[All photos in this post where taken by Huong Nguyen of Heartlab Co. at Weho Bistro in West Hollywood]

Starting this restaurant discovery site has been one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done! I realize I started this blog because I’ve grown up with positive memories of dining in restaurants, but I never thought I would run my own restaurant blog years later. Since starting Follow My Gut in December 2014 and spending almost every day of the week doing something related to food, I’ve learned a lot. Much of it I figured out from experience, while parts of it were bestowed upon me from friends or other wise foodies in the industry.

Considering that there is so much involved with starting a blog, both on and off the website itself, I decided to compile the most important things everyone should know before starting a restaurant blog! Beyond the things you’ve probably already heard like, “It’s so much work” or “Blog consistently”, the following are a few tips I picked up over the last two years that I hope will be helpful for you!

Creating Your Blog

[1] Don’t go with the first blog name you think of.

At least not at first.

When coming up with a name, my copywriter friend TJ suggested I write a list of 200 names before I make a decision. It took me 2 months to come up with Follow My Gut (with his help), but I’m glad I did it. If I went with the first name I thought of, it would have been Salmon Eats A Lot. And that’s weird.

[2] Secure your blog’s name across all social mediums.

Grab your blog name on every channel you think you’ll use. Domain name, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc. Even if you don’t think you’ll use the platform, get it. It’s better to have the blog name saved now, then to find someone else took it before you could.

[3] Invest into your blog and get the right equipment.

Your domain name, a website theme, a professional camera, an unlimited data plan, an external light, tripod, all cost money but they can be worth it if they make shooting easier and deliver great content.

[4] Decide if you want to blog as a hobby or a business.

If you want to blog as a hobby, you get to save a ton of money and time while doing what you enjoy. Yay, you! If you’re doing this as a business, prepare to devote a good amount of money and time on your new business while doing what you enjoy. It will get difficult, but it’s fun as hell. Yay, you also!

[5] Research people in your industry and stand out.

There are a lot of restaurant and food bloggers and it can sometimes feel saturated. Don’t worry about that. Research what other people are doing, see their strengths and weaknesses, figure out your own, and then you can make your own space and be awesome in it!

Complimentary Food

[6] Have a great product before asking for free food.

I had 900 combined social media followers when I got into my first comped dinner. While that seems low, I had a great blog that got me “in”. Before you reach out for free anything, make sure you have a great product and/or a solid following to promote the business in return.

[7] Don’t demand comped food.

Please do not walk into a restaurant, say your blog name, and expect the royal treatment. Unless I’m there, I’d love to see your pompous ass get played.

[8] We all don’t get the invite.

Everyone doesn’t get invited to every restaurant or food event. That happens and it’s nothing to take personally. If you don’t get invited to a restaurant, you can go on your own to review the food. Pay for the food and take your photos. It’s seriously not that big of a deal. You’ve paid for food before, right? It’s the same thing.

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Getting to Restaurants, Literally

[9] You’ll spend a lot of time in your car.

Having great music and podcasts handy will make the rides a lot easier. Also keep a change of clothes, a jacket, and an extra pair of shoes in your trunk. The amount of time you spend going from place to place you may want to switch outfits.

[10] You’re going to spend a lot of money on gas.

Going from burger joint to ice cream shop would be easy if they were right next to each other. Let’s be real, that’s not always the case. Since restaurants can be far apart you’ll quickly find you’re spending a ton of money on gas, almost double your monthly average. I’m really looking forward to teleportation.

[11] Track your mileage.

Keep up on all the places you go because it’ll come in handy if you decide to file taxes for your blog. Waiting until the last minute will be a severe test of your memory.

Dining in Restaurants

[12] You have to tip.

Cue the Critic schooled me on this one when I first started. Unless you’re told not to, tip. Tip as if you were a paying guest in the restaurant; 15%, 18%, 20% are all customary. Heck, leave whatever you can if money is tight. Just don’t be an asshole and walk away leaving the waiter who served you with nothing.

[13] Save your receipts.

Even if the waiter didn’t give you one, there’s no problem in asking for an itemized receipt. It’ll come in handy when you forget what you ordered or if you need to record the tips you left for your taxes.

