New reviewers on Zomato

I have written about my Zomato Relationship earlier, and whilst Zomato has tried to reach out, many others have been quite aggressive about my demanding or on the other hand telling me that I am being vindictive :) or the popular term whining. So here goes nothing.

Episode 1: Today Nandita found a laughable review from ‘Famous Food Blogger’ in Calcutta who felt that he was not given his due importance by a restaurant and ranted. Whilst everyone was laughing on the english, spellings etc, what was really pissing off was his sense of entitlement. Now mind you, this is not because of being a food blogger, though they are the biggest culprits, particularly the new, freebie ones. There are many moneyed, designation, etc who feel a sense of entitlement but that is for another day. So we had many a great Twitterati climbing the “Thrash the food blogger” band wagon, whereas I have seen many of them behaving similarly. The only point in favour I can say is Restaurants are equally to blame when they call “Zomato Reviewers” and are not ready to listen to such things.

Episode 2: Karthik posted another snapshot which had the restaurant graded 1.0 on Zomato and the reviewer writing ‘Such Places should not be allowed to exist’ Duh!

And in all this, there is for and against for each camp – Restaurants, Reviewers, Zomato.

Zomato has not instituted something called Neutrality team, which checks, verifies reviews and publishes. The speed at which my last review was published appeared that it may be a Bot. On my question, somebody from the team sent me an email. I replied with the link of my blog post. Silence.

A couple of days earlier, I was stuck between meetings and decided to visit a new place. Checking on Zomato, nothing interesting appeared and landed up at an old haunt in Lower Parel.

Sipping on a Lemonade, wishing for a Gin and Tonic, Vella as I can be, decided to check Zomato new Leadership Board. A quick scroll turned interesting and so started jotting down some information.

There are 25 people on the leadership board in Bombay with top at 227 reviews and bottom at 96 reviews done over the past 180 days. This translates into 3327 reviews, 181/2 reviews a day amongst the top 25, with the top 10 probably doing upwards of 1.5 reviews a day. Some of the reviews barely meet the 200 character limit, whilst some are prose of 300++ words.

Passing thru the reviews, rarely did one see any disclaimer of any sort; so back of the envelope calculation  that approx Rs. 50 lacs spent on reviews, which is definitely not a big sum by Bombay standards, however spending, and writing for free and all, is a little unbelievable.

Called up a couple of friends at Restaurants asking about this, to hear them laugh, and told me Just because you’ve principles doesn’t mean everybody does. Also we have to run our business. Fair enough. So as a stupid old Man my question to:

  1. Food Bloggers aka Reviewers – Do you do this. Most answered yes. The younger lot said, why pay when you get it free. The older lot are more selective.
  2. Restaurants – Ganda hai magar dhanda hai. Do you get repeat business – Not really but it is cheaper than advertising. Also given the proximity and competition, one has to do, what competition is doing.
  3. Zomato –  Do you want to continue selling, get your revenue target (probably Yes) And leave your earlier credibility behind (Probably only Deepi can answer). But it would be a real shame.

To round it off Sidin asked a question – Would you trust food bloggers and visit a restaurant? I am sure his twitter time line or article shall give some answer also.

So as Times of India group is upfront that it is a Marketing company that also provides news; maybe the time has come for Zomato to take a similar stance. I am sure there is a target audience for that also.

What are your views?

 

The Zomato relationship

Zomato the Unicorn has been in the news in the recent past for all the right and wrong reasons. Everybody has an opinion of how badly it is managed, what they should do right and so on.

As an observer, user, advocate of Zomato  from the time of its birth, most of this is irrelevant to me.

Our relationship was an accident. The erstwhile Burrp was in existence, on its way to being acquired etc. the story best told by Anand the co founder when Zomato made its presence felt. Teething, baby steps except in some conversation with Sanjeev, I had no knowledge. On looking at it, found myself a mate, the beginning of a relationship, me having a lot of visited places to share and Zomato  offering a platform.

