There Is No Such Thing As A Free Meal. This Is The Cost of Food Blogging.

There Is No Such Thing As A Free Meal. This Is The Cost of Food Blogging.
by

I have to get this off my chest. Only because too many people have come forward to say “Being a blogger is great. They get free this and that. Free travels, free haircut, free food.” My personal friends would say similar things to me, “You have a good life. All your meals are free.”

The answer is: Yes and No. My meals are free. But no, they are not free.

The topic that few bloggers talk about – The cost of food blogging. To set the record straight, I am writing this on the presumption that people are looking into turning blogs into a money-making venture to sustain a feasible career and lifestyle. Turning blogging from a hobby to a career.

As the saying goes “There is no free lunch in the world,” and I still believe in it. Let’s start with the technical bits.

Blog Building
To be a professional blogger, I do not recommend using a free blogging platform – because it means a restriction in placing advertisements and customization. The costs involve would include getting a blogging platform, domain, blog design, and web hosting. My blog hosting fees ALONE are easily more than a hundred dollars per month. I went with a cheaper host before, but they were unreliable and could not sustain the volume of traffic.

Technical Equipment
Cameras (a decent DSLR please), laptop, photo editing software, equipment such as flash, light boxes, and props. You know the prices, the total can cost up to $10,000, or more.

Education and Training
I do not believe a blogger, or any professional for that matter, can sustain without undergoing continual training. I have invested in photography, writing and blogging books, and workshops on basic to intermediate photography and review writing which set me back by a couple of thousands. And the learning does not end there.


I spent $1000 reviewing this restaurant.

Labour Cost and Time Invested
And how about the ‘free’ meals and travels?

Yes, the truth is, a popular blogger can particularly get a FREE food invite (or much much more) every single day. I am not exaggerating to say if every food invite is accepted, your meals the entire year can be settled (and there will still be spillovers).

The funny thing comes: Suddenly, there is the assumption time is FREE. It is not.

Food Blogger A spends an average time of 4 hours writing a single post and editing photos. Food Blogger B who is known to write EXTREMELY FAST, also spends slightly more than an hour.

A normal food tasting can last anything between 90 minutes to 3 hours, though 4-6 hours is not unheard of. If we go by the average of 2 hours of tasting, an hour of traveling, plus 4 hours of writing and photo editing, that is 7 hours of work time.

If that blogger is paid $10 per hour (very very very conservative sum) professionally, using that time to blog would mean that the $50 ‘free’ meal is not worth it because he is in fact losing $20.

Of course there is the argument that food bloggers have to eat anyway. But again, we should look at the premise that this is going to be a professional career. And trust me, some official food tastings are hardly an enjoyment. No offence to the restaurants.

Cost Of Food Tasting
Plus, a food blogger just can’t go for free tastings all the time. It just doesn’t work for your readers or credibility of the blog. There are some restaurants we need to write about, and have to pay out of our own pockets.

To review a restaurant, I think it is only fair enough we try the bare minimum of 3-4 items. Similarly, we cannot write about a café after drinking one cup of coffee (though I have seen that happening).

An average restaurant bill can cost anything between $50 and $150. You know how expensive it is to dine in Singapore.

As for the compilation pieces, for example the 5/10 Best XXX (fill in food name) in Singapore. You go figure how much it would cost and time it would take to eat 10 different cheese cakes, or noodles. A food blogger who wrote on the Best Nasi Lemak in Singapore shared how she had to travel from Changi Village to Boon Lay. Think about the petrol money, or the cab fare.

Manpower
Some of the bloggers who do this professionally are hardly solo individuals, they usually come with a help or team of help – be it a writer, marketing or administrative assistant. There is really A LOT of work involved. Hiring additional labour cost money. Some get around it by getting their spouses, boyfriend, girlfriend or bff. That has to be sustainable in a long run.

How about free travels? Sounds like a good deal.
A travel blogger shared that he travels on sponsored trips only there is an additional honorarium or blog advertorial fees. I personally think that is a fair request. Going for a week of ‘free’ blogging trip would mean 7 days off work, which is really a huge income loss incurred for freelancers.

Many travel bloggers can attest that media travel trips are both physically and mentality exhausting. Surely they will instagram the picturesque highlights and drool-worthy food of their travels. Who would talk about waking up at 3am, or returning back to hotel only close to midnight because the itinerary was simply too packed?

I am happy for fellow bloggers who managed to turn their hobbies into a career. Seriously, I admire all their energy and passion. However, like entrepreneurs, only a very small percentage makes good money to sustain a living. And it is not a job with stable income at the end of the day.

Behind their more glamorous parts, are years and years of hard work that goes unseen. Years and years. Bloggers do not make money the moment they start a blog. I still encourage people to be one, but do not let money be that primary driving force.

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Comments

  1. Thank you for writing this – the other side to an industry that is seemingly very glamorous. Appreciate you sharing the tough side of food blogging. (:

  2. Totally agree. =)

  3. Sadly, many advertisers do not know how much effort and work goes into each blog post. They offer unacceptable rates and expect to get the most out of it.

