It Shouldn’t Take Influencers Like Keith Lee to Get Quality Restaurant Service

Lee blew the lid off Atlanta’s questionable restaurant scene, which is a good thing.

I’m writing this from a hip diner in Miami's Midtown neighborhood, where a woman sits one table over feeding her Pomeranian food from her plate as the dog sits on the same bench we’re both on. (Before you ask, yes…she is.)

Now, I could complain to management about how they shouldn’t allow pets who walk barefoot in their own s**t to eat from their tables like a human. But I’m a relatively unknown dude with fewer than 1,000 followers on my social media platforms.

In contrast, one video from Keith Lee may have all south Florida Pomeranians summarily executed and any breed of dog barred from coming within 500 feet of the restaurant.

When I started my newspaper career as an intern for The Detroit News in the early aughts, our food critic, the late Molly Abraham, was queen: She had a certain number of “passes” with which she could invite colleagues along for free meals as she reviewed the then-fledgling Detroit food scene. She had an enviable gig and the cachet to go along with it.

But gone is the era in which the likes of Frank Bruni of The New York Times had the power to enrich or destroy an eatery’s prospects with the click of a keyboard. Bruni stopped doing restaurant reviews in 2009, and the Times’ TikTok cooking page has only 337,000 followers.

In contrast, very average humans posting videos on TikTok making food, shopping for food or ordering food have millions of dedicated viewers, like Justine Doiron with 2.3 million followers, or Hajar Larbah with 4.7 million followers.

Lee, a former MMA fighter, has 14.6 million TikTok followers – certainly the most followed Black food influencer on the app. 

He obtained his popularity mainly by sitting in his car trying food or talking about his restaurant experiences in a hurried monotone. He focuses largely on Black-owned business and mom-and-pop operations, and most of the food he reviews is accessible – he’s not covering five-star Michelin joints most people can’t afford.

Atlanta learned this week just how much sway Lee holds with his followers: Like a couples therapist who strikes a nerve in session, Lee’s not-so-favorable reviews of some of the city’s popular restaurants in the city unearthed a wellspring of resentment, support and general “see, I told you so!”

Lee went viral for his review of The Real Milk & Honey, where he and his family couldn’t get their food in a timely fashion during normal operating hours…until the restaurant rolled out the red carpet when he walked in and was recognized.

Lee also visited Kandi Burruss' Old Lady Gang restaurant, where his family was given a 90-minute wait time to sit and eat but the wait time magically disappeared when Lee himself walked in.

He declined preferential treatment from both restaurants, which were clearly willing to shade “regular” customers waiting on tables for a “celebrity.”

If you haven’t eaten in Atlanta, you likely know someone who has and has spent this week on social media enthusiastically affirming Lee’s complaints. His Atlanta restaurant reviews have made so much noise that they’ve been picked up by mainstream media outlets, including the Times and CNN. Lee appears to have gained about 500,000 more followers this week alone.

Kandi Burruss Addresses Keith Lee’s Old Lady Gang Restaurant Review

Lee’s hustle is enviable and his reviews don’t come from a place of malice. He makes a point to defend the restaurant owners from the retribution of the people, and his positive reviews, like that of the Dining Experience in Fairburn, Ga., lead to measurably positive results for small Black-owned businesses.

But social media is, and will always be, its own beast: Burruss’ mentions fell into such a dumpster fire that she felt inclined to respond with her own video. Even Cardi B, who is from New York, got in on the mess.

“In New York, a restaurant is gonna open up early and close so f**king late,” Cardi said in response to Atlanta eateries’ funny-style hours. “They’re gonna serv you all the muthaf***in’ time.”

Sadly, things got dark when a restaurant similarly titled "The Real Milk & Honey" received threats for doing nothing. Lee himself also received death threats, which he says could take him away from the whole game.

You know that old Black American aphorism: "If folks are trying to kill you, you’re doing something right."

Idiots with anonymity and internet connections will always lob meaningless threats. But that belies the greater issue of charging a dollar for butter at a breakfast restaurant, failing to honor carryout orders during posted hours or charging $20 to park in your restaurant’s private lot just because you can.

Maybe Lee’s accidental takedown of the Atlanta brunch scene will serve as a reckoning for these restaurants, but it’s only a reminder of how helpless those of us without millions of followers who simply wish to enjoy the experience of dining out without having to donate blood or take out a second mortgage to do so truly are. Is it possible some of these restauranteurs can look past the dollar signs dancing in their eyeballs to do the right thing…?

Now someone please send me Lee’s number so we can do away with these damn dogs in these damn Miami restaurants…


Dustin J. Seibert is an opinion writer and native Detroiter living in Chicago and Miami. He loves his mama slightly more than he loves music and exercises every day so his French fry intake doesn’t catch up to him. Find him on Instagram and the erstwhile Twitter: @Justice2K.

Latest News

Subscribe for BET Updates

Provide your email address to receive our newsletter.

By clicking Subscribe, you confirm that you have read and agree to our Terms of Use and acknowledge our Privacy Policy. You also agree to receive marketing communications, updates, special offers (including partner offers) and other information from BET and the Paramount family of companies. You understand that you can unsubscribe at any time.