How Your Business Can Become More Relevant To Foodies
Sneaky Tips To Get Enthusiasts In Your Door, Focusing On Success For Mom & Pops
Everyone's a foodie if you scroll through Instagram, Pinterest and other photo-dependent social networking sites. But how can an operator, especially one that's been around for several decades, start to bring in those younger food enthusiasts through the door? Most operators agree that it takes more than a few dashes of creativity and innovation. We chatted with a number of restaurateurs to get some of their sneakiest tips for bringing in chow connoisseurs.
In 2007, restaurateur Randy Essig made his food more accessible by publishing a seafood-focused cookbook based on the menu from his Naples, Fla. restaurant. It's also based on the philosophy he lives by at Randy's Fishmarket Restaurant that "successful cooking doesn't rely on complicated recipes and exotic ingredients ... all you need are patience, an unhurried approach, and most important of all, fresh ingredients."
Those who buy the cookbook are encouraged to visit the restaurant's fish market to shop for seafood, which, of course, is delivered fresh daily. They'll find everything highlighted in the recipes, from Gulf shrimp found in the crispy coconut shrimp and gumbo entrées to alligator made into deep-fried gator bites. Essig even takes time to list recipes for all his sauces, including orange horseradish marmalade, BBQ and marinara.
His enthusiasm to encourage diners to become more interactive with the food they're consuming has made his restaurant more popular than ever in its 15 years. And, as more consumers jump on the "foodie" bandwagon, his relatable cookbook proves to be one of many ingenious methods to drive more customers into his venue.
This is important because not every chef and/or restaurateur is lucky enough to have a major television presence like Rick Bayless, Bobby Flay or Mario Batali, so "they must play to their strengths," says Bar Pastoral partner Greg O'Neill. "There are plenty of things that you can do to stimulate your creativity, but I am a big believer of staying true to yourself."
With his cheese-and-charcuterie-focused restaurant based in Chicago's trendy Lakeview neighborhood, O'Neill is quite aware that the competition is stiff. That's why he travels extensively to gain as much knowledge as possible about the restaurant's specialties and uses that to garner more diners.
"We do things at our bistro that speak directly to our patrons," says O'Neill. "We leverage our cheese pedigree or our wine and charcuterie program. We highlight that, but show people that we do more than that. We're doing sweet and savory dishes where the star of the dinner is the cheese."
O'Neill is also an avid user of social media, and he and his staff are constantly communicating through Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter with beautiful images of seasonal dishes, signature entrées and other goings-on at the restaurant. He believes that his participation has helped reap the attention of local and national media, which in turn, has brought even the most discerning customers to Bar Pastoral.
"We've continually gotten recognized by different media outlets as a great neighborhood establishment," he says. "We really work hard to leverage our position with social media by showing photos of beautiful food. A lot of people respond to visual stimuli, so we post as many photos of food as possible. We try to keep it simple, yet compelling."
He does warn colleagues to not go overboard on updates so that the audience doesn't get burned out on photos, tweets, etc., but it's important to take ownership.
"We encourage our staffers to also take photos and post them. Sometimes businesses rely on people who are not close enough to the operation, and that's the wrong thing to do. When you're telling the story, you should do it yourself," he advises.
Jared Van Camp and his Element Collective partners have many tricks up their sleeves to get foodies into their Chicago restaurants such as Nellcôte, Old Town Social and Leghorn. Many of the tactics make sense, particularly because "the general public is more educated (about food) than they were five, 10 or 15 years ago," says Van Camp.
"They want more," he stresses. "That's why we don't slack on the quality of ingredients or techniques just because it is fast food." At his fast-casual chicken shop Leghorn, Van Camp's staff butchers whole chickens in-house and makes everything from scratch, including biscuits. The flour used for pasta and pastries at the Italian-inspired Nellcôte is milled fresh every day in the kitchen. And when he opened Old Town Social in 2009, the restaurant was ground- breaking because it was the first in the city legally certified to cure its own charcuterie.
"The regular person is far more aware of techniques and wants to know what he's eating and how to do what he's getting in a restaurant," says Van Camp. He adds that because many food enthusiasts are familiar with the biggest names —and under-the-radar stars — in the business, Element Collective collaborates with out-of-town chefs on a regular basis.
"A guest chef coming into town doing a dinner and promoting his cookbook is a great way to get guests into the restaurant," he says. "For whatever reason, you may not be able to get to that chef's restaurant, so this a great way to highlight these chefs and garner new fans for us (at the same time)."