Blog Spotlight: Table No. 7
Zoe Bowker, author of fine dining and travel blog Table No.7 spoke to MediaSource about the future of food blogging, the importance of having an authentic voice, and engaging with audiences on Instagram.
How did you get into food blogging?
A friend suggested I start chronicling my dining adventures on Instagram, an app that was very foreign to me at the time. A couple of months later I watched the Foodies documentary during an Emirates flight back to Dubai and the idea of also sharing my experiences in words was born! TableNumber7.com launched in late February this year and writing reviews and blog posts now occupies most of my time.
What’s been a blogging highlight?
Being selected as one of 12 official 'Tastemakers' by The World's 50 Best Restaurants has been huge motivation to keep writing. Their support has been a real blessing and I'm delighted to work with the team behind what I consider to be the 'Culinary Oscars'. To attend the awards and meet the world's best chefs was a bucket list dream for me, and I'm looking forward to attending Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants Awards in Mexico this September.
What have been your most popular posts?
My most popular Instagram post is a photo I snapped with Massimo Bottura, the world's no.1 chef, the day after attending The World's 50 Best Awards, followed by a snap from my visit to Noma in May. My audience loves to be inspired by creative and passionate chefs, their restaurants and their delicious creations. My most popular blog post is home grown - the amazing Buddha Bar in Dubai. I loved this dining experience and so did the restaurant - with both myself and the restaurant sharing my review on our social platforms, we created an astronomical result together of over 2,000 views of the review.
How do you use social media to promote and share content? What are the challenges?
My biggest social media promotional channel is Instagram, where I have over 27,000 followers. I feel it's the best channel for food and driving customers by a mile! The power of a delicious image is immense - people frequently comment how hungry my photos make them, which I love to hear. I also use Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and I've just stared using Pinterest. My reviews are also shared with my 3,500 connections on LinkedIn. It's definitely a constant challenge to maintain a strong growth trajectory, engage with your audience and build high quality, unique content in the form of captivating photos and engaging reviews. Social media requires around the clock work - the internet never sleeps!
What’s the most important issue in your blogosphere?
I think the most important issue facing the Dubai blogosphere at the moment is integrity. Too often we are seeing falsely positive reviews that one can see through immediately - these suspiciously saccharin reviews don't drive customers, especially at the higher end of the dining spectrum, which I focus on. I believe writing honest and insightful pieces is key - being a voice that consumers trust means they will actually invest their dining spend according to your recommendations. I want to be able to deliver customers to my partners, customers that leave happy - and then go on to become brand ambassadors for that restaurant, bar, hotel or brand. I believe bloggers shouldn't falsify or over hype reviews just to ensure the next freebie lands on their doorstep - it doesn't do anyone any good in the long run. I'd love to see PR companies embracing the true power of what honest and well researched reviews and content can do for their brand.
What are some your favourite regional blogs and why?
For reviews I love A to Za'atar's honest accounts, FoodSheikh's humorous critiques and We The Foodsters passion for all things culinary. I also love That Luxurious Feeling for their scientific take on beauty.
What do you think food blogging will look like in five years’ time?
With the market shift from print media to digital content, I hope that food blogging will enter a more professional realm within the next five years. Blogs and online magazines create dynamic content that is instantly available to increasingly information hungry potential customers whenever they want it, wherever they are. I believe building a relationship of trust with your audience is key to standing the test of time in this rapidly changing digital landscape.
How does a good PR work with you?
Understanding my brand, my USP, and what makes for a good fit. There are three parties in each collaboration - the brand, the PR agency and the blogger. It has to work for all three parties to make a great result! I love it when a PR company is interested in taking a unique approach and creating outside the box content together, which can be really powerful.
What can PRs do better in working with you?
I have to say, on the whole, I find PR agencies in the UAE really great to work with and really friendly. However, more notice for events would be appreciated - often it's only two or three days’ lead-time and usually by that point my calendar is fully booked. Also 'ambush PR' can make for an uncomfortable situation, so please ask before sending me something to make sure we are on the same page - the last thing I want is for your client to be disappointed if it's a product I can't authentically endorse.
One more thing - creating quality content for your client takes time and hard work. Lots of it. I work full time on my blog and an in-depth review or article accompanied by great photos can take many more hours of work than one might think. As another blogger mentioned, we really can't survive on free meals alone. A PR company that understands that and values my time in turn earns my respect.
What kind of collaborations are a good fit for you?
I offer services such as menu consulting and even menu proofreading - you would be surprised what damage can be done to a brand's image by inaccuracy-riddled promotional material, plus photography and custom content creation. Besides fine dining, I work with luxury hotel properties and luxury travel, lifestyle and food related brands as my core audience is interested in these areas also. We are often experts in our fields, so tap in to the experience and knowledge we can offer.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a food blog?
I would say make sure you are getting into blogging for the right reasons - passion, passion, and yet more passion! The days and nights of writing are long, the website headaches plentiful, and you'll have to invest in getting your website up and running. If you don't have an enormous amount of love for your subject, you'll tire quickly as it takes a lot of commitment to grow your audience and keep up with the workload while keeping quality standards high. That being said, I love what I do and am always inspired by the next dining or travel experience to keep going!