From a snappy media invitation for the launch of your seafood restaurant to the simplicity of word of mouth, selecting a strategy for publicising your new business requires thinking outside the square.
Whether it’s online food blogging, chef profiles in the glossies, a hot restaurant review or a dish profile in your local paper, food is the new fashion and positive publicity can be a sure fire way of getting bums on seats.
But getting the marketing mix right when it comes to spreading the word about your restaurant or catering business can be a complex exercise that requires skill, know-how and a little bit of luck.
It’s easy enough to send out a press release extolling the virtues of your brand new enterprise but what are the pros and cons of unleashing the media beast?
Melbourne-based publicity expert Clemence Harvey has been in the publicity business for 13 years. She believes understanding when to contact the media can make or break your business.
“The worst option is to get someone from the media along and get a bad review,” Harvey says.
“A lot of businesses are mum and dad operations that require long hours and margins are slim. You need to start by being creative and finding a point of difference, whether it’s a great interior design job, a high profile chef with an interesting background or a maitre d who has worked in some of the best hotels in the world.
“Then, once you’ve got a product that is absolutely humming there will be a news story to be found. Food is a fashion and a conduit for many things which is great from a news perspective. It might be something as simple as a new menu at an Indian restaurant like ‘vindaloo against violence’ every Wednesday night, but you need to think long and hard about what is going to give you a unique selling point to help you become a destination.”
Harvey also recommends setting aside a small budget for hosting hand-picked guests who know how to get people talking about your enterprise.
“While it’s important not to fritter away money, it can be very helpful to invite a group of respected and influential reviewers and journalists to help spread the word.”
For Lorna Marns at The Naked Fig in Perth, the publicity strategy was to avoid involving media in the early stages, preferring to rely on word of mouth and a healthy client base from her more established nearby venture, The Wild Fig. “We made a conscious decision not to do a lot of advertising,” Marns says.
“We had a loyalty program at The Wild Fig which helped us create a database with 3000 people on it and huge number of regulars who support us. We did a couple of emails to people on that database before we opened and then another when we finally did. We had some posters and table talkers promoting the second business but it was intentionally not much. Luckily, we were busy from day one.”
Word of mouth is considered the most effective form of marketing over and above advertising, with many business owners subscribing to what is known as the 20/80 rule: Twenty per cent of your audience is responsible for 80 per cent of your revenue.
“It was definitely the best strategy for us. However, we did end up having a review in the first month of opening,” says Marns.
“We knew there were areas we needed to improve on. It helped cash flow but was hard on the staff and on systems development.”
For the owner of Soda Sunlounge, Ben Andrijasevich, getting a great review has really caused things to rocket along.
“Not long after we first opened in October we had a small article done on us, which was positive, and we were just recently reviewed in a major metro newspaper here in Perth, which was again positive,” he explains.
“They are great for business. You certainly notice the hike in trade after the review if you are fortunate enough to get them. They are a great thing that can happen for your business.”
It’s no secret that most reviewers come unannounced, uninvited and remain anonymous—preferring to capture a snapshot of the everyday running of your business. “You receive a phone call a couple of days after they’ve been in telling you you’ve been reviewed,” Andrijasevich recalls.
“Consistency is one of the major parts of what we do. Without that you won’t have a client base or good reviews. Once you’ve pitched where you’re at and how you’re going to run, it’s a constant effort to keep standards running along those lines.”
Educational manager for the hospitality school at TAFE SA, Justin Foot, advises that a diverse range of marketing tools used effectively can really put you ahead of the pack. He teaches his hospitality students that once you’ve established who your market is, where you fit from a pricing perspective, and who your competition is, it’s time to make the most of all the modern tools of the trade.
“Press releases can be crucial when the time is right. They help create exposure to media as well as all your community links,” Foot says.
Adverting is useful and if you have a suburban restaurant then local papers can be great for that. A food and wine guide section is ideal.
“Many of your core customers will come from a four kilometre radius.”
A Facebook page is effective and cheap, as is Twitter, Foot says.
A mailing list helps you to collect customer records. Flyers sent out regarding specially created events, promos and specials are also a great way to market a new business. “People love menus on a window, or on a stand outside they can see while walking down the street—and don’t underestimate the power of having a website,” he says.
“The White and Yellow Pages Online provide a link to your own website. That way, potential diners can browse in their own time, looking at pricing and menus before they commit.
“Our research shows that 80 per cent of people are looking to dine in a restaurant will Google online for contact details. Having a website
complements that trend.”
Tips and Tricks
- Get talking. Word of mouth is considered the most effective form of marketing. It is widely understood that 20 per cent of your audience is responsible for 80 per cent of your revenue.
- A picture paints a thousand words. Promoting your business is not all about words and media releases. Invest in quality images of your environment and your dishes for use in ‘above the line’ (ie: ads in magazines) and ‘below the line’ (ie: direct mail) media.
- There are many ways to secure editorial and media coverage. Think television, radio, specialised trade magazines and do not underestimate the power of internet food bloggers.
- Think outside the square when it comes to who might be interested in reading about you. For example, if you have done a really interesting fit-out think about architectural magazines. If you’ve had a string of successful restaurants, perhaps business publications are in order? Or if you are launching a seafood restaurant with green credentials, aim for publications interested in sustainable fishing practices for environmental writers in the major metropolitan newspapers.