On the same day that Michelin announced the Atlanta restaurants receiving stars and other acclaim, the city played host to TikTok food critic Keith Lee.
Lee and his family spent the week in Atlanta, making stops at least eight local establishments, including Atlanta Breakfast Club, Lil Baby’s the Seafood Menu, Old Lady Gang, and the Real Milk and Honey. Since Lee’s visit, locals have debated topics such as customer service, seemingly arbitrary restaurant rules, the need not to be swayed by reviews from social influencers and one business’s response to Lee’s visit.
Lee has over 14 million followers on TikTok, with some even calling him the platform’s “favorite food reviewer.” The Detroit native’s concept is simple: visit mom-and-pop spots, big chains, even theme parks; order food; eat the food; and review it all in one take. Lee typically waits in the car while his family goes inside to pick up food, so he doesn’t receive special treatment.
His breakdowns bring success to hidden gems, restaurants with little to no marketing. That also means his critiques can influence how his followers and others view businesses without forming their own opinions. Naturally, since Lee’s visit, social media’s been rife with memes and foodies from inside and outside the Perimeter taking sides on the reviewer’s observations.
Some felt Lee’s reviews were entreating and held restaurant culture accountable.
Others felt that Lee’s restaurant choices didn’t accurately reflect the city’s food scene.
The first stop for Lee and his group was Atlanta Breakfast Club, where he felt “customer service was interesting” and their rules – no service till the entire party is seated, no add-ons, $1 for butter – “unique” before digging into French toast, a breakfast bowl and salmon croquettes.
After stops at the Seafood Menu and Juci Jerk, things got interesting at the Real Milk and Honey in College Park. In his review, Lee explains that when his family arrives, staff says the restaurant is closing early for deep cleaning despite customers picking up orders and the door being open. Lee said when he walked in afterward, the staff, recognizing him, offered him service, which he declined.
“I pay for my food like everybody else. I walk up in spots like everybody else. We are all normal people. Respectfully, if you’re not going to do it then, don’t do it now,” he says in his foodless TikTok review, responding to staff not serving his family but offering to serve him.
In an alleged video response deleted from TikTok, the owner of The Real Milk and Honey asks, “Who is this Keith Lee?” when the topic of the latter’s review comes up. The Real Milk and Honey review has over 15 million views on TikTok.
The restaurant did not intend to “discredit anyone,” according to a press release sent to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution late Monday. “... if the comments came across as such, kindly accept our apologies.”
“We’ve taken time to reflect on the incident and have started internal corrective actions with our team regarding communication styles,” read the release. It goes on to note that the house rules for the restaurant circulating online are outdated and that the current rules will be published soon “so everyone can see it’s a vibe not rules.”
In more affable reactions, smaller spots such as Juci Jerk are seeing longer lines post-Lee review. Others praised Lee for matching Jamaican Jerk Biz’s $2,600-plus in sales for the day after visiting the restaurant.
In his closing remarks about the Atlanta visit, Lee reminds his followers and viewers not to let his reviews make decisions for them. He also pleads with his audience to refrain from leaving bad reviews and writing off local restaurants based on his one take.
“I go to an array of restaurants. To mom-and-pop shops to staples of the community to super popular to places nobody knows about,” he says. “Atlanta has definitely been a unique experience for me and it’s something I’ll never forget.”
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