So you want to host a media tasting? Great idea! Your restaurant can benefit from journalists, bloggers, and social media power users writing about it. It's word of mouth on steroids. However, in order to have a successful outcome, you must plan the tasting event very carefully.
First, you need a strategy! You can't just randomly invite people and give them food. It doesn't quite work that way and you're possibly setting yourself up for a chaotic event. Here are some important things to consider when thinking about or planning a media tasting at your Philadelphia restaurant.
Research your attendees. It's important to get a mix of people at your tasting event - traditional media, food bloggers, and Instagrammers. Before you invite anybody, though, do your research. Take a look at the quality of their work, not just the numbers. Do they really get or understand food and the restaurant business? Are they discerning in their output? In other words, are they showcasing the food and the restaurants they go in an authentic way or are they copy-cats of other influencer profiles? Don't just get "warm bodies" in your establishment; make sure they are authoritative and can say more than "yum" or "delicious." You're not looking for Yelp reviewers after all, you're looking for positive press!
Use Event Registration Tools. Don't rely on email only to invite attendees or manage your RSVPs. Event registration and management tools can help keep you organized and track attendance. It's also a resource that attendees can reference for more information about the tasting and allow them to put the event on their calendars. There are many free tools out there, but my favorite is Eventbrite simply because it offers so many amazing features including the ability to email attendees through the platform, download a list of attendees, and even being able to print name tags. It really is one of the best event management platforms out there. Keep in mind, it is not free if you're going to sell tickets. They take a cut of each ticket sold. But you shouldn't be charging for a media tasting anyway, so use Eventbrite for this purpose!
Develop agenda/flow of event. It's imperative that you create an agenda for the media tasting. This will keep you organized and ensure a timely execution of the event. Make sure you account for everything from beginning to end including any "ground rules." This will cause less stress and chaos and ensure a positive outcome for you and the attendees. If possible, send the agenda to your attendees ahead of the event. They'll love knowing what to expect at the event and be able to plan accordingly.
Create Event Materials. You don't need to go to great expense to create the materials for the tasting event. A simple one-page “Welcome” sheet with the agenda, information about your restaurant, the food they'll be tasting, and any other talking points will be very helpful for the attendees. This helps keep everybody focused and on task! Include links to your website, social media profiles, and any hashtags you'd like them to use while at the tasting as well. Don't expect your attendees will just know everything about you the moment they walk through the doors of your restaurant. Help make their job easier and chances are they'll turn out a great feature on you!
Host/run the event. Don't just "be there" - take charge of your event! You're the host. You need to introduce yourself to the attendees and make them feel welcome. You need to guide the event along every step of the way as well as be available should anybody have any questions. While you may want a casual tasting, don't let it become too casual or it may become chaotic really quick! This is also a great way to create and develop lasting relationships with these folks. Make sure that you talk to everyone who attends. These people took time out of their busy schedules to be there, so make sure they felt that the event was worth their time. You're in the hospitality business. Be hospitable!
Monitor social media during and immediately after the event. Social savvy attendees will likely be posting to social media right away. It is important that you respond to these posts in a timely manner. Be sure to like, comment, and re-share outstanding posts. Engaging with attendees on social media is a great way to continue to build the relationship with them as well as their audience. Being active with them on social media shows good manners and demonstrates you value them as professionals. Don't have social media profiles? Make sure you set them up before you host a media tasting. In fact, make social media a priority if you haven't already.
Communicate after the event. Continue the relationship after the event via email. This is key! You want to be sure that you follow-up with attendees to make sure they have all of the information they need and be available for additional questions. While not everybody may cover the tasting right away or at all, it's important that they know how to find you and that you make yourself available to them anytime. Do not, however, pressure or badger the attendees for coverage. It doesn't pay to be pushy. Simply thank them for their time and be friendly. Hospitality goes a long way.
These media tasting tips are just the tip of the iceberg, though. There's so many other things you can do to ensure the media comes to your restaurant and you get coverage. Need help? Let me know how I can be of service. Contact me.
Owning and operating a restaurant is hard. Restaurant marketing is often a low priority when maintaining restaurant operations. Many restaurants are not hiring someone to handle this important part of their business with good reason. Hiring a restaurant marketing consultant or public relations firm can be expensive. Now more than ever, restaurant owners are handling their own marketing and PR; choosing to do their own media outreach to help get the word out with varied results.
