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Ultimate Insiders

Ultimate Insiders

Operators can amplify reach with in-niche, social media influencers

Photo: Mitchell’s Ocean Club in Columbus, Ohio

Smart, in-house marketers and forward-thinking agencies are looking beyond pay-per-post “collabs” with lifestyle influencers. Instead, they’re implementing symbiotic partnerships for events, promotions and content-capturing purposes.

As a general strategy, and as an expert in this area, I recommend operators team up with likeminded culinary personalities and businesses. Potential partners should have relevant expertise, complementary products and similar customers. And both parties should contribute something to the project.

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A simple, yet delicious example with a hyper-local focus is the collaboration between Kansas City, Mo., businesses André's Confiserie Suisse and Betty Rae’s Ice Cream shop. They create limited edition specialty flavors, sell them at Betty Rae’s and promote to both companies’ social media outlets.

“Betty Rae’s has a true passion for what they do,” says Nancy Bollier, owner and director of marketing for André's. “They’re aligned with our belief that you should only produce things of exceptional quality and taste.”

Another strategy that predates the “influencer” craze is to partner with popular beverage brands that already sell well in your venue. They typically boast robust marketing programs and brand ambassadors with strong followings.

Mitchell’s Ocean Club in Columbus, Ohio, for example, participates in a special partnership between Cameron Mitchell Restaurants and Woodford Reserve. A representative from the legendary bourbon brand led bourbon-blending workshops for restaurant associates, and each participating restaurant got to choose their favorite blend. Mitchell’s Ocean was one of 15 locations, including 14 Ocean Prime restaurants, to get its own one-of-a-kind bourbon barrel. This was a great way to engage and educate the bar staff—and give them special enthusiasm to sell the product to customers.

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The Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Tampa, Fla., has an influencer on staff: Executive butcher Walter Apfelbaum currently runs the butcher program for all the hotel’s food and beverage entities. In 2014, he discovered a flair for Instagram, which his employer encouraged.

“A chef here made me get an iPhone, and I just started taking pictures of meat while cutting it,” says Apfelbaum. “If it caught my eye, I’d post the pictures.”

Modesty aside, Apfelbaum has more than 76,000 followers drooling over his meaty Instagram feed. His employer plans media and trade events around him. And other influencers follow him as well.

“A few of them, everywhere I go, they’ll come see me,” he says. “A guy from London flew over just to have dinner with me.”

For an operator, this is a dream partnership—and it evolved because a brand recognized a talented individual and gave him a place to shine.

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