“You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food.” – Paul Prudhomme

And you don’t need a million dollar stunt to do effective restaurant public relations.  Everyone, including media, likes to talk about food.  Sometimes, you just have to give them a reason.

Often with food, there’s a natural news hook – a new menu item that is unique; something that ties into a trend or a seasonal offering.  When there is natural news, media relations skills are all you need to make an impact.  Little Caesar’s didn’t have to wrap a building in bacon to drive attention for their new bacon-wrapped pizza.  Wrapping the pizza crust was enough to drive media interest and therefore, consumer awareness. 

However, we all know that not every new menu item is a bacon sundae or a wine milkshake.  Sometimes (or most of the time) it’s up to the PR team to help create the news.  On a local level, food drops are an effective way to get broadcast media talking and tasting food on air.  Those elusive national media stories require something more though – something that sets your menu item apart from everyone else.  There are a few tips to help drive awareness without driving up the out of pocket budget.

  1. Can you give something away for free or steeply discounted?  If so, read on.  If no, skip to step 2.  Everyone loves something free; just don’t put too many qualifiers on it.  Hard Rock Cafe launched a new menu last Spring. Without a wow item, they needed to create news to drive awareness.  So how does Hard Rock give away something but stay true to the company’s musical roots?  By asking consumers to “Sing for Your Supper,” of course.  No other catch – hop up on stage, sing a song and receive a free dinner entrée. Suddenly outlets such as Good Morning America, Fox & Friends and USA Today were talking about the new menu items in conjunction with the promotion.
  2. No appetite for freebies?  No problem.  This is when you need to be keenly aware of what’s going on in the world and how you can tie into it.  If you know the media will be talking about a holiday or seasonal trend, it’s the perfect time to insert a new item into the mix in a unique way.  Last October, Red Robin added Garlic Herbed Fries to its menu.  How does a company attract attention for garlic fries?  By issuing a Vampire Preparedness Guide prior to Halloween.  Of course, one of the tips included eating the Garlic Herbed Fries, aka “Vampire Fighters Fries.”  Local news stations across the country picked up the story and talked about the new fries.
  3. Sometimes an opportunity presents itself that is too good to pass up.  When that happens, make them an offer they can’t refuse.  Raising Cane’s, a regional restaurant chain, made national headlines in 2013 when they offered Dwight Howard free chicken fingers for life if he signed with the Mavericks.  It was a low cost offer with a big payoff.  The company’s offer was covered by USA Today, ESPN, Complex and Fox Sports.

Knowing the audience and being nimble will allow PR teams to create news for restaurant clients, without blowing the budget on one tactic.  If you are an agency person looking for inspiration then put on your thinking caps because the right idea is out there.  If you are a client looking for the right idea, well, here’s my number…call me, maybe?

Jen-DeNick_presoJennifer DeNick is Vice President at Coyne PR