Mustadd is an online restaurant reviewing, social networking platform that opened its beta services in November 2014. Currently available as an app on Google Play and a mobile-optimized website for iOS, Mustadd positions itself as an alternative to blogs and crowd-sourced restaurant review sites like MangoPlate, a platform similar to Yelp. Instead of having users rely only on reviews by strangers, Mustadd allows users to create their own community circles within the platform, to personally tailor their sources of restaurants tips. By doing this, users can refer to restaurant reviews from selected friends, classmates, and colleagues.
Restaurant review blog posts in South Korea are, for the most part, quite engaging. They are more than just star ratings and descriptions, but also vivid narratives of eating experiences woven with high-definition food porn. Having a restaurant review appear on top of Daum and Naver search results can help significantly increase customer traffic, thus compelling some owners to invest in blog posts. Restaurants often invite popular bloggers for free meals, and at times even pay them for positive reviews. In some cases, there are intermediary agencies that broker deals between bloggers and restaurant owners, charging the latter with high commission fees.
Mustadd’s decision to incorporate a social networking component to the service comes from a growing sense of distrust in online reviews among South Koreans. Mustadd conducted a proprietary survey of people in their 20s and 30s asking how they used resources to decide where to eat out. 57% of respondents claimed that they used online resources to look for good places to dine. However, when asked how much they trusted online reviews, only 26% claimed they actually did. The company found that 74% preferred tips from friends, though only 43% admitted to asking their friends for any. This gap between the portion of people preferring tips from friends and the portion of people actually using friends as resources is what primarily inspired Mustadd to construct a space for relation-based restaurant reviews.
In recent years, online product and service reviews have been increasingly questioned for their authenticity. Because many Internet users in the country use blogs as an information source, portal blogs have become the ideal advertising platform for local businesses. South Korean restaurant owners compete heavily in a saturated market, and are eager to take any measure to promote their businesses. For some context, the restaurant to resident ratio in South Korea was 1 to 80 in 2012. The same year in New York City alone, the ratio was 1 to 410.
Mustadd’s survey results seem to reflect people’s growing expectation that many of the food review blog posts are sponsored content. With a formal release of its app yet to come, Mustadd for now can hope that its personalized network will attract foodies looking for credible reviews.