How to start a food blog

Honestly ask yourself “Why am I doing this?”

I want to share recipes/restaurant recommendations/my boundless food wisdom with friends – If you want nothing more than to share your thoughts about food with people whom you already know (and you are being honest), your best bet is to get over to Blogger.com and start writing as soon as you finish reading this sentence. Reading their help section is all you’ll need.

You are wasting valuable time reading anything past this point.

I want to meet people who write on the web that aren’t freaks and be a part of a community of like-minded, passionate food junkies
– I haven’t physically met any food bloggers whom I don’t like, but then again, I was living in a country where I was the only food blogger. My neighbours in Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, China and Laos were all fantastic as were the few that dropped by Cambodia.

I want to make money – If you’re in Australia, writing about Australian food, this is not going to happen in at least the next five years. The online advertising market in Australia is growing but is too small at the moment. If you’re going to rely on Google Ads, Yahoo or other big ad networks, you need either a huge number of visitors to your site or to attract a very valuable niche who will be convinced to buy whatever products you pimp from Amazon or Chitika.

The alternate route is to sell ads directly to businesses – which is not impossible – it’s just that you’ll probably end up spending more time pitching to businesses than you will writing about food. I briefly made a living from my blogs alone but this was because I was living in one of the world’s poorest nations and I sold ads directly to an ad agency who thankfully hadn’t noticed that I had called the product that they were advertising “insipid”. In the First World, I’d have starved.

I want to be a famous food writer/photographer
– Name five famous food writers that began as bloggers. If you said Clotilde or Julie five times, it does not count. I’d doubt that you’d know who they are unless you have already started foodblogging, in which case, this guide is not for you.

Sure, blogging has only been around for a few years but it doesn’t yet seem like the springboard to you being the next Steingarten. If you want to be a food writer in the offline press, your time is better spent hassling editors and pitching stories to the offline press than it is blogging. A great place to start this is Mediabistro or with your local media. This doesn’t mean that you can’t do both but every minute that you spend on your website is time that could be used to develop your offline work. As I mentioned earlier, every major food media outlet will have a food blog within the next few years and it requires a skill set different from your average journalist – starting blogging now will put you a long way ahead.

If you want to publish a recipe book, why would you give away all of your valuable content for free on the web? Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails are clavicle-deep in experimenting in this model, as is science fiction writer Cory Doctorow. More relevant to food writing, Chefs Aki Kamozawa and H. Alexander Talbot from Ideas in Food have self-published a photobook of their molecular madness but still haven’t landed that publishing deal that they richly deserve.

Any writing is good practice and doing it in public gives you the chance for people to write back to you, telling you that you’re crap (or otherwise). If you want to be well-known amongst a small cadre of other food bloggers, food blogging is the best avenue for this. I imagine that it’s kind of like being world famous in New Zealand. Domo Arigato, Dr. Ropata.

I have a food business/restaurant/am a food professional and need somewhere to honestly link up with the punters/debate my awesomeness – There is nothing better than blogging to keep you connected and no easier way for people to meditate on how terrible your business is, to your face. You need a thick skin and to be responsive to criticism.

I love writing about food and photographing it and don’t honestly know why I want to start blogging
– my guess is that 90% of food bloggers have this as their sole reason to start writing about food on the web. It is not a bad reason. At least you’re being honest.

If you answered honestly, this will divide you into two categories:

I don’t care how many people read my blog, apart from my friends
– You said that you just wanted to share things with friends. I told you to stop reading earlier, and go over to Blogger, which I guess means…

I care (or at some time in the future, I might care)
– from here on in, I talk about the nuts and bolts of building your blog; then attracting, maintaining and measuring an audience.

What to write about


I’m going to write about X
– You have an unwavering passion for or business interests in X. You might be addicted to eggs, bacon, chips and beans; eating what you shoot; or Cambodian food. In the biz, this is called your niche and if you’re doing this for any sort of professional/money-making reasons then it is easier to build an audience if you start like this. People who have a vague interest in X will gravitate towards you and over time, you’ll become the world’s leading proponent of X. It’s also a great way to link up with others who have an unhinged obsession with X.

Every single post that you write on the web should somehow add value to X. Linking to someone else’s news article about X doesn’t add any value to your blog unless you have something insightful to say about it.

Traditionally, this is what most web marketers will recommend that you do when starting your blog but ultimately, most food bloggers don’t stay on mission. Once you’ve built an audience of readers, they’ll either forgive you (or love it) when you stray off topic. Here is RealThai eating real Swedish, Ed Charles talking about his dog, me talking about obscure Cambodian/Vietnamese geopolitics.

