Maggie O’Neill
Maggie O’Neill

With a consumer base that spans all ages, with tastes that are even more varied, brands in the food and beverage industry need to focus. Successful brands find a way to lock into their core value proposition — think TGI Friday’s and their Endless Apps — listen to customers at all touchpoints and remember to address key elements in the entire dining experience from Google restaurant search to paying the tab. Ready for a drink yet?

With this large task at hand, here are four factors that are shaping the way consumers embrace brands today, all of which look poised to stay on the menu for some time to come.

O'Dwyer's Mar. '18 Food & Beverage PR MagazineThis article is featured in O'Dwyer's Mar. '18 Food & Beverage PR Magazine

Local, local, local

Whether shopping or dining, consumers continue to look for all things local. And while larger restaurants or food and beverage brands may struggle to actually be the corner bar, there are elements of communications that can support this consumer desire.

For example, when developing an activation in restaurant, make sure you take the local flavor and tastes into account. Partner with a local distiller for special cocktail nights, or look to a local food source to add some new spice to traditional dishes. In addition to the in-restaurant experience, actively work to create content that can be shaped by the local establishments to better appeal to their fan base and followers. Find a local ingredient to add to a salad promotion on Caesar Salad Day, or engage with a local employee to talk about their favorite salad toppings. Don’t be so regimented with a corporate brand voice that local cannot be a part of a guest’s experience.

Think like Sam Malone

For those who remember Sam Malone from Cheers, this is a pretty simple statement. People like to feel they belong at their chosen bar or restaurant (“Where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came ...”). Looking at a food-and-beverage brand through this lens can help make the drinking and/or dining experience all that more appealing, and can increase loyalty and subsequent visits.

In restaurant, brands need to focus on their staff to ensure they are acting the part and bringing the brand to life for each and every guest. Outside of a restaurant, Sam Malone can come to life in multiple ways. Brands should look to reinforce their own personal Sam Malone with expert mixologists, bartender wisdom, wine aficionados and approachable chefs. These voices (and faces) can serve to elevate the brand through social content and media lifestyle engagement. And the Sam Malone mindset must go across all channels, communications and engagements in order to be effective. Brands and agencies that don’t apply this mindset will be left behind.

Think guest-tech, not just tech

Technology for technology’s sake has never really succeeded, and that is even truer in the world of food and beverage. From digital waiters and mobile payments to high-tech wine openers and the latest in kitchen gadgets, many restaurants are trying to out-tech each other, leaving some guests unhappy. For brand leads and communicators responsible for launching and talking about the latest tech, one rule stands true: technology must be guest-forward first.

Take the Coravin Wine Preservation Opener. While not completely new to the market, the technology is showing up more and more in the dining experience. For brands incorporating this gadget, communications should not focus on its availability, but on the wine experience it can deliver: better access to normally unopened bottles, fresher wine, etc. Focusing too much on tech can quickly disinterest a guest.

Foodies: forever influential

Influence continues to come from the foodie community. Whether influence comes from Instagrammers, bloggers or other platform leaders, the food culture continues to drive the food and beverage experience. Their influence is becoming more dynamic, more complex and more important. Brands and communicators need to work with these food-forward influencers to create an image for their brand that is authentic, relevant, engaging and anything but staged. These Foodies can, and should, be engaged with at both macro and micro levels to support brand needs, as well as through both paid and organic initiatives. In addition, the influencers’ core followers are foodies at heart, so engagement should not just encourage Instagrammers to snap the latest food porn, but inspire their followers to join them for dinner as well.

So eat and drink up! The menu of opportunities is endless when communicators focus on the guest over the brand and look at the whole experience over just the entrée.


Maggie O’Neill is partner and managing director at Peppercomm, and provides agency-wide communications and brand experience support to the agency’s expanding portfolio of consumer clients. In addition, she is the founder and driver of Peppercomm’s experiential service offering, responsible for its growth and direction.