As a health care attorney, I’ve had to work with the Federal Trade Commission, as they are the agency that enforces the antitrust laws (along with the Justice Department). Frankly, the FTC can be a royal pain in the ass, but I understand their purpose in the antitrust world. The FTC also regulates advertising to the extent that it may be deceptive or misleading, and they just adopted new rules that require bloggers to disclose whenever they receive anything in value in exchange for a review.
Now I believe in full disclosure, and in the one instance that I accepted a fully complementary meal, I disclosed that fact. However, I also informed the restaurant that providing that gratis meal did not mean that I would review the restaurant and certainly did not guarantee that they’d receive praise. Frankly, I really don’t write restaurant reviews for the most part. In this case, however, I did write about the restaurant because I loved it. If I didn’t like it, I would probably not have written anything at all.
But with the new FTC rules, bloggers like me have to be worried whenever we receive anything of value. If I’m at a restaurant and the chef sends out an extra course, do I need to disclose that? What about if the chef has no idea who I am? I would argue that in the latter case, the extra course has nothing to do with providing something of value in exchange for reviews — it’s just a nice thing to do. And in the first case, assuming the chef knows me, I would argue that the extra course was sent out with the hope– but not the expectation — that I might provide a favorable review. That might fall short of the FTC’s requirement. However, the bottom line is that the FTC wants to ensure that reviews are not bought, and if they are, then it should be disclosed.
So to ensure that I don’t run afoul of federal requirements (which, at this point, aren’t really law, just guidelines), I offer the following blanket statement that addresses everything I write about in this blog:
“I don’t write true reviews, but I do offer my thoughts on various aspects of the food and restaurant industries. I also write about food and my family. I sometimes may receive a discounted meal or free drink or a slab of bacon, primarily because I’ve pretty much immersed myself in the food world. I generally only write about places I like, so if a restaurant gives me something for free, and it sucks, I won’t write about it. If they give me something for free and I like it, I’ll probably write about it. If they don’t give me a thing and I like it, I’ll probably write about it, too. I also am biased in that I’m much more likely to write about places where my friends work. I like to write about my friends who are chefs, and I have to admit that they have indeed given me something of value: their friendship. From time to time, they give me a free dish. I may not always disclose that, because I really think that what my friends do is our own business. I am horribly biased by that relationship, so please do not be misled into thinking I’m fully objective when writing about their restaurants. I try, but you know how friendships work. So if I write about a restaurant or a food item, just assume that my objectivity has been compromised in some manner.”
And if that’s not good enough for the FTC, then I guess I better start boning up on my legal defense skills.