How to secure a restaurant review- Image by Sam Wood

Thinking of doing hotel, restaurant or attraction reviews on your blog but not sure where to start?  In this post Sam Wood who blogs at Indefinite Adventure explains how to connect with businesses to set up and deliver a review post…

Contacting Businesses for Services in Exchange for Reviews

One of the perks of being a blogger is that you can potentially reach a stage where you are able to contact businesses asking for services in exchange for reviews on your blog, and have them agree. While many bloggers will consider that they received something for free in these cases, that is arguably not so.

If you want to make it as a professional blogger, I encourage you not to think of these experiences as free. You are paying with your time, and giving the businesses you work with very cheap yet valuable advertisement in the best possible form: personal recommendation as word of mouth. This is a powerful tool.

Here, I’ve laid out the five steps I take to contact and deal with asking businesses for services in exchange for reviews as a blogger.

  1. Do your research

Before you start contacting businesses in the hopes of getting free services in exchange for reviewing them, it pays to do some thorough research. If you’re going to be reaching out to them promising a review in return for a restaurant giving you free food or a hotel providing you with a free room for a night, you might want to make sure that the business in question is one that is going to fit well with the brand of your blog.

Ask yourself a couple of questions about the business before contacting them:

  • Is this a service you think you’d enjoy and get value from personally?
  • Is a review of this service something that your readers are likely to be interested in reading?
  • Would you be likely to recommend this business even if they weren’t giving you something for free?

Don’t just contact people at random because you think they’d be up for giving you something at their expense. Do your research. Read previous reviews on Tripadvisor, Yelp, Foursquare or whatever your preferred platform is. It will make going through all the following steps much smoother for everyone involved.

  1. Get in touch and be clear

Next, you need to get in touch with the business you’d like to work with, allowing plenty of time for them to reply. I find that email is best, as it allows the relevant person to deal with your request in their own time and not feel pressured to give an immediate answer. As far as is possible, make an effort to find the email of the person in charge of marketing and contact them directly.

In your email, make sure to clearly state the following:

  • What exactly you are proposing. What do you expect from them, and what will they get back in return? For example, if the business in question is a restaurant, are you just asking for a small appetizer to taste, or do you want a full five course meal? And are you going alone, as a couple or a family? How much space on your blog will the restaurant receive in exchange? A full dedicated article reviewing just them, a mention in a larger article, or just a footnote in a city guide?
  • When you’d like the exchange to take place. If possible, be specific about dates and times. If the business you’re getting in touch with is a hotel, then this is obvious, but even if it isn’t, it makes sense to be precise about when you’d be available to take advantage of their service so that they can plan accordingly, assuming they choose to accept your offer.
  • What they will get out of it. How much exposure will you be giving them? If you feel comfortable doing so, tell them how many monthly page views you’re getting, how big an audience your posts tend to reach on Twitter or whatever your most impressive statistic is. Some businesses may not really understand what this means, however, so it’s worth also presenting levels of engagement. Have you had readers write to you saying that they booked a trip or visited a place based solely on your recommendations? Tell them this!
  • How they can expect to be presented on your blog. If you’ve reviewed something on your blog before (whether or not you were given the experience for free), send them the link so they can see the style of your reviews and what theirs might look like once it’s live.
  1. Be professional, personal and punctual

 If you get a positive response from the business you’re contacting, and it gets to the stage where you’re organizing your visit or stay (or whatever it is that they’re offering you), ask for the name of the person you’ve been dealing with if you don’t already have it. Turning up to a restaurant or hotel being able to quote the name of the person who has invited you will not only make it clearer to staff there who you are and what you’ve come for, but shows that you’re a real human being and are interested in meeting the real person you’ve been communicating with.

In the case that you’ve made an appointment to visit the business in question, make sure you arrive on time. Don’t keep them waiting beyond their regular working hours unless you’ve explicitly been invited at a time when they are not usually open. And once you’re there, assuming you’re not the only customer, don’t expect the attention of the staff or management all the time.

  1. Write the review

After you’ve had the experience, the next thing to do is to keep up your end of the deal and write about it on your blog. Whether or not you choose to mention negative aspects of your experience is up to you. Personally, I prefer to give positive recommendations on my blog rather than negative ones. This means that while I will mention aspects of an experience I had that I think could be improved, I generally do not publish negative reviews.

It may happen that you arrange to exchange a review for a service but have an unpleasant experience that you don’t feel you can recommend to your readers. In this case, you would then have to explain to your contact that you will not be able to keep up your end of the exchange as you do not give negative reviews. This could potentially lead to conflict and loosing that contact for future exchanges, or it may prompt them to improve their service and offer you second chance to review it.

This has not yet happened to me, mostly because I do my research thoroughly and only contact businesses where I believe I will have a positive experience to report. That is why research is so important to this whole process.

  1. Keep in contact

After using their service, you should email your contact at least twice more. Firstly, directly after the meeting, send an email thanking your contact for the experience. In this same email, let them know approximately how long it’ll be until your review will be up on your blog.

You’ll then want to email them again once the review has actually been published to send them the link. In this email, thank them once more and you may also wish to invite them to share the review on their social media channels if they like, or to let you know if any of the factual information in your review changes in the future, such as the address, opening hours, prices or what their services include.

Keeping this channel of communication open could also lead to further chances for reviews in the future.

Sam Wood reviews a cookery school in Thailand

Author Biog

Sam Wood is a freelance writer and travel blogger, who blogs about his gay, vegan, digital nomad travels with his husband, Zab, at Indefinite Adventure. Originally from London, but now based in Berlin, he travels often and takes his work with him wherever he goes. He has written a free e-book which goes into more detail about how they travel which you can get here. You can also get in touch with him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare, Pinteres