  4. Thanks for speaking up for us!

  5. Thanks for sharing with us the real world of blogging =P

  6. Not in an optimistic plight, my blog doesn't drive that much of traffic thus I have no "bargaining" power. So called FREE FOOD actually made me spend so much money on travelling that I rather stay at home and eat instant noodles. Dressing up for events seemed so glamorous, but sometimes it can be tiring…

  7. Thanks for the write up and I totally agree with everything you said!

  8. Totally agree! It is indeed misleading that bloggers get to enjoy so many perks and freebies, as most times we are sharing the glamorous side on the social media. However, many are not aware of the hours and effort spend on editing the pictures and composing for a post, as well as days off / transportation costs incurred to cover an event, that are mostly at our own expenses only.

  9. yes! this.

  10. woohoo… Thanks for sharing. hugs!

  11. Yup, I am agree. Thanks for sharing :)

  12. bloggers playing the victim card? hilarious! he should just be thankful that someone is willing to overlook his masturbatory writing and sponsor his meals. it’s ridiculous how he makes the whole thing seem like such a tiresome affair when he can choose to walk away from it at any point of time. nobody pointed a gun at his head and forced him to start the blog.

    • what victim card, he is just stating the work behind every blog post. it may be a tiresome affair but worth it as long as readers appreciates it. nobody pointed a gun on your head to read this blog post too, why are you so pissed off? who’s ridiculous?

  13. I love that you include the price you paid for each meal. This, unfortunately, is something that most food bloggers omit and it undermines the whole purpose of having a food review platform in the first place. Keep up the good work!

  14. While I’m may not be a food blogger, the same can be said about mummy bloggers too. We get invited to events and get sponsorships but they come at the expense of family time or sleep. While I enjoy the opportunities that blogging has opened up, I also wished that more companies will see that our influence as bloggers comes at a cost and not try to take advantage of us.

  15. Whinge whinge whinge.

  16. As a digital marketer, we look at ROI. Be it visits, clicks, offer download, or anything measurable. Your bargaining power are based on these metrics. If you want higher pay, then you have to think of a way to improved these areas. We don’t really care how much you invested to produce a post. Just like a business, we don’t really care how much it cost for you to make a cupcake. If it doesn’t taste good. I will only pay you 50 cents for a cupcake that cost you 3 dollars each. This just means that your ‘business model’ doesn’t work.

    Hope this wake up some amateur blogger who aim to earn a living from blogging. When you aim to earn money, it is a business.

    Best,

    Karl

  17. You put forth a fair point but this is perhaps true for only a minority of bloggers.

    There remains a majority who

    i) Can’t string together a single paragraph without a glaring grammatical error

    ii) Don’t spend more than 30 minutes on writing a post
    – Not that I’m clairvoyant but how long do you think it takes to write a post that is primarily along this vein “OMG! The fish is very very very very niceeeeeeeeeee!”
    peppered with banal personal anecdotes like “today is our 3rd monthi-versary and the boy is springing a wonderful surprize! Oh I love him!”

    iii) Use Instagram (or equivalent) for all the photos or assume bokeh is the end-all-be-all of photography

    iv) Use free hosting and/or off-the-shelf templates

    v) Have a sense of entitlement when it comes to food/services- i.e. I blog ergo I don’t pay.

    – Publicity is worth paying for if it’s a top-rated site but not one with questionable site traffic

    vi) Wax lyrical about every single restaurant they been to, presumably to ensure the PR invites them for future events.

    People read blogs to get unbiased opinions, IMO invited tastings may compromise this.

    For instance I enjoy reading ieatishootipost because most of the folks he covers don’t look like they would engage PR firms to help them invite him and Leslie Tay certainly can afford to pay for prawn mee and whatnot.
    Hence I get the feeling he would be unbiased.
    Not so with guys that only take nice photos and claim virtually every restaurant/cafe is a must-try.

    In a nutshell, I’m not disputing what you said- your writing is above average and your photography/photoshop is topnotch, but I can’t say that it applies to all your peers.

  18. Well said Daniel. You hit the nail on the head.
    Cheers and keep it up :)

    Food for thought: “If I am going to spend 4 hours or more doing prep work, writing and editing photos on an establishment, would I waste my time blogging about the place that is sucks?”

    • I did before, but I think it should be done constructively – mainly to provide the restaurant some feedback and readers an alternative view.

  19. Well put Daniel. There is no such thing as a free meal, and those who think it’s easy to get have obviously not tried blogging. If you think it’s that easy, why not do it too then?

    It’s market supply and demand in the end. PR firms and high end restaurants are not stupid- they won’t host a blogger for a tasting if you don’t have traffic or some other kind of exposure publicity for them.

    Given there are some small businesses who have done less research and give freebies to anyone, the more respected places will definitely do their due diligence in assessing your PR value to them. We provide a service, which is publicity. Getting to that level of exposure takes time, effort and money invested as Daniel has highlighted in his post.

    Everyone wants to be a blogger and get free stuff, but not everyone has the talent and the effort to find out about hosting, take good photos, writing consistent posts, learning seo and plugins etc.

