Monday, December 5, 2016

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Restaurant Public Relations


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What does a PR person do and how can one help my restaurant?

Well for one thing, a press person—a PR specialist, is like a liaison between you, the client, and the media. PR people know the media, have built relationships with them and can usually pick up the phone and get through to them. A PR person can get their attention about something they want them to see; and most important, they know when not to bother them. PR is a source; we're full of resources and have the list of the key food media that need to know about your restaurant.

Do we need a press person or can I do this myself?

If you have invested all your resources and hard work and energy into a great restaurant, why not take it one step further? PR is essential. Whether you do it in-house or hire a firm, put the word out in a professional manner about your restaurant. We live in one of the most competitive markets and it's hard to get recognized. You may have received an outstanding review. Great. Now leverage that review to bring you more ink in all sorts of media. You don't have to hire PR from the outside, but before you dismiss the idea, take the time to learn about the PR process. You will surely see why PR is an important area to invest in, whether they work for you on your staff or from an outside agency.

What does good PR cost?

Everything is negotiable, especially during these times, but remember, you pay for what you get. An average hourly fee of a PR person can range from $50 to $200. Monthly retainers range from $500 to $5000.Think about what you can spend for your restaurant, say $1000 a month, and ask the consultant for a targeted plan. Be clear about expectations. Know that PR is a process; especially if you want national hits. A six-month lead time is essential in those cases. Remember, PR doesn't just happen, it's a long-term investment and you have to tend to it; just like a garden.

How do I find a good PR person that won’t “redefine” my restaurant?

Talk to several different people. Be very clear on your expectations. Talk to some of the clients they represent. Talk to some of the media they work with. Most of our referrals come from other clients in the industry, or from media. If you are really clear about what you want, your vision for your restaurant, then how you communicate that to the potential PR person is essential. And hold them accountable—every month. I want my clients to take part in their PR, to work together. It's a partnership and honest communication is vital.

How long do we need a PR person? Do we need to pay them all the time?

No, but to capitalize on your initial investment, be sure you have someone in house, whether it is yourself as owner, or a manager, who will listen and learn from the PR person so that you can carry on with some of the efforts. There are things you can do to keep the momentum going such as sending quarterly menus to the local media, developing events, new menu items and getting that information to the press. PR expertise helps you understand how to find your angle of news and how to present it to a media outlet. Listen and learn. It's not rocket science but it takes lots of follow-up, patience, keen listening skills, and the ability and willingness to develop relationships with the members of the press. You can always reduce what you initially pay someone just to "keep you in the loop" so that when media call, they will still recommend you.

When is a PR campaign not a good idea? (My restaurant is already successful.)

There's a lot to be said for the little restaurant that sits on a corner, in a neighborhood, that doesn't even have a sign, and the locals know it well. My buddy who owns it has never really focused on PR. He does a benefit once a year. A PR campaign for him may not serve him in a big way because most of his customers know him or have heard about his place through other friends in the neighborhood. However, if done well, PR can only enhance what you have; you can still maintain the integrity of your place if you are clear about what you put out in your PR materials. There may be potential customers out there just waiting to find you.

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What other methods, besides reviews, can I use to get my restaurant in the papers?

Send menus with handwritten notes from the chef noting a new item. Develop an expertise around some unique food item and write a column about it and submit it to the newspaper. (Be sure it's well written and edited!) Work with a non-profit organization and put out a press release on your efforts. Write personal notes to the writers you read, and acknowledge them if they have inspired you. PR is about developing relationships. Take the time to get to know a writer and they may eventually consider you a source of information and call you in the future


How do I get reviewers to return after an initially bad review?

A bad review forces a restaurant to take stock and really do an in depth house cleaning. Whether that means getting a new general manager, chef or changing the menu, changes are inevitable. So, do your work and then invite the reviewer back in with a new menu. Encourage your customers to voice their opinions to the reviewers. A reviewer once told me that he re-reviews based on public opinion; whether it's really good and shown improvement, or whether it's really bad.

You want a review? Develop a campaign of your devoted fans.

How can I repair damage done by a bad review?

Bad reviews force change—on lots of levels. I'm sure by now you have rallied your staff to pull together as a team. If the chef or general manager needs some time off, figure out what can be done in the future to make sure the restaurant is still functioning well. Wait a few months and write the reviewer a note with a menu and invite him/her back in. Take care of your loyal customers. Seek customers in new areas. Send a notice with a new menu to the concierges, others who may refer customers to you. Most important, take stock of what's going on inside your shop. Bottom line: if the chef or general manager needs time off occasionally, things should still work when he/she's away.

How do we handle the many donation requests from nonprofits?

This is where you have to pick and choose. I always recommend that a restaurant partner with one or two charities and work with them over the course of time. This way your contribution can be more focused and you work together as partners. Usually, restaurants have a budget of how much they can donate, and the requests (those that seem more personal and targeted to the restaurant's desired customers) are the ones that, in my experience, owners will respond to more favorably.

 Does a special meal deal, like $19.95 prix fixe, make us look desperate?

People are looking for value. Offer the specials - frame it however you'd like - be it a tax relief meal to a special spring menu. You don’t look desperate, you're meeting the times with whatever it takes to attract new customers. Better to be proactive and offer something than to stand still and wait until the economy turns. We had a call recently from the New York Times to see if any fine dining restaurants we worked with were offering early bird specials to attract more business. Do whatever it takes. This is the time to move forward.

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When is the best time to host the press for an opening dinner

There are two schools of thought here. The important factor is to inform the media of your opening. There is no problem with waiting several weeks before you invite them in; just send them the invite right before you open so they will know that they're included. You could invite them in early to a cocktail/opening party (where they don't eat a full meal) and then send them an invite to come in for dinner, making reservations in advance so you will know when they are due to come.


Should I have a grand opening event?


Getting food in people’s mouths is one of the best ways you can generate word-of-mouth.  Some of our clients have had great success with big grand opening celebrations, lines out the door and getting plenty of well made signature menu items in people’s mouths.   Feed the community and turn them into fans.  One client, (who invited over 1,500 people to their opening) had such strong sales the following two month’s, we waited several months before even doing any advertising or a direct mail piece to the community.  Creating a buzz and inviting the media to a restaurant opening can be very effective. Some of our clients have gone all out, and the thinking is food cost vs. paying for lots of advertising.

Who do we invite when announcing a new menu and direction?

There are no hard fast rules. You don't have to do a big dinner. You can invite the media in over a period of time so you don't have to close to entertain them. Send them a menu with a note to call and make a reservation to dine. I would limit the time so they will make a point to come, such as over a two-week period; and limit it to weekdays so you don't take up quality seats on Fridays and Saturdays.

Remember, a new menu is a good opportunity to get the press back in and get re-reviewed. So, invite the reviewers of the local papers. Most of their emails are at the end of their reviews. We send many of our invites now electronically and have a good response, so you don't have to do a hard copy invite. Doing something extra for favorite customers is also a great idea. I know they appreciate being a part of any change a favorite restaurant is going through, even if it's a complimentary appetizer or dessert.


The other school of thought, getting food in people’s mouths is one of the best ways you can generate word-of-mouth.  Some of our clients have had great success with big grand opening celebrations, lines out the door and getting food in people’s mouths, in fact their opening was so strong in terms of sales, we waited several months before even doing any advertising or a direct mail piece to the community.


Creating a buzz with the media prior to a restaurant opening can be very effective.  and sometimes it creates a line out the door when you do open.  Some of our clients have gone all out, and the thinking is food cost verses paying for lots of advertising.


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