Adnan Albakri of 514eats
Adnan Albakri was born in France but grew up in Saudi Arabia. He moved around between Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, and Europe throughout his youth, then moved to Canada to attend McGill University, where he earned a degree in computer engineering.
Today, he resides in Montreal, where he’s lived for the past 24 years. Adnan works in IT, specifically business intelligence and data analytics, while also balancing creating for his popular food Instagram account, 514eats, and blog.
Adnan just celebrated ten years of posting on the 514eats blog.
The Beginning of 514 Eats
When Adnan started, being an “influencer” was not a career path, and social media was in its early stages. There was also a huge lack of restaurant reviews.
“I used to just find new restaurants to eat at because again, back then, there wasn’t yet all of these Yelp and Foursquare [websites], and they were maybe either starting or not yet [established]… but there were no pictures.”
The lack of review websites and pictures led Adnan to read professional food critic reviews from local newspapers. Eventually, he decided to improve upon what the critics were doing at the time.
“Where I came from was, okay, I like what the critics are doing, but their business models are outdated. They barely have any pictures.”
At the time, blogs were popping up everywhere. However, Adnan notes that their posts tended to be too short or too long, and many bloggers praised everything. This led Adnan to approach social media as a way to anonymously and honestly review food.
“I don’t tell the restaurant I’m a blogger. I pay my bill [and] I take my pictures discreetly. That’s kind of where I started from, a bit like a food critic, but using a platform of a blogger.”
He notes that he decided to keep his own picture off his social media account because he wanted to give his social media a more official, brand-like look.
Adnan’s Food Review Process
When asked about his methodology for writing about restaurants, Adnan shares, “my motto is integrity, anonymity, meaning I don’t announce myself, honesty, meaning you are good or bad, and unannounced.”
He notes that his typical writing process is slower because writing isn’t his favorite part of the process. Taking photos and editing them is a faster part of the process that he enjoys.
From start to finish, a review takes him around a week.
Adnan shares, “There’s really no reason not to publish anything for me, as long as I went somewhere, I have enough content… as long as there’s let’s say two, but preferably four dishes, and I feel like I have enough to talk about the place, I’ll talk about it.”
The 514eats Blog
The 514eats blog is Adnan’s “bread and butter” for his detailed food reviews. In the beginning, he notes that he used social media primarily to drive traffic to his website.
“So basically, social media is kind of my number one engine to get traffic to the website. I also know a bit of [the] basics of search optimization. I coded the website myself.”
When asked about his most viral posts, Adnan shares that his negative reviews typically perform best.
“Once I wrote a slightly negative review about a very popular barbeque restaurant, and my criticism wasn’t as much with the food. The food is actually amazing. It’s more the fact that they run out very early on a daily basis. They closed by 5:00, 6:00, and it was just more a comment about that, that it’s kind of disappointing to show up at 7:00 thinking the place is open, but then you show up there, and everything ran out.”
This negative review got a lot of backlash, but it’s the most read review he’s ever written. For him, his most viral posts tend to be ones with negative captions, such as “Oh wow, this was awful.”
He explains that this isn’t clickbait, but his strong stance creates an intriguing caption that people are more interested in clicking on.
Invitations with Brands
Adnan sometimes works with brands, primarily restaurants, although he occasionally works with food brands, such as a company that sells chocolate or wine.
“I call them invitations at your own risk, meaning, you invite me, you send me something, I may talk about, I may not talk about it… And I need to always have the control over what I post that if I don’t like it, I might actually say, I don’t like it… but the point is that I have full control and that there’s no expectations.”
Adnan also ensures that the majority of his reviews are not comped meals.
His favorite collaboration so far has been with the Montreal Tourism Board, which was promoting a week-long festival that many restaurants participated in.
The Montreal Tourism Board flew in three pairs of bloggers, and each pair was assigned to a restaurant and chef. Each pair shadowed the chef for a day and got to see the behind-the-scenes of how the chef worked.
“It was just a fun experience, and obviously we had to talk about it after. Review it for the website, for Instagram, etc.”
Changes in the Food Industry
Adnan has seen many changes over the years between the constantly changing algorithms and, more recently, how the pandemic has affected restaurant and food bloggers. For example, the pandemic forced takeout to be much larger than it used to be, and Instagram has recently shifted to a more engagement-centric algorithm.
Adnan also shares that he’s seen a rise in ghost kitchens, which are kitchens run by home-based cooks.
“There’s been a lot of explosion of ghost kitchens… Some of them you can’t even call a ghost kitchen. It’s literally a person that does this one thing from their home kitchen and delivers, literally one product.”
He notes that he’s seen ghost kitchens with an extremely small niche, such as a ghost kitchen that makes two flavors of Italian doughnuts and nothing else.
Future Plans & Recommendations
Adnan shares that he is throwing a 10-year anniversary party on May 13th.
“I’m throwing a party, close friends, other influencers, some PR people I’ve worked with, maybe even a couple chefs.
His recommendation if you’re visiting Montreal? Visit the old port on the old side of the city.
“There’s older architecture, good restaurants… There’s some fun things like a big Ferris wheel. In winter, you can ice skate almost near the river.”