I’m going to write about whatever the hell I feel like. Not even food sometimes. You can’t stop me
. – This is a harder path because the appeal of your site isn’t going to be the subject matter; it’s going to be you. If you’ve got self confidence and know that your voice alone is going to attract readers, then go for it. I’ve begun thinking that one of the reasons that many food bloggers burn out within a year is that they run out of subject matter (X) and don’t know what to do next.

Michael Ruhlman, David Leibovitz and Aun from Chubby Hubby all tend to write about whatever they choose but the focus stays on food. They all also have offline food industry experience (or readers of their books) to back them up.

Technical issues – the nuts and bolts

Which blogging platform?

I’m not going to do an in-depth review of the best blogging sites and software out there. Others have already done this in an approachable manner – see the links below.

As for my recommendation for food blogging, I choose WordPress – It’s flexible, relatively easy to extend and most foodbloggers who start with another platform and don’t quit within the first year of blogging end up moving to WordPress. The downside is that you’ve got to pay for hosting (between US$6 and US$12 a month) and have some confidence with technology. I recommend Bluehost for hosting – they have an auto-install function for WordPress and they’re currently less than $7 a month.

For more information on WordPress, visit their site. Their documentation on getting started is expansive and tailored to all levels of knowledge.

If (after looking at WordPress) you’re not feeling confident with the technology (or simply, just don’t want to pay), sign up at TypePad, Blogger or LiveJournal. It’s as easy to start blogging there as signing up for email. If you don’t mind paying just a little, I’m impressed by newcomers Squarespace – their stock blogs are world’s apart of getting something off the rack at a free blog site.

Regardless of which platform you choose, I strongly recommend buying your own domain name (e.g. www.yourfoodblog.com) before starting for a few reasons:

  • It is painful if you move platforms and lose the incoming links that you’ve built over time
  • If you’re good at blogging, someone else will buy it before you. This happened to Pim of Chez Pim, who only recently moved from Typepad to chezpim.com

For more information on choosing a blog platform

For more “getting started in food blogging” articles

In my next instalment (next Thursday), I fill in how to design your blog, attract the audience that you want to attract and make (a little) money. Continued at “How to start a food blog, part 2“.



Originally, this post was written as a response to a session at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival on “Web 2.0: how to blog/how not to blog”. I didn’t attend the session, but judging by the ensuing debate generated there seems to be firstly something controversial about saying that there are many bad food blogs out there and secondly, a lot of Australian bloggers are full of vim.

There are food blogs written by machines that steal content from other food blogs. It’s called scraping. These are bad and my guess is that by quantity, they make up the bulk of the world’s food blogs. How you define quality for the rest of world’s food media (including blogs) is subjective; and it is beginning to look a bit silly setting up a binary opposition between mainstream food media and blogging when both Condé Nast and The Guardian run food blogs populated by both bloggers and journalists. Within the next few years every major food media outlet will have one as more of the news business moves online. Australia is just running behind the rest of the Western world when it comes to web marketing in almost every sector.

Thirdly (and what interests me most) is that nobody is talking about subject of “how to blog/how not blog”. If I went along to the session to learn this, I get the feeling that I would have walked out half way through feeling deeply ripped off but possibly still enamored by the presenters and Helen Razer.

26 Comments How to start a food blog

  1. Ed

    You’ve just saved me a lot of time as I was going to do something similar although I probably still should do one and put it in a pdf as I have two gigs for the non technical restaurant person comingup. We didn’t get a chance to go through much of this because of the moderation on Monday. I’d add that Movable Type shouldn’t be discounted. It is very powerful and used by most of the big media players. it is more difficult to install than WordPress but serving html rather than php pages takes up less bandwidth than WordPress which means you are less likely to be shutdown by your ewbhost if loads of traffic comes your way. Bluehost are good and amazingly you can get to speak to tech support on the phone usually within a few minutes. I’d probably avoid any web host in Australia as they are too expensive. PS: Charles not Thomas

    Reply
  2. Phil Lees

    Sorry Ed, I somehow confused you for the English poet.

    I’ve never had problems serving PHP from WordPress, even when I hit around 100K visitors a day for a few boom periods – but then again, I don’t use the cheapest hosting for my site. Moveable Type is great – I’ll work in a plug somewhere.

    Reply
  3. Duncan | Syrup&Tang

    G’day Phil. Nice work there! Very helpful for people wondering about all this blogging stuff. If you shope carefully it’s certainly possible to get adequate hosting from Australian companies for low rates (I pay A$30 per annum at present).

    You write “there seems to be firstly something controversial about saying that there are many bad food blogs out there”, but I’m not sure I agree. The controversy is *primarily* that certain antagonists choose to say it with such vehement absolutism that there is little room for intelligent discussion. That then causes a backlash which at time seems equally one-eyed. I think people are just a little sick of the lack of constructive engagement.

