Last week I connected with a veteran restaurateur from my days in Houston, TX. It had been 15 years since we last talked and Restaurant Branding roadmap blog reunited us.  Love when that happens!

Anyhow, his restaurant has been around for over 40 years. It’s an icon in the city, it has a great reputation and it’s still going strong. Despite all this good stuff, he’s finding it challenging to generate news buzz. He asked me about the best ways to earn a share of publicity among all the new restaurant spots opening, the young, tattooed chefs and breaking news.


That’s a great question.  Here’s what I told him.

3 ideas to help score restaurant publicity.
The goal of the media both on and offline is to deliver news.  Your restaurant has either got be newsworthy or you’ve got to create something that merits covering.  Granted, we’ve all seen our share of lame stories that make the news and you scratch your head and say: “I can’t believe that was on the news tonight!”

Life is not fair and often publicity is about timing and a little luck. Don’t be frustrated. Do what it takes to increase your chances of getting your share of media attention.  Earning positive publicity is an important brand building strategy.

1) Take your relevancy pulse.
Whether you are talking about potential diners or a news reporter, it’s critical to be relevant. Even legacy restaurants need to stay fresh and current or they’ll get lost in the dust and be branded as that place my grandmother likes. For optimal relevancy, understanding demographics and who’s dining out is key.

The Millennial generation (those born between 1981 and 2002) is expected to outspend Baby Boomers by 2017, according to a research study unveiled by Berglass + Associates and Women’s Wear Daily.  Being relevant to this important market is more than making sure you offer popular and trendy food items and that your place reflects a contemporary vibe in your décor, especially to this group.

Being relevant means the face of your brand, specifically your online presence looks like 2015 and not 1990. According to this generation will do most of its dining research online so you should be prepared.

 “Raised on cell phones and the web, they [millenials] are technologically savvy as well. Restaurant marketers can’t underestimate that relationship with technology. Millennials use social and mobile media to collect most advice, including where they should dine.”

Beyond diners, today news reporters find background on a business from a website, too. So even if your restaurant persona has a traditional charm, if your technology feels old and dated is sends the wrong message.  A 2015 website needs to be responsive to all mobile devices and make sharing its content easy. This means by every morsel of information from location to hours to the menu should be easy to find and view. There should also be social media buttons, so all readers can share what they learn and love about your restaurant.

If you want to see a couple great examples of 2015 looking restaurant websites here are a couple of my favorites.

FlowerChildRestaurantFlower Child restaurant 

Flower Child is part of Tucson-based Fox Restaurant Concepts. They have 15 concepts, 39 locations and counting.  See all of these sites here on their site.

FoxResturantConceptsFox Restaurant Concepts

With the low cost of open source technology these days, there’s no reason for a successful operator to have a site that looks like 1990.

2) Position your chef as an expert and give him or her a star role in your messaging.
This can be achieved by giving them prominent positioning on your website’s home page or about page. Inside your site, make sure you really tout their expertise beyond a simple bio. Include all of their accomplishments, all of their publicity, a headshot and other photos that showcase them in action. Use shots that express their human side with their unique personality.

Your chef should have an active voice in your blog. If they are not a great writer, hire a ghost writer to create content. Your chef/food expert needs to post at least monthly with photos. This content can span from charity events news items, to entertaining tips and recipes. Remember, current content on your site is not only good for your visitors it will help your search engine results, too. 

3)  Be proactive and make publicity a priority.
Publicity is not like advertising where you get to dictate the coverage. You’ve got to earn it.  If your place has been around a while you’ve  got a bigger challenge. Because you’re not new, you won’t be featured on many of the popular restaurant news sites that only feature openings and closings. So you’ve got to create news and give the media reasons to cover you. Here are some PR angle/story pitch ideas for an established restaurant:

  • Make a celebration around an anniversary or milestone newsworthy
  • Leverage a new trending food ingredient on an old favorite or staple menu item
  • Develop creative events and promotions that appeal to segmented target markets like: for professional women, host a “Shoes and Chardonnay pairing” or for Millennials schedule “Early Tweet Bird Specials” in a hip, funky way with a Twitter twist

Whether you do this in house or hire an outside firm, you’ve got to stay be visible and present news worthy angles to the right journalists. Here are some critical actions to help build a successful PR program.

>Build and use a media list  
Every restaurant should have a list of target local and national journalists, print, broadcast, restaurant reviewers and influential bloggers. These people come and go and change beats, so making sure your list is current is key. Every month, you should invite someone from your list to lunch or dinner. Don’t pitch or try to sell them, build a relationship with them.

>Be assertive and schedule quarterly outreach
Every restaurant should have at least 6 newsworthy angles annually that go out to your media list. These can be in the form of a pitch letter where you directly ask a journalist to cover your news, a media alert (short memo covering your hook) or a traditional press release.

Here are a few angles that may fit your restaurant with some customization.

  • (Food/lifestyle reporters) Take advantage of any holiday from New Years to national mushroom day to share recipes from your place.
  • (Food/lifestyle reporters) Demonstrate how a trend is manifesting at your place. For example, the rise of community tables, tasting menus or even how restaurants are offering non- beverage happy hours, like a desert and java from 2-5.
  • (Business reporter) Business news can include a location remodel, new business model, adding jobs to local economy to even how customers get to pay for food at your place with some alternative currency like good grades (for kids), community service (an individuals) or by sharing pictures on social media.
  • (Reporter will depend on what you poll) Take a poll with your customers and pitch the results. For example you can ask them to predict a winner, from a sports team to a Politician to ask them what their favorite comfort food when they are really stressed.

The idea with this proactive publicity approach is, not everything will earn you coverage, it’s a numbers game and like I said earlier timing. Slow news day are your opportunity to score some ink.

>Leverage your coverage
Every time you earn publicity add links, video and images to your website, your blog and social media channels. This way if a customer, prospect or journalist missed the coverage when it happened, you’ll still get the credibility benefit.

The marketplace is crowded and noisy, but with some creativity, you can earn your restaurant the publicity that it deserves.

We also recommend you read our past blogs on the subject here:

Need a shot of spotlight on your brand? Earn publicity
7 steps to make it happen – part 1 of a 2 part series
You want publicity? More easy tips – part 2 of 2 part series

Need more help? We’ve created a publicity book with step by step tips. 

PR step by step

Do you have a question for us? We’d love to answer it here on the blog. You can email us jring[at]restaurantbrandingroadmap[dot]com or reach us on our Facebook page or Tweet us.

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