  20. I see how many people are agreeing with you but the question I would like to pose to you and everyone else is.. if it’s so difficult, why do it then? Like you said, since you can’t “earn” enough and have to maintain a full time job, should this not then be a hobby that you keep in your free time? And I would imagine that you would want to enjoy what you do in your free time.

    I think bloggers have to start remembering why they started blogging in the first place. Sure, some people aren’t all that articulate but I would like to think that these food bloggers write because they want to share their love for food and the places they hunt down to dine at, not cos they think that it’s a duty or an obligation to report what they put in their mouths. Nor should it be to garner invitations to free tastings. Food bloggers existed way before PR companies even thought they might be “important” enough to invite in for a tasting. Whether PR companies are right even in the first place, remains to be seen really.

    I think my whole point here is that if it’s that painful to blog, don’t. And if it’s painful to dine at some of these PR events you’re invited too or think that you are losing your time and money, then don’t accept those invites. I’m sure no one is forcing you to say yes.

    And to say you spent $1000 reviewing Waku Ghin. My question to you is, do you blog because you love to eat or do you eat only because you felt you had to since you have a food blog?

    • Hi Alicia, thank you for sharing. I come from a point to just highlight (maybe to the newer bloggers) that blogging is not as glamorous as it seems. I can’t say this for other bloggers, but I am still doing it as a hobby. Sometimes I accept paid engagements because a) I need to break even b) these paid engagements interest me.

      As for your last question, the line is hard to divide. The truth is, I wouldn’t have dined at Waku Ghin if it wasn’t commonly ranked one of the Best restaurants in Singapore. I felt the need to ‘train my tongue’, get exposed to different culinary types, and have a better measurement of food standards.

  21. Definitely a good read. Thanks for voicing out. :)

  22. keep up the good work. don't give up ! 😉

  23. I agree with much of what you’ve written, Daniel. :) Blogging is indeed not as glamorous as it seems. To me, it’s about the fun. Once it’s no longer fun for me, I’ll go do something else. 😀

    I do think that a free blogging platform is fine though. SG’s blogging queen, Xiaxue, uses blogspot. I won a blog award with a free wordpress blog, more-than-a-year-old cover picture and a free template. A lot of people spend money on fancy websites and THINK it will guarantee them success. Unfortunately, most of them don’t become as successful as you. My wordpress hosted blog can also manage traffic spikes, even 40,000+ a day is fine.

    Where food blogging is concerned, (correct me if I’m wrong) I think many food bloggers would rather pay for the food than accept free food – there’s just too much work to be done during the meal, and after. 😀

  24. […] a Singaporean food blogger (flogger) has posted up on his blog, ranting his views on “There is no such thing as a free meal. This is the cost of food blogging”. Well, he got most of his points right. However, some points stated might not necessary apply to […]

  25. Will you pay if the restaurant asks you to? And have you brought more people than originally allowed?

  26. A very good read and most of the points are nailed to the tee! And I like the points put forth by Danny, Alicia and Grace and could identify with their views.- Cheers!

  27. Hi,
    Nice article. While I rated you and IeatIshootIpost as real food bloggers who really goes deep into details when doing food reviews but I can’t say the same for some, eg NotLadySoftNotChef (pun intended). Its quite well known years back he is a free loader bringing his gang along for free meals. I believe he is still doing the same. I just don’t get it. Look at the quality of his food reviews, just a few nice photos and then a paragraph broken up into sentences. Same style always. And you call this food review? Really face palm.

    Too bad, some food bloggers just gave bad name.

    • Hi Dennis, thanks for dropping by. Do feel that I need to add something. It’s unfortunate that some small things that bloggers do get blown out of proportion. Its interesting that years have passed, and that unfortunate incident is still raised again and again on social media. The truth wasn’t revealed anyway – nobody really knew who’s at fault. The toughest thing to me personally is, people do say all kinds of things (some nice and some nasty), We just gotta press on. Cheers.

  28. Now i truly understand the “unglam” side of a food blooger. Thanks for sharing…

  29. […] recently there’s been some furore over Daniel Food Diary‘s article: There is no such thing as a free meal. This is the cost of food blogging. I’m have to say I was pretty glad that article came out into the open, from a blogger with a […]

  30. Thanks for sharing this perspective!

    People always underestimate the amount of work needed behind the scenes for quality media and writing. Because they are not bloggers themselves.

    And at the end of the day, business (smart ones) will look at readership and value they are getting from bloggers. What it takes to get there.. they really don't care. PR get paid by their clients but sadly most won't pay you even though its you giving the value.

    Most of the time, these bloggers are interchangable as well. If one doesn't want to do it they just ask another. To really set yourself apart so you end up getting paid, you need insane traffic or influence. And it takes years of effort to get there and its really hard to do it in industries such as food.

    There are just are about 5 bloggers in Singapore at the moment who I would say can live a comfortable life from full time blogging.

  31. Wow! Someone finally said this out for me!
    My friends thought that bloggers are very syok cos we always get free stuff but they didn’t know that we still need to snap photo, review and blog about it, it is definitely not 100% free!

  32. I can't even name 5. haha. Most I know have other side lines, a blogshop, a business, photography/writing, modelling, hosting etc just to sustain :)

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