Editor's Note: The following is The Big Spoon, an opinion column on San Antonio's food and drink scene.
It’s an interesting moment in restaurant ownership. With as many openings as San Antonio sees these days, it’s easy to get lost in the noise.
Often, a restaurant owner is tasked with managing the kitchen, paying staff, handling bills, taking care of emergencies, playing host, and somehow finding time to advertise and market whatever the restaurant offers.
At the end of the day, a restaurant is still a business. Some are big businesses that can afford public relations firms that are responsible for dispersing loads of information about new events, new dinners, and new menu items. But more often than not, restaurateurs can’t afford monthly retainers when profits are already razor thin. And not all restaurant owners are social-media savvy entrepreneurs who can create polished Facebook pages, answer every direct message, shoot impeccable food photography and direct engaging Instagram stories.
Enter the influencer.
Urban Dictionary’s definition leans a tad salty when describing this new-ish phenom of a social-media personality:
“A makeup, hairstyle, or fashion blogger who is instafamous only on Instagram or buys ‘followers’ and ‘likes’ and gets free products from companys [sic] who fall in their trap of fake fame.
Jeff: ‘So, what do you do for a living?’
Becky: ‘I’m an influencer, I have 200k followers.’”
In the last handful of years, companies have spent however much money and given away products and food essentially advertising with influencers across the country in an effort to make a splash in the social-media landscape. For now, let’s just put aside the fake follower argument that has plagued enough large companies, celebrities and influencers to necessitate a profile on the New York Times
and, most recently, Ad Age
When it comes to restaurants, “media events” are now flooded with good amateur photographers who share to their curated, thematic platforms, about whatever new product/menu/event is hot right now.
I joined Instagram six years ago because the app provided a great respite from the snarkiness of Twitter and awkwardness of Facebook (though Zuck and co. have owned Instagram since 2012). The platform was good for creative expression, and played a huge part in promoting #bodypositivity and representation for all sizes. It’s still one of my favorite apps, but I’ve learned to discern the information being funneled my way, especially now that the algorithm handles when I see things.
At more than 6,000 followers, I understand I’m not a traditional user, but I cringe at being called an influencer. I don’t take money for posts. I try not to stage food unless the plate is from an editorial photo shoot (you know, for the newsweekly I work for, that pays me), and unless it’s a restaurant opening, the amount of “media dinners” – can we just call them influencer parties? – I attend has dwindled. I like my food hot and not usually the subject of several photo shoots before it hits the table. After all, the number one rule of staging food is you don’t eat it after the fact.
This isn’t about vilifying influencers who genuinely want to share an excellent dining experience. Or the ones that get paid to do so — good for you! But food, especially the comforting kind, isn’t always photogenic. And restaurants aren’t always the most aesthetically pleasing places. And along those same lines, photogenic food isn’t always amazing, and a perfectly styled restaurant might not always have the best service.
The “media dinner,” most often free of charge, won’t go away, nor does it have to. But just like it was once a thrill to “discover” a new restaurant as a food writer, these days, my thrill lies in sharing why a restaurant, bar, server, bartender, cook, dishwasher, dish, drink or what-have-you is great — not just trying to figure out what witty caption to put under its photo.
I’m not an influencer, but I can still share your story, and that should be worth something.
— Jess Elizarraras, firstname.lastname@example.org
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