$10,000 for one Instagram post? How food influencers can make or break restaurants

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In more than 20 years at his family’s restaurant, Joel Gonzalez had never seen anything like it. On March 25, 2021, around 6 p.m., he looked up to find a line extending to the door of Maricos Corona, a Van Nuys restaurant he ran with his sister. For the next two hours, the siblings did their best to manage the hordes of customers eagerly requesting the restaurant’s signature dishes: aguachile-stuffed avocados and surf-and-turf burritos.

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“Oh my god, we had such a rush,” Gonzalez says. “We had never seen such a line outside the door before.”

The next day, on Friday, there was another line, and the attack of customers continued through the weekend. The restaurant’s Instagram account gained 5,000 followers. Gonzalez ran out of avocados; Finally, his refrigerator was empty. He could not open on Monday.

Mariscos Corona in Van Nuys saw a surge of interest in one of their dishes thanks to a TikTok video.
(Christina House /)

Little did Gonzalez know when the crush began, 29-year-old Ashley Rodriguez, a food influencer also known as @firstdateguide on her social channels, called Posted 42 second tiktok video Offering their soon-to-demand dishes earlier in the day.


Viewers got a glimpse of avocado overflowing with citrus-drenched seafood and a giant grilled burrito stuffed with shrimp, carne asada and french fries. At one point, Rodriguez poured a full cup of red salsa over the burrito, took a big bite and nodded excitedly—just like a trusted friend who wants you to know about a new restaurant you have to try.

Surf and Turf Burrito
Surf-and-turf burrito at Mariscos Corona in Van Nuys.
(Christina House /)
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The video garnered over 200,000 views overnight and 1 million views in a week.

After all, “one of the customers who [first] Day told me he saw our restaurant at @firstdateguide,” says Gonzalez. “That’s when we put it together.”

It’s the food influencer effect — or, what could it be. If the right influencer posts a video of your food and it becomes a hit, it can lead to a huge social following and a significant increase in revenue.

It’s a phenomenon that is causing a paradigm shift in the restaurant world, shifting the power of influence from traditional media to anyone with a cellphone and a love for food. And these days, sometimes the seemingly random manifestations of restaurants are actually well-planned, calculated business transactions.


Exactly the same happened in Mariscos Corona. Gonzalez hired Rodriguez to promote his restaurant – he didn’t know when his video would be posted.

A few weeks before the boom, Gonzalez took to Instagram to invite DM Rodriguez to try her food. Rodriguez explained that her rates range from $1,500 to upwards of $10,000 – depending on her following and the platform a business wants to appear on. Gonzalez agreed to pay Rodriguez $1,500 for a video he posted on TikTok and later on Instagram. Gonzalez says he spent an extra $40 for his meal.

“If I could tell the owner of another restaurant – it was worth it,” he says.

Joel Gonzalez Mariscos Corona.  interacted with customers in
“It was worth it,” restaurant owner Joel Gonzalez, center, says of turning up a social media post from an influencer.
(Christina House /)

Food influencers come in many varieties: there are home cooks who post videos of recipes, mookbangers who livestream themselves to eat, newcomers looking for free meals, marketing professionals with restaurant customers, foodies in their cars. Review gourmands, and food obsessives who love to share just what they’re eating. Some influencers have agents and make a living through brand and restaurant deals. Others do it for free products and perks. Most of the restaurants they work with aren’t the kind of places you’d find on a critic’s best-restaurant list.

Rodriguez, along with influencers, Paul Castro, 28, and Hugh Harper, 39, founded the LA branch of a Las Vegas-based marketing company called JMPForce. They work with around 20 local restaurants, handle their social channels and create content. While all three regularly post non-work-related photos and videos, Rodriguez estimates that about 60% of the restaurants featured on their channels are subscribers.

If it was up to Rodriguez and the rest of the JMPForce crew, they wouldn’t be called influencers.

“I always say ‘food blogger’ because it makes me feel better than a ‘food influencer,'” says Rodriguez, of Craft by Smoke and Fire, sitting at a table at a restaurant client in Arcadia. She went on to film material with Castro, who is also her boyfriend.

