Restaurants have had a particularly rough time during COVID, and many of them sadly won’t come out the other side. For those who remain, and for those who have managed to open during the last 18 months, getting diners to support them is key to survival.
Letting people know about your restaurant, and then getting them to come and try your food, and then turning them into repeat customers who will spread the word, is vital.
Restaurant PR can be hard to secure, but there are several ways to get your restaurant noticed and to gain a following that will hopefully be key to long-term success.
1. Do your research
Look at local news sites to find the name of their resident food blogger, or even better the food editor. These people spend most evenings eating out at new establishments, so if you want to get a mention on their all-important pages, reach out to them and invite them for a (free) meal, or even better, for them to experience everything on the menu in tasting form. Invite them AND a plus one, because you’ve got a better chance of them turning up.
If they accept, make sure you prearrange a day and time for them to come, so you can make sure your front of house and kitchen staff are fully prepared. Ensure you are on hand to greet them (look them up online to see what they look like, although sometimes they go incognito and you can’t find a photo!) and walk them through the menu as you bring dishes to the table. I’ve heard of cases where influential food writers showed up, and were left to fend for themselves AND foot the bill.
Those reviews weren’t glowing. Some writers may insist on paying, so let them if they want to, as they might not want to be “influenced” by the owner.
2. Be unique
Come up with something for your menu that no one else is doing. Think along the lines of the $100 burger, or the steak that’s wrapped in gold leaf. Those might not be your style, but the point is, a unique menu item has a better chance of getting you some media coverage. Once you’ve created it, let everyone know about it!
3. Arrange a kitchen tour
Some food writers like to see behind the scenes, s invite a few of them (they mostly know each other) to come to the restaurant for a full tour of the kitchen, followed by a selection of items to enjoy from the menu. Having people along in a group rather than one on one can reduce the cost of individual free meals, but you need to make it special in order to entice them. Provide transportation and maybe a gift box or a welcome cocktail, and set aside time to talk to them before service so that the kitchen isn’t slammed, but where staff can make food just for them.
4. Give them what they want
If you serve breakfast, why not make some breakfast items and have them delivered to the local TV and radio stations, as well as the local online news outlet once they start the day? You’re a late night establishment? Deliver something to those media folks who are still at work to get them through the end of their shift. If you want a shout-out during coverage of an event, send your team to deliver food to people who are covering that event – sports commentators, breaking news reporters (only when it’s good news happening!), election night teams etc. These people are usually hungry, always grateful, and will generally give a generous plug for your business if you feed them!
5. Passing it on, and sharing your knowledge
While the way to go used to be getting on TV shows to do a cooking segment (and that’s still a GREAT thing to pitch if you can), there are fewer stations doing that now, and even where they exist, often the facilities are not as conducive to live cooking as they used to be (thanks to smaller budgets and not as many maintenance folks around to look after the equipment). Organize a public cooking demo where people come to you to watch as an audience. Get involved in community events where you are making and donating food – it’s a great exercise in letting people know about the values you have as a business. Create your own cooking videos where you share recipes and cook things up, sharing your knowledge and teaching people how to make it themselves.
This provides great online content for your social media channels and you can even send those links to local influencers for inclusion on their blogs. You can then become the go-to person for cooking-related stories when they need a spokesperson!