It evolved over time, Web to app, sure there were hiccups like somebody inviting on behalf of Zomato  which they had no clue and immediately sorting it out. Then launching a book and calling a few of us – quite surprising because an online platform launching a book. All thru the journey what kept me there was – engagement, neutral stance, immediate recourse to feedback, and somebody listening always. It made one feel a partner.

Then came the point system, it gave a sense of accomplishment for a while till it became a game of up manship. So in true marketing gyaan they started splicing – Bombay became suburbs, suburbs became lanes and so on – with everyone becoming an expert in something or the other.

The next logical step was monetization in a big way – So advertising, algorithm, rewarding, more splicing, pay for it and so on. Sometime 2 years ago in Ahmedabad I saw the first sticker that said ‘Review us on zomato’ at a restaurant and was offered an ice cream free.

I laughed it off then, but realised that many restaurants were offering it with tacit approval. Checked with a couple of clients who agreed sheepishly that it was mutually decided. Maybe I was acting too principled?

They launched the ordering App which offered discounts, But the original App from which you could order did not offer them. Upon asking there was some vague unsatisfactory answer.

Here in parallel, the ‘Bloggers’ and Restaurants were creating their own music, because of some algorithm etc etc so restaurants needed a certain nos of reviews to be put in collections or be listed or whatever.

Super, whilst it irritated me, didn’t really matter much. Tried the order App for comparison – screw up and then was offered Rs. 50/- for the trouble.

Some new changes, which said I had to write a review, copy, integrate on my blog and link and do this or that and many more to be entitled to be counted amongst the list? Duh! Why would I want to do all this? Because you’re part of the community. Brilliant so you earn and I work free.

After the much awaited upgrade, checked and saw some more changes under the hood. Besides the online, where clarity of charges and all are still very grey and delivery is just OK, the list – famous one – has reviews done in the past 6 months to be eligible and begins with an average of 29-35 reviews every month. A little pissed off, started to read and then laughter erupted – somebody who was not even in town had reviewed; somebody has described each dish exactly like the menu, so on and forth.

During this time, I receive an email that says I’ve been selected to do beta test of some live edit of restaurants etc. Hello, I do not recall signing up for this. Another email saying my instagram photos have been snyced.

Visiting couple of new places, all have a card asking for a Zomato  review, with one having printed menu offering 15% off.

It has just been downhill for the last couple of years. I can understand that Revenues are a must, but at the cost of what? Yes you need more signups, but at the cost of alienating consistent and old loyalists? Analytics, Tech, interaction should at least have taught you how to handle different customers/partners. Particularly when you claim to be in the hospitality business.

Yes, of course you will push for Quantity but at the cost of Quality? Signing or listing sandwich or bhelpuri guys who do not have a fixed addresses? Getting reviews or writing done by dozens. Talking about Neutrality and checking where? Sure, you have spawned many more entrepreneurs – 50/- for a review; zomato reviewers for launch; I am a zomato blogger and you better be nice to me; restaurants paying for algorithm changes, listing so need these guys.

But I am sorry, call me old, principled, incorrect target audience or any other name, but I cannot subscribe to this so called ‘Economics & Revenue’ drive. Yes 40,000 orders will come, you will have an internal bench mark of 10-12% complaints – give them Rs 50-100 voucher or credit and they will be happy, but that doesn’t work for me.

I miss the culture, the principles that were initially there which acted as a magnet and stickiness for many of us, which no longer exists.

Will I still visit, write – sure, but now don’t see the passion, loyalty of yester years.

Will I cheer and debate for Zomato  probably when relevant.

You have grown, become an adult, probably entitled to drink, vote, have better and younger friends. Do not see the need to retain old relationships. We understand, and wish you well! May you achieve your dreams!

 

 

Influencer, Influencer…….

A word that has been floating around for quite a number of years — some using it with respect, some with scorn and some with pride.

I have had written about this here and as “Twitter A listers and Influencer campaigns — the dark side” quite a while back with inputs from agency and from the twitterati.

It has been quite a while since this bitching has been around on twitter —

Many people cribbing about Food Bloggers — the easiest of all to thrash; People playing contests; People going blogging for brands, so on and forth.

