Food Reviewing — A Field Full of Trailblazers

By Nicola Brown, Contributor, on October 13, 2017

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Food reviewing can seem like one of the most coveted gigs in the freelance writing world. Who wouldn’t want to make a living from simply eating food all the time? Food journalism has evolved significantly thanks to the absolute explosion of Tasty videos, food bloggers turned celebrities and internet food trends.

The traditional view of the spiny food critic (think Anton Ego from Ratatouille) is a far reach from what the world of food reviews looks like today, at least for the majority. Full-time food reviewing for traditional print publications like newspapers is disappearing, while new media forms of the art are emerging. Today’s foodies take on a wider variety of writing and editing as publication budgets and teams change while new opportunities arise. Want to make food reviewing a (tasty) part of your freelance repertoire?

Food Reviewing in 2017

Most modern-day food reviewers aren’t in it for the money, so it’s largely a part-time gig. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, but writing about food over finance will cause a bit of a pay cut.

The most successful food reviewers today are bloggers. They’ve found a niche, connected with an interested audience and make a living through their websites. But this space is already a competitive landscape to survive in. Many of the most successful food bloggers have been doing it for years; they started when food blogging was still a new genre. Those newer to the game either found a previously untapped niche, had a new way of writing about food or took an existing concept and improved it.

Even traditional publications are looking to food blogs to understand how they can innovate and draw audiences. Photo and video content is what foodie audiences crave. As traditional publications move online, these multimedia experiences are paramount to keeping your audience’s attention. Today’s food writers are simultaneously photographers, videographers and digital marketers.

Breaking Into Food Writing

Who else has friends with Pinterest boards covered in delicious food photos? There’s no second when it comes to mouthwatering images and how-to demonstrations of food and recipes, so it’s worth developing your skills in this area. Building up your own portfolio of food related content, draw inspiration from the greats like The New York Times, where writers are commenting on food that’s Instagram-ready, and any publications dabbling in food with their own style, from Vogue to Lucky Peach.

Breaking into food writing for others (the kind that’s paid) is all about networking. Reach out to your contacts to see if you can make any connections at newspapers, magazines and online publications. Pro tip: Don’t exclude trade and custom publications from your search. B2B and content marketing publications can be more lucrative and offer more opportunities to get a foot in the door than traditional journalistic outlets.

In food reviewing, anyone can have a meal and say how much they enjoyed it or not, but not everyone can speak to how the meal fits into a larger food trend or what the compelling story of the chef is. What makes this meal or this restaurant different from others? Can you hone in on a single ingredient and speak to how this flavor captures the essence of the place? A good food review will talk about everything that contributes to the experience, which goes beyond the food — you’ve got to discover the story.

Perhaps you’re gluten intolerant and your recipes explore how to eat well without gluten, or you have five kids and know some shortcuts to feeding them quickly and economically. Maybe you live in a small town, grow your own veggies and bring light to food deserts, or you live in the city and your goal is to find the best avocado toast by trying each one. Find your unique perspective and let it drive your storytelling.

Advice From a Food Writer

Food reviewing isn’t all about free dinners — which don’t even pay the bills. Successful professionals in this field have a genuine passion for ingredients, chefs and food trends. They’re always asking: “What’s the bigger picture behind the plate?” Never lose sight of your passion. Trying to make ends meet in an extremely competitive field may make you fall out of love with food (a true travesty).

And despite occasional free meals, don’t work for free or undersell your services. Quite a few smaller online publications are always looking for ways to get content cheaper, and this can result in job postings that ask for reviews for free in exchange for exposure or a comped meal. A good rule of thumb: If the website has a decent audience and is making money off advertising revenue, they should be paying you for your content. Respect your value as a writer and you’ll bolster your chances of long-term success — not to mention protect salaries of your fellow freelancers.

Food reviewing can be very rewarding if you’re dedicated, passionate and approach it from a realistic perspective. Come armed with a voracious appetite (for hard work and food) and you’ll set yourself up for success.

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