[14] Take notes!

Unless you have a great memory, you’ll forget what you ordered especially if cocktails are involved. Pull out a pen and paper or use your phone and take notes of your dining experience. You can even be so ambitious and write the post while you’re in the restaurant. This will save you time and make writing simpler later. Easier said than done, of course.

[15] Be careful who you bring to a restaurant you are reviewing.

The wrong person can mess up the energy of the dinner and make it hard to take photos. The dramatic guy, negative Nancy, yeah leave them at home.

[16] Some media events can get a crazy.

If you’re at dinner or an event where there are a lot of restaurant or food bloggers there can be a ton of clamor over particular dishes. If you find an area getting crowded, feel free to move. There’s nothing wrong with taking your plate and going somewhere else to photograph it. You’ll get your shot and even have a different angle of the same dish to post. When you’re done, go back and hang with your friends.

[17] People will stare at you.

If you’re taking photos, shining a light on a plate, or talking to your phone about your food you’ll find people staring at you. Some will be interested and some will talk shit. “Your food’s getting cold, haha!” someone will say. I lost track of how many times I’ve heard that line. Laugh it off, talk to them, or ignore them. Do whatever you feel is best but remember you have a job to do. They may stare while you’re working but they’ll eventually move on anyway.

The Creative Side of Blogging

[18] Find creative people to work with.

Unless you can do it all yourself, find creative people to help you with your blog. A photographer, graphic designer, and videographer, can help you bring your blog to life. I love Huong for photos, Darin for web development, Alexis for graphic design, and David for videography. I’m so glad I found them because they have been great assets in helping build Follow My Gut creatively and aesthetically—or did they find me?

[19] Include photos of yourself.

When I started I was nervous about showing myself and favored anonymity.  I now realize showing your face, smile, and quirkiness makes your page personable and helps people to connect with you. If you feel comfortable, include photos of yourself. If not, don’t do it.

Or you could wear a mask and be like Batman. Everyone loves Batman.

[20] Compile stock-like photos for future use.

Take photos of hands cutting into food, people laughing over dishes, chefs in the kitchen, receipt books, aerial shots of table settings, and more. Although you might not have an immediate use for the photos, they will be useful down the line when you need particular images to place in blog posts or to showcase events.

Everything Else

[21] Workout more than you eat.

That’s not a joke. You will eat a lot of great food and if you don’t have a peppy metabolism you’ll pack on the pounds. Work out as much as you can or get ready to buy a new wardrobe.

[22] You don’t have to eat everything.

I had a beautiful five course meal at Celestino when I first started and I thought it would be rude if I didn’t eat everything on each plate. By the third full plate I was in pain. No one expects you to eat it all, so don’t put that pressure on yourself. Eat what you can, and stop when you feel like it. It’s better to taste as much as you can and walk out upright, then to try and eat everything have the paramedics take you home.

[23] You’re going to get sick.

Eating so much food so often, you’re bound to hit a bad dish or restaurant. Bloggers who say they’ve never gotten sick make me raise my eyebrow in skepticism. Don’t be surprised if one day you find something doesn’t sit well with you or if you get food poisoning. Call out from work and take some Pepto and you’ll be fine in a few days. And stay away from what you ate.

[24] Always look at things with an eye for longevity.

If you’re blogging as a business, create short and long term goals. Make moves that will set you up for success in the months and weeks to come. Consider partnerships, speaking engagements, and creative projects that will keep your blog going for the long haul.

[25] Continuous practice makes perfect.

You may be one of the lucky few to automatically know how to take great photos, write engaging posts, or gain a following fast. Whether that’s you or not, keep practicing what you’re doing. Continue to photograph plates, write posts, and build your following as often and as long as you can. You may not notice it while you’re doing it, but you’ll get better and grow with time. If you don’t believe it, mark your calendar in a year to look back at your older work. I’m sure when the day comes you’ll see your upward progression and be proud of yourself.

These twenty-five things only cover some of what I learned as I started Follow My Gut. Sure there are more that I’ve encountered and there are more that will come, but if there are any that I can say are important to know before you make the restaurant blogging leap, these would be the ones! Hopefully, knowing these will help you in your blogging journey and make it easier as you go.