Ashley Rodriguez holds food in front of the phone
Food influencer Ashley Rodriguez captures ingredients at a gig at Craft by Smoke and Fire in Arcadia.
(J L. Clendenin /)

“There are a lot of influential people trying to take advantage, so I don’t want to be associated with them,” Castro says.

Earlier this year, an incident involving Corner 17, a Los Angeles food influencer and a Chinese restaurant in St. There was an explosion online when owner Xin Wei posted the screenshots About conversations on Instagram. The affected person requested to pay $100 for the food featured in a video, but the restaurant declined.


Antonio Malik, known online as @antonio_eats_la, visited anyway and posted an Instagram story review for his hundreds of thousands of followers. He appreciated the service but had some not-so-great things to say about the food: “Worst dumplings!”

Wei responded in an Instagram post: “Deliberately poor writing by a big-follow influencer because of their refusal to acknowledge their collaboration is unprofessional and can ruin their businesses in such a hostile manner. I step up.” Want to increase because we felt threatened by this media influencer.”

The incident raised questions about the ethics of the term “collaboration” being used to refer to the exchange of free food or other goods for social media content. Rodriguez and Castro say requesting free meals from restaurants not actively seeking social promotion is common among influencers who are just starting out.

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Chef and owner of Nari and Kin Khao in San Francisco (temporarily closed) Pim Tekmuanvivit says he receives at least two Instagram messages a week asking for free meals from influencers.

“They code it up and say, ‘We want to collaborate,’ but that doesn’t mean we’re going to collaborate on anything,” she says. “It means, ‘I don’t want to pay for my food.'”

The Federal Trade Commission has guidelines for influencers, although the process is still heavily self-regulated. In the document titled “Disclosure 101 for Social Media Influencers“Accessible on the FTC website, there are clear instructions for when and how users should disclose a relationship with a brand partner on social media. If you have a family, financial, employment or personal relationship with a brand, So you must disclose that a financial relationship includes money and free or discounted products, as well as other perks.

“If a food influencer a significant portion of the audience does not expect that the affected person is being paid or given a free meal and will give less weight to the influencer’s support than if they were given the incentives the influencer received, If you are aware of this, then the incentives should be disclosed,” an FTC spokesperson told The Times in an email.

But the general consensus among the half-dozen food influencers interviewed for this story is that consumers don’t care about — and perhaps assume — food is free.

Nakechi ahiwaye, 32, Known as @eatwhateveryouwant on Instagram, he has over 63,000 followers. A former beauty blogger and Enterprise car rental employee, Ahway says she pays for all her meals unless a restaurant invites her to come over; She then allows them to make their own meals, but she always gives advice to her server.

Nakechi Away Movie Ingredients in Hollywood Burgers
Nakechi Away while working at Hollywood Burger’s West Hollywood location.
(melcon mail /)

“If a restaurant said I needed to disclose that something was free, I would do it,” she says, “but if not, then no, because when you sponsored, paid, gifted, I See… I have less reach.”

Do Ahway and Rodriguez worry that accepting free meals could put them in a position to compromise when it comes to posting about restaurants? What if they don’t like the food?

Ahway says she turns to another user-generated resource — Yelp Reviews — for vet restaurants ahead of time.

“I’ve never had an experience where I couldn’t find something I liked, but I know eventually it will. I have to apologize and tell them it won’t work.”

Rodriguez says she doesn’t do reviews. “I just educate people on what to order and try to uncover things.”

“It’s Corona Maricos in Van Nuys, California,” Rodriguez says in his voice-over on TikTok. “Trust me, aguachile is better than ceviche. … well, if you like spicy, that is. … oh, did I mention this place has been around since 1999 and is now run by two siblings He has certainly maintained the quality of his father’s dishes.”

Ashley Rodriguez takes a picture of a meal
While influencers like Rodriguez won’t knock over a restaurant’s food, there are plenty of influencers who will.
(J L. Clendenin /)

Although Rodriguez and Ahway won’t knock a restaurant meal, there are plenty of influencers who will. The hashtag #foodreview is linked to at least 1.6 million posts on Instagram and 13.4 billion on TikTok. The fear of upsetting influencers has led to an informal code of silence among some traditional propagandists and restaurant owners, who sometimes field…

Source: www.latimes.com

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