Seriously though – are foodies then considered professional eaters if they get paid to eat your burger and fries? Because let’s be real here; they’re not critics if everyone knows who they are and if every post is “Wow! This burger was by far the best burg a gurl could ask for! #BurgerLover” If every foodie in the city of Chicago only posts positive feedback about the restaurants they attend, are they only attending the restaurants they know and love because it’s a passion of theirs, or are they merely trying to get the restaurant’s attention in order to land a social media gig? So many questions…

I’m sure I probably just pissed a lot of you off, but eat me out… I mean hear me out. I’m the first person to jump at the opportunity of FREE food. And if it’s free, I feel almost obligated to say how ‘fantastic’ it was, right? I’m not the only one, so I know you foodies of the world feel me. But if I were to actually pay for all the food I ate I would be broke; It’s a double edged sword. So then is being a “professional foodie” a conundrum?

Although I know most of the foodies in Chicago and have eaten with them dozens of times, I’ve never had the chance to get to know them past their favorite dish at the restaurant that just opened down the street. So I decided to interview one of the best, Seth Marcus, to get his take on this phenomenon that has swept our city by storm.

There are a lot of people that are doing this for very different reasons. There’s no right or wrong reason. My page (@ChiCityFoodie) is my outlet for myself and I really love food. For that, I really don’t do a lot of sponsored promotions and I love going to media dinners. But for some, this is their job and their livelihood so they do need to charge for their services.

Seth Marcus, @ChiCityFoodie

Wait, so not only do restaurants have to give foodies free food to get them to say something nice, they have to pay them for their ‘services’? If your service is to eat food and talk nicely about it, that seems a little ‘under the table’ if you ask me. Now this just got serious.

“This platform is full of all different backgrounds and those people interact differently. Although the platform is social, it can still very well be a business transaction. I feel some may be uninformed to the factors they face, such as ‘should a foodie tip the server if the meal was comped?’” explains Seth.

Is that even a question!? Free food, paid to eat said food, and no tipping necessary. Anyone who’s ever worked in the hospitality industry always tips. Does that mean they’ve never actually been on the other side? They get to eat and talk about the menu but they’ve never cooked it, served it or made the drink to pair with it?

I know my foodie friends are becoming enraged right now. But stay with me here….

Now I was curious to know how one becomes a ‘Foodie.’ Do you just pick up your phone one day and start taking pictures of donuts? Well, apparently… yes. That’s exactly how it happens.

“It all started 6 years ago when I got an iPhone. I started taking pictures of my food. Not sure why, but it was fun. I didn’t have an outlet for my photos, and that’s when I heard about Instagram in 2011.

I remember when I hit 500 followers. I took a screen-shot of it! The next milestone was 1,000 followers. That meant that people other than my friends were following me because of my food posts.

Then I started getting invited to events. There was a whole other community out there; they’re using IG as a platform to share their food with the city. I started to learn from other foodies. i.e. how to take a really capturing photo. As my photos got better, I found that more and more people were following me.

This has turned into something far past a hobby. This is something a lot of people actually care about. I didn’t know what my end goal was 5 years ago, but it’s turned into a creative outlet outside of my day job. I get to meet people and eat very well.” says Seth.

I heard three things here:

1. followers

2. friends

3. food

Lets dive into the psychology behind what this truly means. And let me be very clear here – I too am a victim of this addiction. It’s invigorating to get a new follower, and the more and more you get, the more and more you want. It’s literally become an addiction for some; almost like collecting all of the Pokemon cards or Beanie Babies. It’s also a status quo; how many people “like” you. You can even buy followers now, which is weird. But for those of us that don’t like fake friends, we want to bridge the gap between our virtual relationships and our real relationships. We attend events and foodie dinners and get to know the faces behind the pages.

In terms of personalities on and off social, there are definitely people that use social media as a way to express themselves. It’s really interesting to learn who the people are behind the pages.

Seth Marcus, @ChiCityFoodie

And last but least, number three rings in with “food.” Food is merely the carrot. Or is a carrot food? Hmmmmm. That’s neither here nor there. Here’s my theory – The carrot dangles in front of the rest of the world (restaurant owners in particular) to make us believe that it’s the focus for our foodie friends. And I’m not saying it’s not for all, but I think most foodies would choose 10,000 organic followers over a burger and a buddy, any day. That’s all I’m saying.

In all realness though, we need our foodie friends. They help drive our social media pages through the roof and put a good taste in everyone’s mouth. But to say what they do is a job, I don’t buy it. Eating and drinking for free to talk about it nicely, is a hobby. If you get paid to manage social media pages, now that’s a job. If you mix the two, fine, you can slide.

So lets lose the attitude of a food critic, because food critics never get free food, no one knows who they are, and they most definitely do not get paid by the restaurant to eat there. They are not paid to say only positive things and take pictures of their food for 15 minutes before they eat it; which don’t get me wrong, I am totally guilty of. They are paid by reputable media companies a lot of money to anonymously eat and critique.

I’m curious to see the bridging between the two; foodie versus food critic. I’m curious if there are any foodies out there with the stomachs to say how they really feel; and not necessarily in a nasty way but in a helpful way. Unless of course, they really do just love everything they eat and drink at every single bar or restaurant in the city. I find that to be hard to believe because I’ve worked in this industry for 10 years and I know firsthand that there are imperfections in every restaurant. Even in the restaurants I’m involved with, I find something to improve on every day.

Do you feel like your personal life has been affected by being a foodie?

My foodie and personal life have really blended. My wife has become very tolerant of my foodie habits. There is an element of @chicityfoodie that is always “on,” because you have to always share your experiences with your following to keep them engaged. (His wife renamed her IG @MrsChiCityFoodie) – now that’s love!

Do you feel like you’ve become a local celebrity?

I’ve always laughed at that, but it’s kind of the truth (laughing). Almost daily I’m recognized because of my IG account and that’s really interesting. I feel like the world use to be about traditional critics and such, but now anyone that has a following has a certain “status.”

Where do you see the foodie world going?

A lot more people are integrating IG with SnapChat. This helps diversify their personality online. Videos show your entire experience. Therefore I see people going cross-platform to reach their audiences. Now that you can have 1 minute long videos on IG, you’re going to start seeing some really quality videos just like we did with the photos in the beginning.

Do you think IG will be around for a long time?

I was never a big fan of Twitter, because it felt like people were just putting everything out there. It’s hard to make it diversified. With IG people have digital curation – being more thoughtful about what you put out there. This is a trend I’m seeing across the digital space. Be more conscious about what content you’re putting up there…. it speaks to your brand and for your brand.