The famed VEXNEWS Investigations Unit can exclusively reveal â€“ for the first time â€“ the secret inner-workings of the Ageâ€™s poorly paid army of food critics.
They explain they are paid $50 per review and are expected to pay the cost of the meal from the $50 and must also write a pithy summary of their findings afterwards. The hourly rate ends up being a few dollars an hour, one insider complains. VEXNEWS understands there are around one hundred reviewers, most of them from the inner-city.
This is considered a very low fee to pay by industry standards, according to journalists familiar with the matter and is possibly a breach of Fairfaxâ€™s Fair Work obligations.
Cheap Eats has previously enjoyed tremendous sales success, with its sister publication the Good Food Guide, generating multi-million dollar profits for the company for its best-selling books.
The revelations have prompted industry concern that the content of Cheap Eats could easily be compromised by financially famished reviewers acting in concert with dodgy restauranteurs who would be keen to buy off a reviewer. There have also been concerns raised in the past about the conflict of interest involved in presenting an independent guide to restaurants and cafes that also solicits for advertising from the same businesses.
A Lygon Street businessman in the hospitality industry says many Carlton restaurant owners are made a wide variety of corrupt propositions from food reviewers. He told VEXNEWS he was unfamiliar with Cheap Eats reviewers being tempted into corrupt deals but that because a business could be â€œmade or unmadeâ€ by a review that it would be worthwhile for owners to â€œpay them $5000 or moreâ€ if they could be trusted â€œto write something nice.â€
Because of the fear of reviews being corrupted, websites like urbanspoon.com have enjoyed tremendous success greatly as they rely on individual users to contribute their own ratings and commentary. Unlike tempted Cheap Eats reviewers, they have no reason to lie about their experience.