Can You Trust Reviews from Las Vegas Influencers?

Posted on: February 27, 2024, 03:58h. 

Last updated on: February 29, 2024, 09:07h.

In Las Vegas, hundreds of social media influencers post reviews and opinions about the Strip’s resorts, restaurants, shows, and nightclubs to their YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok accounts at least once a week.

Perez Hilton, the pioneering Hollywood gossip blogger who moved to Las Vegas with his family last year, says he is surprised by how many local social media influencers are paid by the companies they review. (Image:

But can these reviews be trusted?

For Gen Z — those born between 1997 and 2012 — social media is more than entertainment. It’s their main source of news. A 2022 study by Reuters found that 39% of 18-to-24-year-olds only consulted social media to stay informed, versus 34% who also visited the news websites and apps still frequented by older generations.

And while everybody knows you can’t trust everything you see on social media, young Las Vegas tourists seeking honest opinions about experiences have nowhere else — as far as they know, anyway — to turn.

Why This is Probably a Mistake

Most legitimate news outlets have strict policies for reviewing restaurants and nightclubs, insisting that their representatives never accept a comped experience or even identify themselves to management. Social media, by comparison, is the lawless Wild West.

It isn’t necessarily that social influencers intentionally peddle dishonestly positive reviews to potential review subjects, though nothing stops those who would. It’s that most who happen to have negative experiences refuse to post about them afterward.

Since moving to Las Vegas last year, Perez Hilton, at one time the internet’s most influential Hollywood gossip columnist, posts often about his Las Vegas outings on his Instagram account.

If I’m posting a restaurant or an experience on social media, I have been given that for free,” Hilton said on the most recent City Cast Las Vegas podcast. “If I had a totally terrible experience, I’m just not going to talk about it. I don’t want to be responsible for hurting a business, even if the food wasn’t that good or the service wasn’t as good as it could have been.”

To be fair, Hilton is still a celebrity blogger, not an influencer. But, as he mentioned in the same interview, Hilton knows of many influencers who won’t post anything negative for a more nefarious reason — because they’re secretly employed as social media managers by the very establishments they appear to review.

While this would be an immediately fireable offense at any legitimate news outlet, it’s business as usual on social media.

“A lot of the influencers that are smaller, they’re not making money going to restaurants and these restaurants aren’t paying them to review the establishments, but a lot of them are doing social media for the restaurants,” Hilton told City Cast. “So they’ll get paid to create content for this restaurant and that restaurant, and to answer their DMs and all of that, which surprised me.”

Hilton mentioned Philip Tzeng, better known as @lasvegasfil, and Drew Belcher (@unlokt), who sell these services through their own marketing agencies, as examples.

The biggest fish in the Vegas influencer sea is by far Jennifer Gay, aka Jen G., who posts to 854K Instagram followers as @vegasstarfish. According to Hilton, once you get to her level, that’s when you can cut brand deals that pay $20K per month each. (Gay told that she identifies all recommendations she makes due to brand relationships.)

The bigger sandwich on top, according to an Instagram post by Las Vegas influencer Heather Collins, was served to a fellow influencer who was invited to review a restaurant that Collins refused to name in her post, while the smaller sandwich was served to Collins when she patronized the same shop without identifying herself. (Image: Instagram/@radioheather)

If I Knew You Were Coming…

Even something as apparently aboveboard as accepting an invitation to review an experience compromises the integrity of any review about that experience. That’s because establishments will always treat an influencer better than they would the average customer who comprises that influencer’s audience.

For decades, the Las Vegas Review-Journal kept photos of its restaurant critic, Heidi Knapp Rinella, out of the newspaper just so servers wouldn’t be alerted to her presence and give her preferential treatment.

Heather Collins, a Las Vegas influencer who posts on Instagram as @radioheather, learned all about preferential treatment recently. As she reported in a recent Instagram post, she had “one of the best experiences ever” when she got invited to review an unnamed Las Vegas steakhouse.

“I got top-notch service, the manager came up and said hello to me. It was amazing,” she said on her Instagram Reels.

Two months later, according to Collins, she returned to the same steakhouse without making prior arrangements or identifying herself. And her experience was significantly different.

“They forgot to put my steak in,” Collins said, and “when they did bring it out, they rushed it, so it was burnt on the outside.”

In addition, Collins said she was asked if, while waiting for her steak, she would like an order of fries, and then “they charged me for those fries that they offered because they messed up!”

While Collins’ commentary seems refreshingly candid, she didn’t name the steakhouse. And that’s because it’s very rare to find a social media influencer willing to bite a hand that feeds, or potentially could employ, them.

And that’s exactly the problem with trusting their reviews.