Caroline Callaway & Adrienne Wojtaszek
Caroline Callaway (L) and Adrienne Wojtaszek co-authored this article.

As of last year, the restaurant industry was projected to hit nearly $800 billion in sales in the U.S., according to the National Restaurant Association. With more than a million restaurant locations across the country, restaurateurs are constantly working to differentiate themselves, attract new customers and build and maintain a loyal customer base. Many turn to the help of PR agencies and professionals, seeking to increase awareness and reach new audiences.

Just as restaurateurs are trying to rise above the noise of the market, PR agencies must do the same to attract and retain restaurant partners. From lavish grand opening events and publicity stunts in Times Square to small budget campaigns with single-location restaurants, PR professionals must find ways to maximize the value of everything they do and drive foot traffic to the restaurant.

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

Know the value of communication

In all communication, we want to share not only what the client needs to know, but also anticipate future needs, and hence deliver more value. What’s going on in the industry, and in the world, and what impact might that have on the client? What are competitors doing and how does that affect this client?

We challenge ourselves to provide added value in every client communication. Just a small example, but when sending press clips, we include the outlet’s social media handle for easy cross-promotion on the client’s owned social networks and relevant hashtags to include. When creating prep sheets for media interviews or influencer tastings, we include a photo of the contact, a description of their work and links to prior posts or articles so the client can familiarize themselves with the reporter or influencer and know what to expect. In something as simple as sending an email to acknowledge receipt of a deliverable, we include context on how we’ll leverage this information or asset in our overall strategy.

The value isn’t only in the communication itself, but when and how it’s communicated. We have to keep in mind how quickly things move in the restaurant world, so we challenge ourselves to be incredibly responsive to our clients’ needs. We challenge ourselves to constantly bring new ideas to the table, provide the full scope of information needed for the client’s approval and move on it quickly. In this way, we’re maximizing every interaction to keep up with the client’s everyday pace.

Do something different

Every restaurant is unique, so it follows that every restaurant PR campaign should be unique. We challenge ourselves to think differently and not simply do what we’ve always done. At the start of a partnership, we think about what makes this particular restaurant special. Sure, there are lessons learned and tried-and-true tactics that we know will drive results, but it’s how we apply those lessons and customize our approach that adds value.

In partnering with a national fast-casual chain for grand opening campaigns in multiple markets across the country, we applied what we already knew about the brand but then approached each restaurant as an individual client. We evaluated what was unique about each specific location. We researched each neighborhood to understand what those communities really care about and, from there, identified potential local partners and cross-promotional opportunities. If the brand didn’t already have a presence in a particular market, we approached the campaign in a slightly different way to educate the public about the brand in addition to raising awareness for their new location. We couldn’t rely on what we’d always done; each restaurant deserved its own strategy and plan focused on what would drive results for that particular location.

When we partnered with a small, single-location restaurant, we heard the owner’s concern about lacking lunchtime sales despite being in a busy, walkable downtown location. We immediately tapped into the community in a hyperlocal and meaningful way, reaching out to local event organizers and influential local businesspeople, such as realtors, bankers and consultants, to offer promotions and referral opportunities. We layered our traditional media relations strategy with influencer outreach, corporate partnerships, nonprofit partnerships, social media marketing and grassroots community relations. While we had employed many of these tactics in the past, it was how we shaped them in a focused and hyperlocal way that made all the difference and drove a significant increase in lunchtime traffic to our client.

Be a true partner

From working long hours and addressing myriad reviews, to cooking, cleaning and ordering ingredients and supplies, we can only begin to understand the life of a restaurateur. To be a true partner, we must understand our client’s business and do what we can to make their life easier. After all, they have a restaurant to run.

When scheduling events, we should always step back to understand the demands on the kitchen staff. When coordinating a media or influencer tasting, we should be aware of the chef’s and owner’s ability to step away and welcome their guest. For staff members who haven’t been exposed to media or influencers, we can take the opportunity to provide some extra guidance and training.

For the CEO of a fast-growing restaurant chain, we scheduled deskside interviews with the editors of top outlets. We coordinated the interviews and delivered the day’s schedule and interview prep sheets to the client. Then we stepped back and evaluated how we could make our client’s life a little easier. How could we add more value? That’s when we insisted on picking the client up at the train station that morning and driving him to each appointment. The value was in allowing the client to completely focus on his interviews and not spend a moment worrying about the logistics and opening an app to line up his next ride. He nailed those interviews and we’ve had an amazing relationship that’s lasted for years.

The opportunity

In everything we do on behalf of our restaurant clients, we can’t just go through the motions; we must be prepared to do the heavy lifting. No matter how well we communicate our ideas, or just how brilliant they might be, ideas mean nothing if not executed in a thoughtful and proactive way. And we must be prepared to adapt our tactics rather than doing what we’ve always done; all the press coverage in the world doesn’t matter if it’s not driving traffic through the door, increasing online orders, increasing catering business and, ultimately, increasing food and beverage sales.

The need continues to increase for both restaurateurs and PR agencies to differentiate themselves. What value are you bringing to the table this year?


Caroline Callaway is president and founder of Bolt PR, and Adrienne Wojtaszek is Bolt senior director of agency services.