Members of the city’s online food groups write reviews, debate and discuss the merits and demerits of eateries in town. The restaurants, in turn, have begun to listen to them carefully

When a big restaurant chain decided to launch services in Coimbatore, they scouted online for food groups in the city to quiz them if the location, menu and pricing were right. Some other hotels offer group discounts and free meals in exchange for frank reviews.

Online food groups from the city have never had it so good. Recognition from the market aside, their numbers have grown dramatically. From single-digit likes and members, they now boast thousands of new members and, at any given time, more than a hundred people keep the forum alive, with comments, feedback and reviews.

Recently, Barbeque Nation, the city’s latest hot-ticket restaurant, gave away 75 meal vouchers to members of Coimbatore Food Guide, which has more than 6,700 members on Facebook. Fifteen members, who got lucky answering questions on the forum, won five passes each. The group is also the online partner of the chain.

Kovai Foodies, which has crossed 3,600 members, has managed to get discounts ranging from 10 to 20 per cent of the restaurant bill, for its members. Rathna Residency and Nalas Aappakadai, for instance, offer KF members a 15 per cent discount, while Yolo, which specialises in egg-based menus, hands out a 10 per cent discount. The group is now in talks with newbie Hot Vada. Incidentally, Hot Vada had hosted a group of foodies from the group, for a meal on the house.

“RHR once invited us for a Valentine’s Day meal — it was a delicious North-South combo,” says Lalitha Gautam, who started Kovai Foodies.

Members of Coimbatore Food Guide (CFG) which was started in 2008 on Orkut before it migrated to Facebook, have benefited from similar offers and group deals. Techie Guhan Swaminathan, group founder, says the deal works out well for both parties — The restaurants concerned get a lot of buzz on social media, and members get benefits for eating out, which they would normally do frequently, as foodies.

Most restaurants just require members to whip out their smartphones, and show their ‘like’ for a page, to avail of added perks.

But, in the midst of all these benefits, does a honest review of a restaurant become a casualty? No, says Guhan. “The deal is that we write, not write just good things. Recently, I wrote a bad review for a big chain, and also published some nasty reviews from others; I received so many hate calls,” he says. “People keep asking us to give a new restaurant time; why don’t they understand that a restaurant has to serve good food. Customers pay for the food, right?” he asks.

Lalitha says that foodies’ opinions are taken very seriously by restaurants. “Many have waived bills, or got back to aggrieved customers apologising for bad service and taste,” she says.

Food groups have learnt to bond offline too. CFG has had a couple of meet-ups among members, while KF has had two potluck dinners at the expansive Farmstead near Sungam. Members bring in lots of food, and there’s music and traditional games. This time around, they invited a javvumittai seller, who brought back memories of childhood. Simply Momos provided samples of momos while online grocery store supplied millet cookies.

Last year, the group was part of Kovai Vizha, where they did a Kongu food festival. They also have a tie-up with Brookefields for any food event.

CFG only focusses on hotels; not on others in the food trade. “Our opinions are taken seriously, which is why we are called in to help with promotions,” says Guhan.