Sep 10, 2019 / by Guest Contributor

Tanya Layzell-Payne, founder of hospitality specialist Gerber Communications, details why PR is essential to supporting restaurant growth and isn't just "nice to have".

Opening a restaurant these days is high risk. There is more competition than ever before and establishing a business that will make an impact, attract a loyal customer base and ensure longevity is extremely hard.

We live in a world where businesses are constantly trying to attract our attention both online and offline, so how can you ensure that you are getting your message heard? How can you build a successful brand?

What’s the story?

Every restaurant has a story to tell. Humans will always engage with a good story, they have done since the beginning of time. You have to identify the relevant stories that are engaging for the media and, in turn, the public. These stories are what will make your business standout from your competitors.

Take recently opened Gloria, for example. The fact that it was completely unlike any of the well known Italian restaurants in London that we know and love, that the experience isn’t refined, that here was a restaurant that was bringing both good food and fun together under one roof (these two things being mutually exclusive until now) were some of the stories we told to capture the attention of the media.

When we first launched Polpo, 10 years ago, we focused the story on the bacaro, mostly unheard of in London and challenging the story that Venice serves terrible food. We focused on the story of bar dining being the best seats in the house, no longer were these to be considered the ‘cheap seats’.

This would, of course, not be considered a news story now. Times change, trends change. Work out what is exciting about your business now and build your story from there.

Who is the storyteller?

One of the keys to having a successful brand is having the right spokesperson for your business. That is not your PR company. You have to identify someone within the business who is knowledgeable and passionate who can be media facing.

People will engage with the business much more if they can hear the story from someone within the business. The aim is to identify the space that you want to ‘own’ and then position the storyteller and business as an authority in that space.

It doesn’t have to be one person, in the case of JKS, one of the leading restaurant groups in the UK, the three sibling owners are the storytellers - Karam Sethi tells the stories about food, Sue talks about the wine and Jyo about the business.

In the case of Tom Byng, founder of Byron, he was the best person to be the storyteller, as it was his attention to detail and passion that made the business. Stories of bringing suitcases of hamburger buns back from the US, as Byron was constantly trying to perfect the hamburger bun, are the stories that connected with people, not the fact that they were opening site number 23.

Where is the story going?

Once you have the great messages and stories, you need to make sure you are telling them to the right audience. Try to use as many channels as resource and time allow to ensure an integrated approach. If either of these are limited, tailor your efforts to a couple of channels and do it well.

If your concept is more casual, the chances are you will be targeting a younger audience. In this case, Instagram will be key. If you have an offering that will appeal to a local audience, be sure to focus on engaging with them through Facebook as well as with the local businesses through Instagram.

Traditional media continues to retain its value and is what gives a business credibility and awareness. Use traditional media to tell the stories that will position you as an authority. Top 10 articles are a good example of something that works well as a positioning tool for both traditional as well as digital platforms.

How are you measuring?

Once you have done all this work, you want to make sure you know what is working and what’s not. There are multiple ways of measuring whether your work is effective.

Google Analytics and web referrals are a good starting point. Identify an area in your business that you want to focus on, for example midweek lunches. Build a campaign specifically around that.

Measure the results with analytics, adapt your marketing and communications strategy accordingly, and these will translate to business results. Marketing communications is an iterative and learning process. You need to be constantly checking what is working and what is not and improving the power of your communications.

Through focusing on these four areas, you will be working towards building a strong brand for the business and that is what will deliver longevity. Branding, at it’s core, is essentially great storytelling.

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