A Review of RI Food Fights, More Harm Than Good?

by Victor Martelle
Updated:

RI Food Fights (or RIFoodFights, Rhode Island Food Fights) is an organization based not only in the small ocean state of Rhode Island, but also has a branch in Portland (Portland Food Fights). The Rhode Island branch however, seems to be the focus, boasting thousands of followers on Instagram and Facebook. They’ve grown in their popularity throughout the years with a simple business strategy: selling tickets where one can redeem for food, drinks, and other items at participating restaurants and shops. With this popularity, there’s been reviews which include both criticisms and praise of the organization. This is my review, based on experiences and observation while also drawing on those that participated alongside me, as well as taking note of customer reviews.

My journey started some time ago where I participated in RI Food Fights. Thoroughly enjoying it, I ended up sticking around for several years, buying tickets to any events they hosted. I even got many friends and family to buy tickets where they’d often join me. Their events were so awesome, I promoted them freely on my social media and on this website.

However, one day, I received a phone call by the owner, Jim Nellis, alerting me of his concerns about leaving anything other than positive reviews for participating businesses and using the RI Food Fights name alongside it. Truth be told, on rare occasions, the food, service, atmosphere, or some combination left a bad taste in my mouth, to which was indicated in the review. But more often than not, positive reviews were left, where I averaged around 4 / 5 stars overall. Nonetheless, after this phone conversation, I made sure to be extra careful, especially not to mention the RI Food Fights name in my more negative reviews.

A few months after, I was greeted with another, lengthy phone call, essentially saying that despite no longer using the RI Food Fights name in reviews, my participation is no longer welcome due to less than stellar reviews on a few businesses who complained to him. Lastly, not long after that, I was banned from their Instagram for suggesting another business was better than another on one of their posts.

Despite my negative experience, there are goods that come from RI Food Fights, of which there are several. Going back though, to note, my experience isn’t isolated because in fact, it’s similar to experiences from those that participated alongside me as well as what some reviews indicate if you were to look around. Nonetheless, I encourage readers to form their own opinion and do their own research.

The Good

Rhode Island Food Fights does present a lot of positives both to businesses and customers. The big positive take away is that RI Food Fights introduces folks to new cuisines and cultures through food. And experiences are not just limited to food as you often meet people along the way—friendship through eating! In summary, there’s plenty of good things that this organization brings to the community.

  • Provides an often cheaper way to try a variety of different locations and foods.
  • Introduces new restaurants, businesses, and cultures to those unfamiliar.
  • It’s a great way to socialize with others as you get to meet others alongside the journey. Despite events being spread over a month long, most days you go (to most locations), you’ll find at least one other person there redeeming their tickets. On weekends, this increases a lot, and you may find yourself making new friends.
  • It has grown the foodie community and has helped put the the spotlight on the diverse, appetizing Rhode Island culinary scene.
  • Two awards are given, the “People’s Choice” and the “Judge’s Choice.” This may help alleviate the bias and unrecognition that can come from selecting a single winner.

The Bad

Rhode Island Food Fights, despite its positives, does have many notable downsides. These extend to both customers and businesses, so it’s important that those participating understand what they’re getting to.

  • Community sentiment is mostly negative, see here, here, here, and here.
  • Businesses do not get a cut of ticket sales. Instead, they rely on customers buying additional items. I’ve observed that most customers do not buy additional items at all locations which skews some of their improperly worded end-of-event, “best spot” voting survey results (see image below)—they could present these results to businesses, i.e., “Hi business XYZ, we found that customers buy food at locations they visit so this is a good investment” without acknowledging that customers may have only bought an additional item at a single location even if they visited several.
RI Food Fights survey question that asked if the customer bought food at any location.
  • Despite all businesses relying on social media and other promotions, RI Food Fights often only promotes the bigger name participants.
  • Leaving anything other than positive reviews about participating businesses may result in a ban of RI Food Fights events. Additionally, negative and competitive related comments on their social media are often removed and may result in the user being banned from the page.
  • Events can be canceled and refunds are difficult to come by due to unresponsive customer support. There were instances where an event was canceled and a general survey was sent out asking if people wanted refunds or to hold onto tickets. However, indicating you wanted a refund didn’t mean you’d actually get one. Emails were fruitless.
  • It’s sometimes cheaper to buy the food directly from the restaurant.
  • Many participating businesses are far away from city centers and on occasion, not even located in Rhode Island. What happens if an out of state restaurant wins this Rhode Island event?
  • Some places charge obligatory high gratuity and tax.
  • Since many businesses offer a small, specific selection for event goers, they often go out of stock and are unable to fulfill the ticket.
  • Anyone with a link can vote for the best place even if they (the voter) didn’t participate. Additionally, surveys never close. Example from a 2019 event.
  • “How did they win?”
  • Buying tickets after an event has already started proves difficult as tickets are mailed out prior to events which means you may have to contact their unresponsive customer support.
  • Their website is seldom updated with helpful information and winners. In fact, as of April 25th, 2023, the last winners of the event listed were from 2020.
  • Portland Food Fights seemingly vanished, leaving some customers concerned (see images below).
Portland Rhode Island Food Fights complaints on Instagram.

Below comments are from the above screenshot.

RI Food Fights (Portland Food Fights) comments on Instagram page.
RI Food Fights (Portland Food Fights) comments on Instagram page.
RI Food Fights (Portland Food Fights) comments on Instagram page.
Rhode Island & Portland Food Fights negative Facebook reviews.

In summary…

My overall personal experience alongside participating family and friends has been negative, and there’s other participants pointing corroborating similar (and other) experiences. Frankly, it’s disheartening to see how those involved, from participants to businesses, are treated. Ultimately, your best bet to avoid these potential headaches and have the most positive experience is to avoid the middleman and instead support your local businesses directly. In addition, food promoters need to take due care when promoting this business given its mixed reviews.

For RI Food Fights to improve, they need to be more transparent to businesses and their customers. So long are the days of not responding to customer concerns all the while, supporting participating businesses more through equal promotions and cuts to ticket sales. Also not to mention addressing the concerns I bulleted above! Long story short, everyone involved should feel good to participate and know that by doing so, the community is bettered. Until then, those that think of participating in RI Food Fights must really weigh their options.


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