    Reply
  4. stickyfingers

    Thanks Phil for filling the void. I know Ed prepared the relevant material but was censured by his moderator. Unfortunately Helen Razer was too busy regaling us with tales *Yawn* of her time working for an online company 8years ago (go figure?) for there to be much to learn in that session. The audience was thin and constituted mostly bloggers supporting each other with our presence. Each time something educational came up Ms Razer shut down the conversation and killed the thread – to use web 2.0 jargon.

    The highlight of the whole session sadly was Vida going at Steph like a rabied chihuaha and Jon flattening the subject of the Blogger who was threatened with legal action by a chef. He stated the facts of the case and proved that Steph had not done her homework and was now the pot calling the kettle black. No wonder she belted out a post enroute home to Sydney.

    Reply
  5. Robyn

    You might add another category of blogger – I want to be a food writer/photographer (I dropped the ‘famous’.) I was unpublished when I started the blog and it gave me ‘clips’ that got me (us) our first feature. I think I can honestly say I’ve no desire to be ‘famous’ a la Pim or Clotilde (I have neither the requisite visage nor the perkiness) and if I was really concerned about visitor numbers I would have closed shop long ago, but I do desire to make a living from it. The realistic would-be professional writer who keeps at it with the non-blog writing can certainly use the blog as a platform, if the quality is up to snuff.

    Reply
  6. Phil Lees

    Robyn – I’m still not sure if starting a blog is good for your clips or not. It’s certainly been good to me (and you guys) but back in Australia I find it a pretty hard sell. A few editors that I’ve spoken with here seem much more interested in my offline work, even when I’ve been pitching for online content jobs – but then again, without the blogs I probably wouldn’t have my foot in the door. US media that I deal with tend to treat offline and online as the same thing.

    Do people started blogging with the hope of getting noticed by editors/publishers?

    As for food blogging and fame, it’s following the path of professional skateboarding. I’m expecting that the Julie and Julia movie will be the foodblogging equivalent of Christian Slater’s skate-sploitation flick Gleaming the Cube.

    Reply
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  8. Rach

    This post sure got me thinking. I’ve been blogging since I was 15; I’m 25 this year, so that’s 10 years in the blogging business. I’ve had my current personal blog going since 2004 and began my food/research blog a few months ago, and I’ve been thinking a lot lately about where I want this to end up.

    I totally agree with all of your reasons to start a blog, but I would add one more. Blogging is great writing practice. It teaches you, more through the crude behaviourist reward of a comment more than anything else, to come up with ideas, follow them through and get words on a page. It allows you to develop your voice as a writer and explore what it is that you want to write about in a fairly low-stakes way.

    I also agree that a focused blog will get more traffic. My newly formed food blog already trounces my more mature personal blog in terms of traffic and referrers. Now I just need to discipline myself to put more academic work into it.

    The publishing world, academic or no, still makes my heard hurt, though. I hate pitching/abstract writing with the fire of a thousand suns.

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  10. steamy kitchen

    I do think it’s easier than most bloggers think to transition from blog to a food writing career. Here’s what I did:

    1) Start with asking to be a guest blogger on high-trafficked blogs
    2) Volunteer to write for the WellFed Network – they are always looking for bloggers. Not paid, but gives you recognition and experience
    3) Get on Twitter and start following food writers/editors/columnists Twitter feeds. Send them story ideas, interesting links, etc.
    4) If you’ve got a great blog already, submit it to Alltop.com and see if they’ll get you ranked. Better yet, follow Guy Kawasaki’s Twitter feed and twitter him – he responds.
    5) Contact small, local newspapers in your town and volunteer to write a monthly food column at no charge. Build your skills as a food columnist. Get several columns under your belt. Then go to bigger newspapers – show them that you have both online and print experience. See what they’ll pay. Sure, it might be just a few bucks, but you’re gaining credibility and now you’re a published food writer.

    Oh I have TONS more advice…..when I have more time I’ll come back with more!

    Reply
  11. Phil Lees

    I should really reassess Twitter (if it ever gets stable). I’m sure that food editors aren’t going to stick around there when they start getting spammed with more ideas than they can handle.

    Reply
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  16. Mark

    Hi! I started my food blog barely a year ago. It started out as a simple food diary, although later on I thought writing about food in every place I’ve been to works as well. I haven’t been travelling and eating out lately but I still gather as much info as I can on the places I hope to visit soon.

    Another reason I started a food blog is because I want to learn another writing category (I write news stories for TV when I’m not pigging out).

    Thanks for doing a piece on starting a food blog. I’m still reading and re-reading through this article so that I’d know how to improve my blog and my food writing skills. :D

    Reply
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  20. the travelling chef

    I’ve had this page bookmarked for several years and kept coming back from time to time then carrying on with whatever I was doing until February 2013, when I thought, yes I’m going to do it.

    so I did…

    Reply

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