Now many are jealous, if I win a contest, then I am happy, otherwise I crib. If my friend hosts a beer evening and I am there, it is happening otherwise I crib.

People who loved Kingfisher started hating it when Micro Breweries came about. People who did not like to attend events, would do so if it was their interest — food, theatre, movie whatever.. People who would not attend opening of restaurants would make exceptions and attend…

The old gave way to the new…who were hungry, willing to come at a low cost, create noise and disappear. The cost was less than a hoarding and remained in the digital sphere for a longer time.

Brands outsourced to Agencies, who in turn outsourced to their friends so mostly Incest ruled. All 3 knew each other and decided to play the game ‘Mil kar khelenge aur baatenge’. People who could not participate or participated but did not win cribbed, taunted or called them out. This is very similar to India losing world cup because it was ‘Fixed’.

Amongst this it was very funny to see some Agency/Brand honchos say ‘There should be a disclaimer for paid tweets and similar crap’ whilst their agency or brand would approach people asking them to tweet but not put a disclaimer.

During this period, many continued doing their own work — take on tweeting, instagramming etc for brands without really worrying about what people thought of them. Did they manage to get great sales — Mostly not, however the engagement increased, recall increased and testing the digital platforms became easier.

In this the Brand saved some money, agencies and the person aka influencer made some money and all were happy that KRA were achieved and money was made. As far as I know, there were no deliverables about ‘Increase sales by xyz%’ or similar.

Isn’t it similar to Advertorial which is in vogue? Also when I refer to the term ‘Agencies’ it covers Advertising, PR, Social Media because the more one looks at it, the lesser the difference today.

All of this gave birth to a mushrooming business — Seminar about twitter, instagram etc where people paid Rs 2500–7500 for a day to learn how to manage such programs for client or become an influencer.

Today most agencies have a dedicated list of bloggers, twitterati etc who are willing to engage in activities, very similar to designers or creative people who remain unnamed because the agency and brand take the credit.

Yesterday Mint ‘broke’ a story about Twitter’s teen influencer and it went viral with everybody gungho about how it was a story waiting to break, and how besides Twitter, nobody else knew about it so it appealed to a larger audience — somebody share Mint vs Online reach stats for this story please.

There have been stories earlier in HT Brunch of people playing contests and making a living and others. As late as 3–4 years ago also. Tweets, Like or Dhoka

 

I felt nothing wrong with the Mint story, which gave one side of the story about a 17 year old boy who made enough money to buy a phone, motor cycle and was still studying. On the contrary, the slant could have been ‘Entrepreneurship before entering IIT’ given the state of the country today.

However, many on Twitter decided to go hammer and tongs or rather pretend to be holy.

How dare Mint use his name and handle? Duh! an investigative report does not carry weight if it is not there.

How dare Mint reporter not advise the minor of repercussions? Duh! He drives a motorcycle, knows how to play with twitter and make money etc etc already.

Good for Mint, now expose Agencies and Brands! Duh! The # hashtags show the brands and agencies can be guessed from there.

The apparent outcome was that, Brands and Agencies shouted at him etc which led to deletion of his account. Help! Can’t stop laughing. This is believing in the fairy godmother showering gold coins. Yes, some junior from an agency would have called and admonished him; at the same time also told him to low lie and this shall go away, maybe change your handle and continue :)

Now, the Blood thirsty lot which is demanding the agencies and brands name and expose also work for agencies and brands and have engaged in similar activities offline and online :)

Assuming, Mint does another two part expose about Agencies and Brands — would the same people who worked in Agencies and in Brands, having moved on be willing to come on record and accept? Will Mint publish the names about those brands that advertise heavily with the publishing house? Or there will be a watered down followup with small agencies or brands accepting.

Personally, I see no problem with this nexus — you either want to be a part of it and work towards it, gain your credentials and sell yourself or you don’t want to be and keep yourself away. But a constant or convenient way to be sly, crib or pretend that you never knew about this is definitely not on.

