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.