The Austin Food Blogger Alliance (AFBA) seeks to support a local membership of food bloggers and the community through educational initiatives, social events, philanthropic endeavors, and by upholding a commonly shared code of ethics.
Blogging is an ever-changing medium, and our code of ethics is intended to not only help members present themselves professionally, but help them navigate the sometimes-bumpy waters of the journalistic world. Most importantly, we expect members to follow the FTC guidelines for disclosure, which protect the writer and keeps them transparent with their readers.
The current FTC guidelines for blogger disclosure are located here (PDF).
Our Code of Ethics and guidelines for writing reviews on restaurants and products are posted below.
Enforcing the Code
If you believe another member to be in violation of the Code of Ethics, you may contact the Membership Chair or President at email@example.com to register a violation. The membership committee will investigate the claim and recommend to the board if action should be taken. Members will receive two warnings from the board before revocation of their membership can be considered.
Adapted from the Food Blog Code of Ethics blog and The Association of Food Journalists Review Guidelines
- We will be accountable
- We will write about the culinary world with the care of a professional. We will stand behind our claims. If what we say or show could potentially affect someone’s reputation or livelihood, we will post with the utmost thought and due diligence.
- We understand why some bloggers choose to stay anonymous. We respect that need but will not use it as an excuse to avoid accountability. When we choose to write anonymously for our own personal or professional safety, we will not post things we wouldn’t be comfortable putting our names to.
- If we review a restaurant, product or culinary resource (as opposed to writing an informational post) we will consider integrating a modified version of the guidelines offered by the Association of Food Journalists (posted below).
- We will follow the rules of good journalism
- We will not plagiarize. We will respect copyright and ownership rights to photos. We will attribute recipes and note if they are adaptations from a published original. We will research. We will attribute quotes and offer link backs to original sources whenever possible. We will do our best to make sure that the information we are posting is accurate. We will fact check. In other words, we will strive to practice good journalism even if we don’t consider ourselves journalists.
- We will be civil
- We wholeheartedly believe in freedom of speech, but we also acknowledge that our experiences with food are subjective. We promise to be mindful—regardless of how passionate we are—that we will be forthright, and will refrain from personal attacks.
- We will reveal bias, gifts, comps and samples
- If we are writing about something or someone we are emotionally or financially connected to, we will disclose those connections.
- When something is given to us or offered at a deep discount because of our blog, we will disclose that information. As bloggers, most of us do not have the budgets of large publications, and we recognize the value of samples, review copies of books, gift certificates, donated giveaway items, dishes from the chef, and culinary events. It’s important to disclose freebies in a forthright manner in order to be authentic and trusted.
- When we are at a food blogger event sponsored by the restaurant we will disclose that fact in all posts to social channels during the event and in any posts we create based on the event experience.
- We will not ask for free food, drinks, or special services because of our position as food bloggers.
- We will at all times adhere to the FTC Guidelines regarding endorsements and testimonials.
- If our profession involves food PR or marketing we will take extra care to clearly delineate professional activities from blogging activities
- When working for, creating content about, or promoting a client from a personal account in any channel (blog, Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, etc.) we will clearly identify our relationship with that client. Our readers should not have to guess if we are representing ourselves as food bloggers or our clients as businesses.
- If we are being paid by a local restaurant or other food enterprise, we will not share the blogger list with our clients. We can assist them in working through proper channels to access the list and other blogger information, but they will not receive preferential treatment because they are our clients.
- Any blog content we create as part of a paid engagement (ghost blogging, compensated posts, etc) will not be considered part of our personal blogging activities for the purposes of membership and participation in the group.
- We will not use our position as a blogger or our association with the group as a negotiation tool in our business dealings to pressure local food enterprises into doing business with us or agreeing to an unfavorable business arrangement. It is critical that businesses see all bloggers as partners in the food community and not feel obligated in any way to us as business people because we are bloggers.
Food Blogger Review Guidelines
Adapted from the Association of Food Journalists Critics Guidelines
The following guidelines for bloggers who post restaurant reviews are just that — guidelines suggested by the Austin Food Bloggers Alliance. They are not intended to be rules that will be enforced by the AFBA. The guidelines are provided to food bloggers who are interested in ethical industry suggestions for reviewing restaurants and other food enterprises.
Reviewing a Restaurant vs. Writing About a Restaurant
Reviewing a restaurant and writing about a restaurant are not necessarily the same activity. A review implies a critical look at the restaurant experience and is intended to cover all aspects of the dining experience. An overview of a dining experience, information about a new menu item or the chef’s background, or a discussion of a particular aspect of the restaurant such as its cocktail program or commitment to sustainability do not have to be review like in nature. These guidelines are largely focused on critical reviews although they should be considered any time a blogger writes about a local business to ensure ethical standards are maintained.
The Restaurant Experience
When visiting a restaurant for the purpose of reviewing it, bloggers should strive to experience the restaurant just as ordinary patrons do. While a reservation under a separate name is not required, bloggers should refrain from attempting to announce their presence in the restaurant to try and obtain special service. Bloggers who have been recognized may want to make note of that in the review, especially if the treatment they receive differs markedly from what nearby tables are receiving.
A special food blogger event or a visit to the restaurant paid for with a gift certificate donated from the restaurant does not represent the typical restaurant experience and should not be considered when writing a formal review. Readers should have a way to respond to blogger reviews either in the comments or via e-mail.
To be fair to new restaurants, bloggers should wait at least one month after the restaurant starts serving before posting a formal review. These few weeks give the fledgling enterprise some time to get organized. We realize however that bloggers will want to visit newly opened restaurants to write timely posts, highlight new businesses on the food scene, and stay competitive with other information sources around town. When writing about restaurants in the first weeks they are open, consider offering readers “first impressions.” This piece should be more descriptive than critical, avoid labeling it as a review if possible. The emphasis of such a sneak preview could be on the fledgling restaurant’s clientele, its decor and maybe the chef’s background rather than a blow-by-blow account of the menu (though food would, of course, be mentioned.)
Bloggers must always be conscious that they are dealing with people’s livelihoods. Posting negative content is fine, as long as it is accurate and fair. Negative reviews, especially, should be based on multiple visits and a broad exploration of the restaurant’s menu. Following a consistent approach to reviewing food enterprises may protect a blogger from charges of bias or favoritism, while providing a platform from which to defend the content. When possible give constructive feedback to the restaurant directly.