How many times have you seen a rave food review on TikTok, like the Borough Market chocolate-covered strawberries, or those cube-shaped croissants, and wished you could go to try it out right that second? But then, perhaps just a couple of scrolls later, you find another video telling you how over-hyped and under-whelming that restaurant really is. What was once lauded as the hot new place is now subject to a slew of videos condemning its offerings. This is a concerning trend in the world of social media food reviews, as there is little market for a balanced, in-depth review on apps built to hold our attention span for roughly fifteen seconds.
There is an entire article to be written on why certain dishes and food places go viral in the first place, why we seem to value the longest cheese pull so highly even though it tells you nothing about the flavour, or how certain foods will always be overlooked because they are not instantly Instagrammable. However, even if a food spot does become successful on social media, the speed at which these places, which rise to fame so quickly and seemingly exponentially, can then crash and burn is even more shocking.
The initial hyperbolic reviews flood in, it’s an ‘unmissable’ dish, the best mac and cheese you will ever taste, or the freshest strawberries you can get in London, and the lines begin to stretch along the street. Realistically, a fair few of these initial reviews are likely to be sponsored adverts, or at least gifted meals in exchange for a review. However, once a food spot has gained viral status, anyone and everyone will be flocking to make their own video. And yet as quickly as it begins, counter videos will emerge seeking to ‘expose’ the normalcy of the product, the extortionate price, the queues, the bad service – you name it, they will find it. What was a ground-breaking find two weeks ago is suddenly labelled over-hyped, underwhelming and generally sub-par.
Of course, social media does give anyone who wants it a platform to spread their opinions, and a certain amount of these videos will be from people who really did like, or dislike, the product. However, there is also money and a lucrative career to be made off of TikTok success, which then distorts the opinions we see.
Often the creators who start the negative movement have built their brand on giving ‘honest’ reviews, or ‘debunking’ the internet hype, purporting to test whether these places really are worth it. However, when you look closely, this is simply another way of reaping in the views. Once the platform has been saturated with positive reviews and interest is tailing off, the easiest way to gain more engagement is to take an opposite stance.
The fact is that controversy breeds engagement, and engagement means money, leading to a constant struggle to come up with a new, divisive viewpoint that will encourage comments and shares. The pattern of the TikTok viral food spot, which is then debunked and slammed by other creators, is a prime example of this phenomenon. If views and engagement are the currency, there is no room for a review that considers the subjectivity of food preferences.
It is a trait of social media that we cannot seem to get past, everything must either be unmissable or a disaster, the next big thing, or the latest scam. It is something to keep in mind the next time a 2 am scroll session has you craving some niche dish – that whether content creators present it as an unmissable meal or a food disaster, they will always benefit from selling you an extreme opinion.
Photography by: Eleanor Strain