It can be difficult to figure out who to work with. Naturally, traditional media outlets such as newspapers and magazines are still great ways to gain exposure. It takes a lot of work to develop relationships with writers and journalists, though. Good luck getting through to an editor. Advertising can be very expensive and is often cost-prohibitive. What's a restaurant on a budget to do?
These days, many restaurant owners are resorting to working with bloggers and social media influencers to promote their businesses. There are many pros and cons in doing so. The obvious pro is that it is inexpensive. Depending on the blogger, you may be able to work out a barter deal. Simply provide a free meal in exchange for a write-up or review on their blog. Other bloggers may offer low-cost advertising on their sites; this may include a blog article, side-bar ad, or other promotion.
Before you reach out to a blogger, make sure that you fully vet their blog. In other words, do your research. Don't just glance at the blog. Dig deep and scrutinize every aspect of their blog. Here are some things to look out for:
While that is a great deal of information to gather (and trust me -- that's just the tip of the iceberg!), it's important to know who you would be working with and the quality of their work. There are no official blogger standards. Blogs are meant to be pretty informal, but your mileage may vary. Some blogs truly are just a hobby or side project for people. To others, blogs are a professional outlet or side business. It's okay to work with both kinds of bloggers as long as their readers are your desired audience. If their point of view meshes well with your business, then it can be a good match.
Once you've determined that a blogger is appropriate to work with, the first step is to reach out to them to introduce yourself. Email is usually best before calling or reaching out on social media.
In your email you should include your name, name of the restaurant, where the restaurant is located, and a link to the restaurant's website. Then be upfront about why you are writing to them. Most food bloggers are used to restaurants or public relations people reaching out to them. Every blogger handles it differently, though. It's best to be clear and honest at the very beginning about your goals and expectations. The last thing you want to do is waste your time or theirs.
If you wish for them to come to your restaurant to receive a complimentary meal, then cut to the chase and invite them straight away. Tell them it would be your pleasure to host them at your restaurant in exchange for a blog article or social media promotion. Then ask them about their process. Again, every blogger has different requirements so let them tell you how to work with them. Some may ask for payment, but that usually isn't necessary if you are offering a comped experience. If they offer other advertising packages, ask to see their rate sheet. If it works with your budget, you may want to consider it. However, it is best to host them for a meal first and evaluate after.
While you should provide an exemplary experience during the meal, there is no need to go over the top. Just provide the same level of customer service you would to any patron who walks through the door. If the blogger is any good, they will understand this. They should not expect special treatment or having a red carpet rolled out for them. Certainly treat them with respect and be available to help answer any questions they may have. Don't hide from them, but also don't hover over them while they are dining in your establishment. Let them experience your restaurant like any other customer.
Depending on the blogger, they may not get around to writing an article or review for a while; it may be a few weeks. Be sure to keep in touch with them, but don't pressure them or give them a deadline. It may turn them off. However, when following up, make sure they have all of the information they need and be available to answer additional questions. Sadly, in some cases, a writer may decide not to write about your restaurant at all. It happens and there are many reasons why. It could be they didn't like the restaurant or food and felt it was best not to write anything at all; as opposed to a negative review. If this is the case, do not take it personally. While it is disappointing and even discouraging, don't let it deter you from working with other bloggers. This is a risk you take working with bloggers. It's not always a bad thing because if the blogger is honest and communicates with you, you have just gained valuable feedback about your restaurant which is always welcome. It can help you figure out where to improve operations.
If you do get a positive review, this is certainly the desired outcome. If you are active on social media, you should share a link to their article. If you have a "press" page on your website, link to it there.
If you get a negative review from a blogger, it is not the end of the world. Work with them like you would with any customer or someone who leaves a bad review. Offer them the opportunity to make it up or address it personally with them. Certainly, you always hope for good press, but the reality is that food and restaurants are such a subjective experience, it's hard to please everybody. Turn it into a learning experience and address it publicly also if you are comfortable. Perhaps you were just having a bad night or something else went wrong, but that you are aware and will work very hard not to allow that to happen again. You're human and it's okay to show that human side. Most people understand "things happen."
Overall, working with bloggers or social media influencers can be an inexpensive way to gain some exposure and possibly help bring new customers through the door, but your own expectations should be realistic. Having a blogger feature your restaurant is not a magic wand that will increase your business immediately. It's just a part of doing business in this ever-increasingly connected world. You'll never know unless you try, though.
Need help working with bloggers to promote your restaurant? I'll be glad to help. Contact me.