Mint writer Venkat had some specific point that I do not fully subscribe to, except the fact that it is their job to write stories, get views for the larger audience which to me seems fair, given that Panama papers also was investigated and broken, but beyond that it is the relevant authorities who are responsible.

However, I do have a problem with Mint going to Jodhpur to meet a 17 year old and make a story, whilst in any of the metros there are hordes who would have been much better and the repercussions non existent.

Going forward how will it really affect:

Brands will yawn, ho hum, continue because they pay the agency and it’s monkey off my back kinda scenario.

Agencies will play all sides, think of a couple of new ideas — let’s not hashtag this time around, or use YouTube or SnapChat to link Twitter or whatever. And use this to drive rates down so more money in the pocket.

Influencers who are genuine and not the Rs. 70 per tweet ones, don’t give a damn. The Rs. 70–100 ones are dime a dozen; just like mosquitoes, ek maaro hazaar paida hota hai.

Venkat also asked me about ‘Rate card’. Yes it exists as it should. And why not. For me personally I asked Twitter some days back — “How much should I sell my soul for”. Got an answer, unfortunately nobody has paid or is willing to pay beyond some freebies!

IMG_8284.png

Disclaimer: I am rarely paid, and most of the time put a disclaimer whilst writing invite reviews. I don’t like to attend the junta meets. I would like to make money like everyone else and the rate card is above.

img_0844-1

Sales Pitch – Mahindra Holidays

It has been a long followed practice of Mahindra Holidays and many others to work on the funnel theory – which basically collect data, on different pretexts and offers; then spam the shite out of prospects, with the hope that 1.7-3% will convert and be signed up. 

You would mostly see them at fuel pumps, multiplexes, malls trying to entice you with their ‘Free night stay’ if you part with your details. 

Over the years, whilst their numbers grew, everybody got irritated, I was amused to watch from the sidelines. I have always been polite to them, avoiding by saying ‘No thank you’. 

Last year, visiting my favourite Shiv Sagar restaurant in Juhu, we took a table and a couple of minutes later this boy came up. Looking at the uniform, I mistakenly started giving him our food order – till he clarified that he is from Mahindra Holidays and could we fill in a form. Exasperated and amused alternatively, I told him No. 

But, I did mention to the owner that for some money you’re going to lose customers, which he agreed fortunately and said, he would not have them from the next day. 

Sales pressure is fine, however Mahindra Holidays is supposed to be in the ‘Holiday Experience’ business. Wonder how they handle the people who hate this experience. 

But the 2-3% conversion numbers make up for it, I guess. What’s your take on this?

   

OTP woes 

OTP woes. 
I rarely need an alarm clock – for reasons that are painful and funny, but another time. However, the past couple of years the Banks and Telcos have joined hands to provide me with one. 
It can be anytime from 4-8 am in the morning and the barrage of texts that go ping pong – you have balance which is enough for one Vada pav, you need to put more money, invest here, there everywhere, invoice sent and 7 reminders before due date which is 3 weeks away. 
Earlier this used to raise my BP, then one got used to it just like the smog, traffic, slums in Bombay. 
Two days ago they stopped. I did not miss them. However, I had made a decent sized payment whilst dining out and I wanted to be sure. 
I also was reminded by N that I needed to order xyz from Amazon. So did that, it took me to the CC page, I clicked on OTP and there was no incoming text for me to enter the number. Tried this 5 times and of course the order got cancelled and then price went up by 40%. 
I had to undertake a journey so Uber it was – don’t ask what happened to driver & car – went, payment done. Then realised did not have enough money in uber for return trip. 
In the meantime on advise of many well wishers who apparently are more tech savvy started and shut down the phone multiple times. No change. Tried sending message from the nos and it reached. Tried sending message to nos and it does not reach. 
Finally, factory reset. Status quo. 
Paid money in Airtel account, since prepaid. Status quo. 
Uber allows Paytm. Paytm needs recharge. Recharge needs OTP. All around in circles. 
So old time Rick and Taxi travel ruled. 
Enlisted ‘technology millennial’ aka my daughter who did everything all over again. Spoke to automated junk which claimed ₹105 recharge has not happened. 
She called customer care, who said it must be because of DND – Duh! Banks dude!
After 10 min of debate, said ‘we’ve taken down a complaint and wait till Monday.’
During the day when I marked ICICI who responded with template ‘couldn’t get thru to you’. 
Airtel responded with ‘we will resolve’. 
Current Status:
I have a perfectly valid CC, PayTM, Uber accounts, besides a list of things that have to be ordered from your ‘Tech Apps’ according to N. BUT cannot because OTP is sent by text only, the email option is no longer available. 
Given my past 6 weeks problems with ICICI and their answers, I expect them to say that ‘your OTP request required manual intervention and Saturday was a holiday’. 
Expectation from Airtel would be ‘Please visit nearest gallery’. And then follow it up with 500 spam messages etc. 
In the meantime I am stuck cursing technology. 

