Making 'Influencer' Marketing Work for Your Restaurant
Operators, owners share approaches that make sense for their bottom line
Influencers are unavoidable lately, with “requests to collab” flowing in daily. From the operator’s perspective, it’s overwhelming to evaluate—yet everyone hopes that successful, cost-effective influencer marketing exists.
As a creative consultant who engages influencers on behalf of brands, I realize many practices of influencer agencies and platforms are at odds with brands’ objectives. Evaluation needs to become more transparent. In that spirit, three successful foodservice professionals in non-marketing roles share here—with zero PR spin—what’s worked and what hasn’t.
Sardella, St. Louis, Mo.
As general manager of a Gerard Craft-owned restaurant, Wallace deals with local and national influencers, sometimes through agency or CVB middlemen, and other times directly.
“Lately, we've been working with Explore St. Louis, a tourism marketing entity. They vet out-of-state ‘professional’ influencer inquiries. What's great about this program is they give the guests pre-paid credit cards to use for their meals, as opposed to putting the financial burden on us.”
“Overall, I think it's difficult to know what is, or if there is, a return on investment (ROI).”
Swill Inn/Chit Chat Lounge, Chicago
Moore is a well-known, Chicago-based chef, with popular social channels and steady media coverage—most recently of his latest restaurant partnership with Dustin Drankiewicz, who serves as Swill Inn and Chit Chat Lounge’s beverage manager. Yet, would-be collaborators often request sponsorship without knowing the co-owners’ impressive online footprint.
“I have a great grasp on influencer marketing tactics, and I know what’s needed for Swill and Chit Chat. For example, if I want bodies in the building for Chit Chat, then I choose an influencer deejay with a following to pack the house and music in our genre.”
“Doing an event and offering comped drinks and/or food can become a huge cost for us, without really bringing ROI. I feel Dustin and I carry a huge social reach and following already. We would rather pour money into our staff and venue.”
He’s created bar programs for various clients, from fine-dining restaurants like The Hutch in Oklahoma City, Okla., to beachfront Tulum popups. Zimmerman believes influencers can effectively “sell a dream” for vacations vying for destination list inclusion. In smaller markets, organic, word-of-mouth events attract regulars.
“A bar in Oklahoma City was a favorite of [NBA star] Kevin Durant. He had a house two blocks away. When people saw on his social [media channels] that he was hanging out at the bar, it was jam packed every night.
“With regard to restaurant/bar influencers, the ‘brand ambassadors’ who came up in the service industry have a much deeper understanding of everything, including profit-and-loss statements, than people who become ‘Instagram famous’ overnight and don’t understand the long hours and hard work entailed in hospitality.
“It’s a short-term payoff. I don’t think comping a meal or round of drinks is out of line, but if you become known for flying influencers in, putting them up and paying huge appearance fees, you get caught in that cycle of having to constantly make big expenditures.”