Talk about poor taste. Chefs, restaurateurs and servers are getting fed up with bossy influencers and their insatiable appetite for freebies. Some are daring to tell supposed social media stars to take their follower count and shove it.
“People want to get a free meal on a Saturday night for four friends,” Brooklyn Chop House and Brooklyn Dumpling Shop owner Stratis Morfogen told The Post with a sigh. “We say no to influencers more than we say yes.”
While the bold strategy works for him, not all restaurants can afford to have such a strict policy. TikTokers and Instagrammers are increasingly influential in the restaurant space. A 2021 report by the advertising agency MGH found that 36% of TikTok users patronized a restaurant after seeing it in a TikTok video. Of those, 55% went to a restaurant they saw on the app “simply because the food looked appetizing.”
But Morfogen said that many of those hustling for free grub — he gets roughly 200 requests each year — are just frauds. He believes that roughly 1 out of 3 claiming to be influencers are hucksters faking their success with bot followers, automated likes and other gimmickry that make them appear more popular on social media than they really are.
“I personally call BS on them all the time … A real journalist or blogger would never ask for a free meal,” Morfogen said. “[Fakers] made their brands into businesses based on fraud.”
Those who have been amateur restaurant reviewers for years say the new generation is uniquely shady.
“The space is a lot more saturated” now than when Alexa Matthews started @eatingnyc nearly a decade ago, she told The Post. “I imagine that a lot of people would just start accounts [now] expecting free things. A ton of people are just out there trying to take advantage of these restaurants.”
When Matthews began her page in 2014, she said much of the social media food scene consisted of people who worked in hospitality and had an understanding of how businesses actually operate. No longer.
Sabino Curcio, co-owner of Brooklyn’s Anthony & Son Panini Shoppe, puts it succinctly. “Any Joe Schmo who knows nothing about food can make a page and think they’re all that,” he said. “We’ve been doing social media for 10 years and it’s an extremely different scene now.”
His deli, which has gone viral for creative, mouthwatering heroes, gets more than its fair share of influencers popping in for pics and reels of the melty mozzarella creations. But Curcio isn’t keen on them demanding free food.
“Influencers shouldn’t go in with the mindset we’re just going to comp all their stuff on a first meeting,” he told The Post. “Build a relationship with us, politely ask if we can repost you after you buy something, come in another time … and then we can start to meet in the middle.”
And it’s not just food they’re after.
“We’ll have a lot people passive-aggressively ask for free merchandise. They’ll just be like, ‘Oh, that’s so cool, I want that,’ and I’m like, ‘OK, so buy it,’” he said. “We’re losing money just giving those things away.”
Morfogen, meanwhile, spots imposter influencers by seeing how many likes and comments a post is generating.
“Accounts with 1.8 million followers may only have 100,000 real people there,” he said. “It’s so easy to tell. All I need is three minutes.”
When he spots a fake, Morfogen — to his self-confessed pleasure — will send a scathing, point-by-point response that rips into entitled freeloaders while making it clear that they are not welcome to have a meal on the house — besides the generous serving of humble pie, that is.
“A lot of times the fakers will write back angry. This one guy got in my face and said, ‘I’m not a fraud. F–k you.’ Then I responded and broke down all the ways I knew his page was fake. I got crickets in response,” the owner said.
“If you’re legitimate,” he added, “chances are I know you by your name and not your handle.”