The Playbook For The Modern Man

Food Critic’s Influencer Takedown Reveals Embarrassing Fault Line In Australian Society

Is it ever acceptable to request #couscousforcomment?

One of the few Aussie food critics “who doesn’t seem frightened of defamation,” John Lethlean flirts with controversy as if it were the world’s sexiest pavlova.

Throughout his career, The Australian’s restaurant ravisher has savaged Adelaide’s Hill Of Grace, butchered Melbourne’s Le Grand Cirque and – in January this year – went viral trading barbs with a pair of Australian Youtubers.

For some time now, Mr. Lethlean has been shaming influencers for attempting to score a free meal. From London foodies…


… to cute puppies…


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FFS. #Palforplugs

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… to social media co-ordinators on behalf of their clients…


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Joe’s a legend, Joe’s a legend #couscousforcomment @cvtsoftserve

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… no one is safe. And that’s before we mention the Italian bloggers…


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Because we don’t have photographers and videographers in this country #couscousforcomment

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… and two-faced twits, whose efforts to “collaborate” Mr. Lethlean has publically derided.


Each post has been captioned with the hashtag “couscousforcomment,” a phrase used to mock those that ask for freebies (popularised around 2016).

In doing this, Lethlean is very much enjoying himself using Instagram against itself; expressing his disgust and building a community of righteous souls on the very platform that has given rise to such brazen behaviour.

Just this morning, Lethlean was at it again, sharing a proposal that appears to have been sent to Entrecôte Melbourne, which, DMARGE believe, cracks open this embarrassing Australian cultural divide.


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With a few of my friends… #couscousforcomment #whatagreatprop #jess #bottomlessbrunch #yeahnah @entrecotemelbourne

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The post was met with comments like: “If the hospitality business as a whole had the same basic rights as humans, bottomless brunch food bloggers would probably be accused for crime [sic] against humanity” and “FLOGGER.”

“But guys, she has a FRIEND who is a FOOD BLOGGER.!.!! This is clearly the opportunity of the century!”

Entrecôte also chimed in with, “PS. We Have not done bottomless brunches since November 2019.. never again x.”

While this post exposes an uninformed over-reacher, Lethlean’s hard-line response to these kinds of requests (some of them, arguably, more reasonable than this one), has met with some backlash, and not just from influencers and PR agencies.

What would prompt one to sympathise with one of these graspers? A comment left beneath this morning’s public mocking, we reckon, hints why.

“The word ‘collaboration’ used to mean something completely different in the pre @instagram era.”

This highlights a cultural pivot point: many younger Australians accept social exposure as currency, while many older Aussies don’t.


And when high-end influencers are being paid between $5,000 and $50,000 per endorsed post, it’s only logical Foodies With Followings think they’re entitled to ask for free grub.

Whether or not they get it should depend on their ability to inspire others to chomp (and the restaurant in question’s marketing policy), not one man’s Sisyphean stance on paid advertising.

This is where Lethlean might argue something like “how can you be objective if you’re getting a freebie.” To which the influencers might argue, “we’re here to munch garlic bread, not dissect the Alfredo.”

Is the logical conclusion then that restaurants must start giving out freebies, or fall behind the times? Not quite.

As discussed at length in an episode of The Sydney Morning Herald’s Flight Of Fancy (which we recently covered), professional travel writers tend to decide which restaurants to visit based on trusted media recommendations (e.g. The New York Times) and – increasingly – by stalking where their favourite chefs (and the staff of restaurants they’ve enjoyed) are eating.

Guess how they do that? Instagram.

The crucial point here? Experts (and, we would argue, most people) trust these sources because they have made a conscious decision to spend their money somewhere, rather than gone because it’s the only place that accepted their #couscousforcomment request.

The upshot? Instagram will play a huge role in defining what restaurants are cool in the future. Just not via Influencer endorsements (and those that do happen will likely be sneaky, see-through, and short-lived).

Here’s hoping.

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