img_8317-1

Gongurra – Versova Link Road 

Pass by this place nearly every day. Had heard about their meals and thali, but not a lover of South Indian thali and had been wanting to try out other stuff. 
Trusty Scootsy sent a message saying it was listed; decided to try it out and ordered:
Idli – not as light and fluffy as Dakshinayan but far superior to shiv sagar, and other Shetty types. Three to a plate. 
Medu Vada – Outstanding. As good as Dakshinayan and possibly the matunga places also. Three to a plate. 
Sada Dosa – Quite good and had not turned chewy inspite of the 20-30 min delivery time. 
Onion Uttapam – Very good and a must try. Thank me later :)
   
    
   
The sambhar was very good, not sweet at all, with vegetables which I tend to remove, but the taste hit the spot. The chatni taste was very good though there seemed to be extra salt in it today. 
Overall a perfect addition for breakfast/brunch place for order on weekends. It comes well packed and remains hot even after delivery.
Food: 4/5

Brunch

Delivery by Scootsy

Damages: ₹500/- for 3 people

img_8259-1

Bawi Bride – Home chef 

Perzen the young Bawi Bride who has been cooking for a long time. 

I have had the pleasure of meeting her many a times, where she always greets me with a wide grin and after having missed a couple of invites, unfailingly asks when, if I am every going to try her cooking. 

It was a couple of months ago, after a particular quick meeting, she demanded the address and said I want you to try out the food. You can’t make time, the food will make time. 

Promptly enough, the next day she sent the food – limited on my insistence – Chicken patties / chop – different people call it differently, I just say it was delicious. 

This was followed by Chicken Dhansak which I shared with my father in law, who having worked with a lot of Parsi’s in his banking days found it delicious, so much so he asked if he could clean it up with the lovely kachumber. 

The sweet Lagan nu custard is something that I am unable to make my mind up – not about the taste, which was good But different houses there have been slightly different colour and taste. But then I am a sparse sweet eater. 

Time passed, and I had actually forgotten about this, but checking Scootsy out for something to order for my Father in law found Bawi Bride is featured there and delivers. Superb stuff. His weekend is sorted. 

My photographs don’t do justice, given our hunger, so have borrowed a photograph from her and Aneesh Bhasin. 

   
    
   

img_8140

Desi Deli at Bandra

A trial of Veg at a client’s place many moons ago and then it fell off the radar.  Another reason being, it is located on the same road, where couple of other places are located, which I frequent more due to the company I keep.
Landed up this week with a friend, after being pushed into it. And the first friendly face I see is of Nisha the server at Bru Cafe – always smiling and with a sharp memory. Soon after Lolita the owner came bustling in. She and her partner who are well travelled, love food (hate the term foodie) wanted to give it a shot. Began with PoPups before finalising on the place. 

It has seating for around 15-18 in a squeeze outside and 3-4 inside. Evening and a bit of breeze made us opt for outside. 

