If you're a restaurant or bar owner trying to make do without a publicist, it's easy to get overwhelmed. Social media, dealing directly with customers, approaching the press—it's a tough tightrope to walk, especially when you've got a restaurant to run at the same time. At Serious Eats, we've seen some good and not-so-good efforts at restaurant publicity.
Here are three simple tips to make sure your do-it-yourself publicity brings customers to your door.
1. Use The Web Effectively
Social media allows you to get your message out to a large body of people—instantaneously, without the filter of the press. The huge advantage: it's free. But there's a big difference between using Twitter and Facebook and using them well. "You really have to put the time into social media," says David Flaherty of Hearth and Terroir restaurants in New York.
Flaherty stresses the importance of using Twitter to connect with others rather than just pushing your own news. Twitter is not just a place to post your daily specials; it's an opportunity to build relationships and get conversations going. "Try to support other people," he said, "and broadcast what they're doing too." Neighborhood wine shop having a free tasting? Post it! Support writers you like by promoting articles your followers might want to read. Not only will they support you right back, increasing your exposure, but your followers will be more engaged, and you may make useful business connections. Flaherty credits Steven Solomon, their design and graphics guru, for crafting a "voice" for their Twitter account that matches their business philosophy.
Flaherty also pointed out that Twitter and Facebook have different strengths. The conversation on Twitter moves quickly: "There's a bit of a shorter attention span with Twitter," says Flaherty, "whereas Facebook is a modern-day bulletin board," where people might dig into the archives a bit. Don't crowd people's Facebook pages with constant updates, but do post photos and videos that will help followers see the exciting events going on at your restaurant and appetizing pictures of the food.
When you're thinking about publicizing a restaurant on the web, Flaherty emphasizes, you should also think beyond Twitter and Facebook. Make it easy for potential customers to find out about your menu by posting an updated version (with accurate prices) on sites like Menupages and Allmenus. If your wine list is strong, send it to Winechap. Do you have an amazing beer list? Submit it to sites like Beermenus.com and Taplister.com so that beer nerds know what's on tap. If you have special beer events, post them at Beer Advocate.
The more information you get out there in the digital world, the more likely your restaurant is going to turn up in search engines, and the more customers you'll get at your door.
2. Get the Most Out of Email
At Terroir, a funny card delivered with each check encourages customers to sign up for the email lists. "Want more clutter in your inbox?, " the card says, "We'll keep you abreast of tastings, special pork sausage gatherings, left and right wing political events, and any salacious restaurant world gossip we can get our hands on." To keep it entertaining, the card includes checkboxes to vote: Real Madrid vs. Barcelona, Metallica vs. Motorhead, and Bernie Madoff vs. Satan. Do people fill it out? You bet they do.
Once you've got these email addresses, using them effectively is key. Services like Constant Contact can help you manage your email lists so that you can inspire potential customers to head your way, not annoy them into unsubscribing. Flaherty suggests creating separate lists for investors, media, loyal customers, local sommeliers, etc., so that you can send focused, specific announcements to each group, rather than filling people's email with generic blasts they may not be interested in.
Make sure that you provide your mailing list with a good reason to read your email blasts. Including simple recipes, a message from the chef or the front of the house, announcements of seasonal specials will keep your restaurant fresh in their mind. Even better, special offers that are only applicable to list subscribers is a near guaranteed way to get them to pick your restaurant over the one down the street. A free dessert if they show up with a print-out of your newsletter? You bet they will!
3. Keep Things Fresh and Focused for the Press
When approaching members of the press, do your research before sending pitches. Does the website/blog/newspaper/magazine you want to contact always do a Thanksgiving roundup? A gift guide? A column on interesting breakfast items? Does your pitch really fit in with what they cover? While you're at it, be sure your email is friendly and polite, and double-check that you use the correct name (spelled how the writer spells it!)
One way to get noticed by the media is to introduce something new that enhances your identity as a restaurant and offers something unusual, educational, and fun. If you have a night that's usually slow, turn it into something special. Whether it's a Sangiovese-themed dinner, a head-to-tail feast, a seasonal prix fixe vegetarian menu, or discounted late night bar snacks featuring bacon, mixing it up a little can help put you on the press's radar. Flaherty recommends doing these sorts of things in a limited capacity: "Keep it fresh, don't lock into it forever," suggests Flaherty, so that people won't postpone coming by.