Five years ago, nobody had heard of Zomato. Even one year ago, I hadn’t heard of Zomato. When I first got a tweet asking me to contribute whatever and whenever I desired on any Dubai restaurant at all, I thought it was just another blog searching for free content. And for some reason, probably because of its name, I linked it to the style Rotten Tomatoes takes with movies – I thought it was going to be a name-and-shame restaurant guide.
But it’s nothing of the sort. One year ago Zomato launched it’s serious restaurant guide in Dubai. It’s taken a while to build, but now it’s completely comprehensive, informative, up-to-date and impartial.
It’s not fancy – there are no François Simons or Morgan Murphys at the helm, spinning the words into webs of brilliance, venom or hilarity. The photos are more likely to find their way onto food-mourn rather than food-porn websites. The restaurants that feature more prominently are likely to be corner curry kitchens rather than high-end and innovative modern restaurants. And yet, I still find myself drawn to it consistently.
Perhaps it’s success is because of the things above, rather than in spite of them. It’s like a Tripadvisor just for restaurants, with marks out of five, maps and contact details, and even menus in most cases.
But the great benefit is that there is more accountability for reviews. Zomato have this way of wrapping their reviewers together – you follow, just as you would for most other forms of social media. It encourages you to write effective reviews to engage others who will follow you, and you follow others in turn. Like Tripadvisor, there are varying degrees of reviewer from “foodie” to “connoisseur”, but you don’t just get up the next classification by writing a certain amount of reviews. No – you need more followers too. And why would you want to get up to the next wrung of the Zomato ladder? Because, you get high enough, and they will invite you out for a free dinner each month. And there, you mingle with people just like yourself. And who doesn’t like a free feed?
And so, you find less PR and business owner bogus reviews, because you can track the writer through their dining in Dubai. If a user only writes one review, theirs will be stuck down the bottom after all the “Zomato Verified Reviewers” (yes, if you meet the team at one of the dinners, you become one of these), “Connoisseurs” and “Super Foodies”. It’s hard to find advertising posts, and easy to ignore if you do.
Zomato have moved mountains since they were an online menu information service in a small office in Delhi 5 years ago (yes, that’s how they started). They have expanded to 27 cities in 8 countries. They have 15 million users per month, and 120,000 restaurants listed. And their intention is not just to grow in quantity, as many discovered at their Restaurant Summit in Dubai last week. They are selling a product, sure, but they are interested in food and beverage, encouraging dialogue and bringing ideas forward.
And now they are also in print. You’ll see my name in the book. Along with that of Samantha Wood (Foodiva) and Delna Prakashan (Discover Spice). They plucked us out as three bloggers with diverse interests in Dubai. We sat down over the Zomato round table and discussed what a Dubai resident or visitor looks for in a restaurant, and came up with 19 categories of restaurant, and a swathe of our favourites in those categories. Then it was sent out to the Zomato foodies. They voted for their top choices, added some more, and then the list was compiled.
It’s a book by Dubai foodies. You’ll see other bloggers in there – Ishitaunblogged, GeordieArmani, Coffeecakesandrunning, gaganjeets and serviceexellence, but there’s plenty of non-blogging food lovers in there too. It’s a great little book, and not just because we all wrote it. It’s got the entire range of restaurants from samosas to silver spoons. It’s only 50AED, and I guarantee, you’ll find it very helpful.
Now I’m not saying that you should start reading all your reviews on Zomato, or take all your restaurant advice from the print guide. In fact, I think it’s particularly silly if you stop reading The Hedonista as a result. Individual blogs are perfect for personal guidance, trends, interraction and inspiration. But it you’re just looking for restaurant-related information and opinion, Zomato’s probably your best bet in the city.
Visit Zomato at www.zomato.com
(I write reviews occasionally at http://www.zomato.com/thehedonista – some are the same as on this blog, others are brief rundowns of places I have for some reason or other decided not to post about on here)
You can find the new book “The Connoisseur’s Guide to Eating Out in Dubai” in bookshops all over Dubai.
Although it might sound a little bit like it, this is not an advertising feature. I was employed to assist with the print guide, that is all.