If there are any you think I’ve forgotten, comment with them below!

21 Responses

  1. GiGi Eats Celebrities

    Girl, you may know this… But it also may be shocking to you but… I DEFINITELY work out way more than I eat. 2 hours a day, every day – so I can eat the 10 pounds of salmon at lunch and the 10 pounds of salmon at dinner – hahahahaha! And now it sounds like I am eating YOU!

  2. Elise Cohen Ho

    Great post. I remember that I went to a natural foods expo and after all the sampling I felt so sick. We need to be mindful of this for sure. I had never been so sick from healthy food before.

  3. evolvewithmary

    Blogs take on a life of their own. When I started my blog I never imagined it would take off like it did, I hoped for it but it seemed a bit far fetched. When I stumbled onto follow My Gut the first thing I thought was…. this girl is a star 🙂 A bright shiny star. I love reading your posts, getting to know you and all of your pictures make me want to eat meat again. I’m serious, I’ve been craving BBQ ever since you reviewed Belle Belle. Securing your blog name across all social media platforms is such a great tip. I did it early on and now it’s a life saver. LOL people stare at me all the time, when I record my workout videos, or when I take pictures of my food, I wave and laugh it off. I work out like crazy, I don’t have a food blog but I do promote body acceptance and self love so exercising is a regular thang in my life. Of course I think I should be 20 pounds lighter but that’s another story .

    • Danielle N. Salmon
      Danielle N. Salmon

      Mary you are seriously the kindest person and I’m so sorry I’m just now seeing this. You’ve always said some great things that make me feel like I’m in such a good place even when things in life for me are crazy so please know I appreciate it so very much. That said I always wondered if people stare at you while you do your videos. To know that they do and you have such a good vibe about it is so awesome!!!

  4. Rachael

    I love this post! Great advice, especially about the tipping (it is something that I fret about now, working on the PR side of this world). And ugh, the food poisoning -_-” That is a horrifically real ordeal I found out about the hard way. Multiple times.

    • Danielle N. Salmon
      Danielle N. Salmon

      I just don’t understand how some people refuse to tip or think they shhouldn’t have to. It’s really not cool. But sorry that you’ve deal with your share of food poisoning, makes me feel better that I’m not a lone. Wait thats not good …

  5. Hoppie Nguyen (@x3hoppie)

    haha danielle I LOVE THIS POST! I CAN RELATE TO SO MUCH OF IT!! I once took the wrong person to an event. I never took that person again… xD

    And I also agree on demanding food. I have heard of some people doing that… and it just ain`t cool =[ . but Anywho, keep doing what you’re doing!

    • Danielle N. Salmon
      Danielle N. Salmon

      Oh my goodness taking the wrong person is just the worst and I agree with you — don’t take them again! And the folks who demand food are horrible espeically since they’re usually rude to the staff. Either way I love what you’re doing and thanks for your support Hop!!!

  6. Julianne Gabert

    I LOVE this post! I agree with all of it… except one… I’ve honestly never gotten sick. I do have a stomach made of steel though, so it could just be luck. 😉

  7. Paul

    Great post! Sometimes I eat more than I should. I train hard but sometimes it’s so difficult to keep track of calories in and calories out.

  8. Julie Cao

    Glad you learned so much of it through two years restaurant blogging. I am a travel blogger so our blogging areas are overlapping but it is great to read other bloggers’ perspective on blogging and dining at a restaurant. I agree that not all of us are invited to the free event. It is great to get paid to travel and eat, but if not, we can pay ourselves as before. I have never saved receipts, but I am going to start now. Thanks for these great tips and advice.

    • Danielle N. Salmon
      Danielle N. Salmon

      I’ve always wondered how you guys who are such jet set bloggers do it so it’s interesting to know that not everyone get the ticket the same way not every food blogger gets a plate. But it’s really awesome to hear that you don’t let that stop you and you wherever you please whenever you can, Julie!

      • Julie Cao

        Thanks Danielle! Just like you said – we blog because we have passion for what we write, not for money. Please keep the good food content coming, and I love your pictures!

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