catch our eye – but sometimes there most definitely is.

 

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SOCIAL MEDIA

Facebook can seem creepy and has its faults, but it’s a core aspect of the CTS operation.

For starters, as covered here, many readers digest posts on the blog itself but choose to interact with us via the CTS FB page – and that’s fine!

More to the point of this story, CTS “likes” and keeps on “liking” an ever-broadening collection of western suburbs food businesses, community groups and individuals – invaluable and enlightening!

As well, Facebook ads come in handy.

Really!

For instance, it was through my FB activity that FB chose to display an ad for a beaut Avondale Heights bakery that resulted in this post.

And through “liking” that business, I found out about this fantastic Williamstown pizza place!

I remain largely indifferent to Twitter, but continue to post story links there for those readers who rely on that for keeping up to date with CTS.

As for the rest – Yelp, Reddit, Instagram, Stumbleupon, Pinterest and the like – it all remains a mystery!

 

TELEVISION

Hahahaha.

Not all food blogers are the same

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Larissa Dubecki is, as I’m sure almost all of you are aware, the No.1 restaurant reviewer for The Age.

In a comment piece she has let fly in spectacular manner about food bloggers, rampant compromising and basically all the general all-round sleaze she can fit into her magnificent rant.

Here are just a couple of the paragraphs:

“You see them on blogs the next day with really enthusiastic write-ups about how fabulous the venue, the food, the drinks and the owners are (always, mind you, with a little disclaimer at the bottom about how the writer attended as a non-paying guest – their integrity is scrupulous).

I’d love to go (I might even get my face in the social pages!) but, alas, there simply aren’t enough nights in the week. When everyone else is off having their fun, boring old me is off trying to slip into a restaurant unnoticed under a fake name so I might appraise it from an objective point of view to give consumers the best advice about where to spend their hard-earned. How about THAT for a shit sandwich.”

You can read the whole thing here.

Wow …

Actually, I agree with many of her points.

And if the “Melbourne food blogger who is well known for approaching newly opened restaurants for a feed in return for a ‘review'” she refers to is who I suspect, then I share that disdain.

But, oh dear, she’s taken such a broad-brush approach.

It’s simple – not all food bloggers are the same.

Consider The Sauce regularly covers restaurants in the west that are extremely unlikely to ever gain coverage in The Age.

As well, while the writer may grumble about the “shit sandwich” she is so unhappily forced to eat, she works for a commercial organisation that accepts advertising moolah from all and sundry and which no doubt makes all sorts of deals along the way.

The Age and Fairfax are in the marketplace.

Such a high-handed approach would only make perfect, irrefutable sense if Epicure and The Age Good Food Guide carried no advertising whatsoever.

But they do.

And while The Age may be scrupulous about always paying for meals it reviews, is it such a stretch to mention the “media passes” its sports writers utilise to gain non-paying access to AFL games and much, much more?

The Age is also listed as a “partner” on the website of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival. The nature of that partnership is not disclosed, but naturally the newspaper can and does run heaps of stories about the festival.

As well, such a sweeping put down fails to acknowledge the good work that many of Melbourne’s food bloggers do.

This fact, by the way, is periodically acknowledged by The Age and its Epicure section themselves.

Indeed, they have helped Consider The Sauce itself on a number of occasions and I remain very grateful for that assistance – including two stories on the fabulous Westies: Dishes of Distinction!

Perhaps if I am to worry, the very real prospects of becoming an unemployed journalist should occupy my mind.

Truth is, though, the idea of becoming considered a flogger is much more troubling!

Words with baggage

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Feedback and comments are oxygen for bloggers – even when they’re not exactly in “pat on the back” territory.

This assertive comment on matters sartorial in my recent “must not get stuck in a rut” story for instance:

“Good on you Kenny. I don’t mean to sound terrible but i think you need to find yourself as a man in the appearance department. Your sponge bob tshirts and the like are not really a look that women would be attracted to. You would look amazing in a casual shirt and nice pair of pants. At your age a man should look like a respectable gentleman, not like a teenager. As many would scorn what i have just said, i am being honest in my opinion. A woman wants a man who acts and dresses like a man, not a teenage hippy boy. All the best with finding a mate, im sure you will find the perfect one for you.”

Today’s post on the fab Famous Blue Raincoat burgers spurred comments from a friend about the following paragraphs:

“We spy a young mum tucking in to a parmagiana as her partner’s steak sits unmolested.

He’s walking their toddler.

He returns; they swap roles.

Been there, done that … many, many times!”

For her, the word “unmolested” is simply too emotionally charged to be used in such a way and in such a context – especially when the following paragraph mentions a toddler.

What do you think?

I am genuinely interested to know. 

My camera done died

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For the more than 600 posts on Consider The Sauce, I have uploaded more than 3800 photographs to the wordpress blogging platform.

I’ve had some help in that regard.

But overwhelmingly, the CTS photographs have been taken by the above pictured compact camera.

And those uploaded would, I’m guessing, be less than half of those taken.

I’ve been well pleased with the results and the camera’s ease of use and durability.

But now that durability has reached its limit and my camera has died.

The problem is purely mechanical, which means it’s not worth fixing … as far as I am aware.

That’s OK – I have been thinking of an upgrade anyway.

Anyone got any tips for a classy compact camera under $500?

ACCC guidelines

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Some regular readers and followers of CTS may be interested in the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission’s newly released Online reviews: a guide for business and review platforms.

These address knotty issues of all sorts raised by dodgy behavior by reviewers of various stripes on blogs and at sites such as Urbanspoon, as well as equally dodgy behaviour by business owners in their attempts to manipulate this newish and mostly unregulated media landscape.

You can read an overview here and download the document in pdf form here.

Melbourne Gastronome has done a splendid analysis full of commentary here.

I have yet to read these guidelines line by line.

And smugness is unattractive.

But still, after a cursory reading, I feel CTS has a clean bill of health – or sufficiently so for me anyway!

Get ready for the Westies!

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It’s Westies time!

Well, almost …

The inaugural winners of the western suburbs’ first food awards have been selected.

All three have been informed – and sworn to secrecy until the big “reveal” at the combined Footscray Food Blog/Consider The Sauce Spring Picnic at Yarraville Gardens on Saturday, November 30 (details below).

The truly lovely award trophies are in the process of being produced.

A big “thank you” to Footscray Life for covering our costs in that regard and to Lauren’s sister, Liz, for the beautiful artwork.

We know of at least one food truck that will be in attendance and we’re working on the coffee angle.

Fingers crossed for a fine day.

Apologies in advance to anyone I’ve met since starting CTS and whose names I may be unable to recall!

See you there, we hope!

Footscray Food Blog/Consider The Sauce Spring Picnic,

Yarraville Gardens, Somerville Road.

Saturday, November 30, from 11am.

The Westies: Dishes of Distinction winners announced at noon.

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