Popular TikTok food critic Keith Lee didn’t expect to make national news after reviewing Black-owned restaurants in Atlanta. But he did, after a major backlash sparked by his honest reviews of restaurants in the Atlanta dining scene.
A former MMA fighter, Lee has amassed 14 million followers on TikTok since he started posting reviews in 2021. Most of his reviews are Black-owned businesses, some of which are struggling and get a boost from his visits.
But if the review is negative, restaurants have had to contend with social media backlash up to and including death threats. Lee does not take complimentary meals, nor does he get paid by restaurants to provide a review that reflects the average customer experience.
Because his massive following makes him recognizable, he doesn’t always show up to the restaurants in person but has his wife or other family members order for him while he tries the food in his car.
Lee reviewed several restaurants in Atlanta, including Kandi Burruss’ Old Lady Gang, Toast, Atlanta Breakfast Club and the Real Milk and Honey. At each restaurant, he encountered what he said was a confusing array of limitations, fees and rules.
For instance, at Atlanta Breakfast Club, incomplete parties can’t be seated, a rule in place at many restaurants. But having to order from outside because there was no place to wait inside was not ideal, Lee said in his review. He was also astounded that extra butter cost $1.
Lee said at the Real Milk and Honey, a deep cleaning meant that the restaurant was closed at 4 p.m., even though he saw people walking in and out. He was told he could only order through DoorDash, but they were closed.
When he came into the restaurant and was recognized, they wanted to fulfill his order, but Lee says he respectfully declined.
Representatives from Old Lady Gang saw him at the ONE Music Fest and said they were trying to get him to come to the restaurant. But when he tried to order in advance at the number provided, there was no answer. When he then tried to order takeout, he was told there was no takeout available on the weekends.
Though it was an hour to an hour and a half wait at the restaurant, once the staff saw Lee, they offered him a table immediately. He declined, saying that he pays for his food like everyone else and expects to be treated like everyone else.
After his experience at Old Lady Gang, he said in his post that he was frustrated.
“Me and my family are just trying to eat food,” Lee said. He added, “Atlanta has definitely been a unique experience for me.”
Lee must have anticipated the backlash because he asked his social media followers not to bombard any of the restaurants he reviewed with negative comments.
“I do not support, condone, or agree with tearing down these businesses,” Lee said. “At the end of the day, all these businesses are people, and you never know what people are going through.”
Unfortunately, social media users didn’t heed his words, sending negative comments and zero-star reviews to both the similarly named Milk and Honey restaurant in Atlanta as well as to the Real Milk and Honey.
Shauna Neely, a spokesperson for the Real Milk and Honey, said that the only thing negative about Lee’s visit was the comments. She told the New York Times that the publicity has led to a boom in business.
“Brunch is a vibe everywhere, but in Atlanta, it’s huge,” Neely said. “We have to have these house rules in place because we are extremely busy.”
The restaurant has since posted what it says are updated rules that reflect what’s currently in place.
Rapper Cardi B, a resident of the city, weighed in on the dining scene in Atlanta, saying on an IG Live that she’s also experienced poor customer service unless she name-drops.
“I feel like Atlanta restaurants, they don’t like to make money. They don’t like people, they don’t like customers, they just don’t f-cking like it.” She added that they “barely let you order.”
“I feel bad for Atlanta residents,” she concluded. “Thank you, Jesus, I’m famous, but even me being famous, it’s like a hassle! Motherf-ckers don’t like making money out there!”
The New York Times is one of several mainstream outlets that reported on the situation, which was largely contained to social media initially. Rolling Stone, NBC News and popular eating guide Delish also did stories on the response to Lee’s reviews.
In videos addressing the backlash, Lee said you can expect honest reviews from him in whatever city or business he goes to. Michelin recently assessed Atlanta’s dining scene, giving just five restaurants a coveted star, with only mentions for three Black-owned eateries.
But as the intense coverage of Lee’s reviews shows, influencers may be the future of restaurant reviewing if their brands and reputation turn out to have longevity.
See how social media reacted to Keith’s dissection of the Atlanta food scene below.
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