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Why does TikTok trust Keith Lee so much? His viral Atlanta restaurant troubles explain the appeal

TikTok food critic Keith Lee has built a dedicated following with his authentic, straightforward reviews of local restaurants. Despite blossoming to over 14 million followers, he still pays for his food in full and usually orders delivery or has someone go into the restaurant for him to remain anonymous and have an authentic experience.

It’s the former Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter’s recent Atlanta food tour that has taken off and caught the attention of viewers who aren’t usually looped into the restaurant review culture of TikTok.

Lee visited several establishments, including the Real Milk & Honey, the Atlanta Breakfast Club and Old Lady Gang, which is owned by Real Housewives of Atlanta star Kandi Burruss. While the Las Vegas native was initially excited to experience Atlanta with his family in tow, it quickly became obvious that there are some restaurant rules exclusive to the city that Lee — and many TikTok viewers — had never heard of before.

At the Real Milk & Honey, which describes itself as “Atlanta’s premier Brunch spot,” Lee claimed that the restaurant made it difficult to place a takeout order. In The Know by Yahoo verified that the restaurant’s voicemail does state it doesn’t accept reservations or takeout orders except through DoorDash.

Then, employees at the establishment told his family that the restaurant was “closed early for deep-cleaning” when the family tried to order food in person. Seeing that there were other patrons still sitting and eating in the restaurant, Lee decided to go in himself, which is when the Real Milk & Honey allegedly was willing to seat the group.

“I walked in and they did recognize me and offered their services, but I respectfully declined,” Lee says. “I’m a normal person, I pay for my food like everybody else.”

Lee adds in the video that he noticed several restaurants in Atlanta seemed to have “rules” that employees had to follow and he theorizes that’s why they initially turned away his family an hour before closing.

The Real Milk & Honey’s website has a list of rules, including prohibiting patrons from asking for modifications on signature brunch items and that entrees prepared “to our menu specifications” will not be comped, even if customers have complaints.

The Real Milk & Honey did not respond to In The Know by Yahoo’s request for comment. However, in an Instagram post from Oct. 31, the restaurant did clarify that the rules on the site are “outdated.” The restaurant also specified it’s more about “vibes” than rules.

Kevol Graham, the co-founder of Kokomo and OxKale NYC, two Caribbean restaurants in Brooklyn, N.Y., told In The Know by Yahoo that it’s common for restaurant general managers or owners to implement these types of rules in order to keep things running smoothly.

“These rules are set to make sure the service that the specific business wants to offer is received properly by each and every guest,” Graham explained. “Things can get busy pretty quickly in restaurant settings, so the rules that restaurants put in place aren’t always to limit the things patrons can or can’t do — it’s to also make sure things run smoothly.”

The Atlanta Breakfast Club also had rules, including one under which the group was reportedly unable to order even glasses of water until the entire party was seated.

At Old Lady Gang, Lee says his family encountered a situation similar to that of the Real Milk & Honey in which the group struggled to order takeout. According to DoorDash, Old Lady Gang accepts orders only Monday through Thursday.

In The Know by Yahoo also called the number listed for Old Lady Gang twice and confirmed, like Lee’s experience, that nobody picked up and the voicemail for the restaurant was said to be full.

Lee says in his video that a representative from Old Lady Gang told him they’d been trying to contact him to get him to visit the restaurant. When Lee sent his family inside to get a table, the staff told them that there would be a lengthy wait. But when Lee walked into the restaurant, he claimed he was told they could be seated in five minutes.

Again, Lee says, he left because he wanted to be treated like a normal person — a sentiment that won over a lot of viewers who have been fans of his food reviews.

Reality star Burruss, who conceptualized Old Lady Gang in 2016, responded to Lee’s review with a video of her own. In it, she says she’s sorry Lee and his family couldn’t try the food and explains the takeout order rules.

“On the weekends, we get a lot of community support, people in our city that show up for us, as well as a lot of people from out of town,” she says. “So, with that being said, we don’t want to overwhelm our kitchen by having to, you know, have such long times for the people who are actually at the restaurant, plus having to do to-go orders.”

She does not address Lee being offered seating within five minutes of arriving when his family had been told to wait for over an hour.

Food critic Eden Hagos chimed in to say she’s had similar experiences at Atlanta restaurants and theorized that brunch spots were evolving to match the lively nightlife in the city.

“There’s bottle service, there’s hookah being offered, there isn’t an option of making reservations,” Hagos says in her video. “It creates a hype for these kinds of restaurants, but it doesn’t necessarily create a good experience for you as a guest.”

Atlanta locals are seemingly celebrating Lee’s viral videos for the exposure of these common difficulties at popular restaurants. In an Instagram Live, rapper Cardi B admitted to name-dropping herself at Atlanta restaurants to get seated.

Lee’s social media presence has tapped into something that was missing from the seemingly countless other food review accounts dedicated to major cities. From late 2022 to early 2023, his account exploded with millions of new followers and he was honored on TikTok’s inaugural Visionary Voices list for being a “disrupter” in the industry.

Lee’s audience trusts his reviews — a rarity for such a big influencer — and that trust is what viewers seem to crave from content creators. Earlier this year, the Tarte Dubai beauty influencer trip cemented how audiences were tired of creators promoting products that didn’t seem authentic to their personalities. On the Tarte-sponsored trip, Alix Earle even posted about a completely different beauty brand.

Despite his ever-growing audience and popularity, Lee made it clear in his Atlanta reviews that he wanted to still pay for the food and didn’t want his presence to influence how the restaurant reacted. Through his videos, he’s also helped struggling small restaurants, which some have dubbed “the Keith effect.”

“I stand on my integrity. I stand on my values and I don’t allow those to be wavered or to be shook no matter the amount of money, the opportunity or the people I’m surrounded by,” Lee told NBC News in February. “I’ve moved like me and I don’t move like anybody else.”

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The post Why does TikTok trust Keith Lee so much? His viral Atlanta restaurant troubles explain the appeal appeared first on In The Know.

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