We sit down and peruse the menu, and decide to try a couple of things – non veg mostly – and began, by leaving the ordering in her capable hands. 
Lush lamb burger – Outstanding is the only word to describe it. I’ve like burgers at a lot of places, but hate if the bun turns soggy or the pattice is soft. Here it was crunchy right thru and the taste was just right #MustHave
The Goan Desi – Quite good, though I am not a great chorizo fan, but the caramalized onions and just the right sauces made it quite good. #TryIt
The Champ – Mutton was quite nice, went well with pao and chutney, but not something that I would order again if I am by myself. Note: Tell them to make it normal salted, because as a rule they undersalt it. 
The Wild Thing – Laal Maas – taste and mix with cracked wheat porridge was quite nice, but again not my cuppa. 
Desi Chicken Stoo – Another superb dish with Brun Pav, which helps soak the hot stew and the chicken was quite good. #TryIt
The veg salad was pretty good, but the ulta patla salli are superb and a #MustHave
The dessert of preference was Desi Cup Cake. #TryIt
Dark chocolate 54% milk shake was another outstanding offering. Not sweet, just perfect #MustHave
   
    
    
    
   
The portions are enough for one normal person.
Overall a nice cute place, definitely worth a repeat but Burgers, Hot Dogs and Shakes get my vote. We carried a take away and also ordered the Lush lamb burger the next day :)
Disclaimer: The tasting was on invite by Lolita the owner of the place. The take away and order were paid for as is customary for me.

img_7365

NRI aka Not Really Indian @ BKC

Read about it and had wanted to visit, but something held me back in the first week. 

One Saturday The Teen Patti decided to make it a boys lunch and off we went. 

I had made a reservation the previous day for 12.30 pm. Reached and were escorted quickly inside. The briefing session was still on but we were allowed to choose our table and we began the menu perusal. 

On a current status of No Drinks went on to try Mintilicious – quite good, chilled and hit the spot. Tuskar was also quite good. But the Mumbai Chatka was outstanding and #MustHave. 

On starters we began with Pind da hummus – dal vada with jeera flavoured hummus – really very good and we ordered another round. We also ordered Dalim Shakkarkand which was outstanding. And as gujjus we can make that out. 

In non veg we ordered Mamak Lamb chops – Outstanding. Our hardcore non veg friend inhaled the entire plate without questions and gave a satisfied burp. But asked he said Theek tha. 

We wanted to try the chef’s special do chicken potli and bekti but were told that it is not available that day! Quite sad and I asked them how can the chef’s special not be available. Apparently it had not come was the answer. 

Whilst we ordered the Bunny Chow – Veg. Because one of us wanted to try it out. It was quite tasty but I’ve definitely had much better and more importantly was part of the restaurant who launched it in Mumbai in 2014. 

The server came back with the information of Bekti being available and yes it was superb. Definitely #MustHave

Finished off by a dessert off the cart which was definite let down, so much so that I don’t remember the name also. 

   
    
    
    
    
 One of my pet peeves is the service and attitude bit and this was quite putting off here. Being the only table, we actually had to call and wave our hands for service and water. Most of the staff was near the entrance or open kitchen. Staff was friendly but explaining food with a supercilious air again doesn’t work for me. 

The jacketed gentlemen were no better. AND facing the kitchen with back to the guests is again a No. If a senior person has spoken to you, then you do not send a junior to inform your guests is what I’ve always learnt. 

Ambiance 3.5/5

Food 4.5/5

Service 3/5

Damages: ₹6000 odd incl taxes for 3 people. 

Will I go back: Yes for the food, but hoping the service changes to meet expectations. 

Taj Tea House – Bandra

A posh place with prices to match but one where I prefer to closet myself in one corner and read or think. 
Many friends who accompanied me, found the service bad, food or drinks not upto the mark yada yada. 
To me the service has been impeccable always – because I do not have expectations. It is modelled like the old Tea houses at the estates in East and it is just great to be in one of them. 

Enter, wander around find a nook, open your book or take a snooze till somebody comes for the order. 

Try the gauva ginger iced tea with brun Maska. Or sip on Assam. 

   
   
Don’t try and compare everything with everything. Doesn’t work. 

I am yet to try more things, but then that is not a priority for me when I come here. 

Service 3.5/5

Food 3/5

Damages ₹750 plus taxes