Public relations is for restaurants too. Getting the media on your side is one of the best things you can do for your restaurant. That’s because when a media outlet covers your restaurant, it can bring your restaurant incomparable positive attention. And yes, it makes a big difference if it’s using the media’s voice or it’s just paid space (such as advertisements). Customers differentiate between the two: they absorb news or feature articles about restaurants, while blocking out ads.

Becoming “The Place To Be”

With anything more than the town paper, sending out press releases and keeping journalists informed provide benefits to restaurants only when the restaurant offers something new and interesting. This could be an event, a grand opening, an unusual marketing idea, a launch of something unique or the basic concept or popularity of the restaurant. Think new. If it doesn’t work in a headline, it will find the shredder in the news room (unless you are Apple or Google).

Success in PR comes from creativity and presentation rather than having a large budget (as with advertising). You want to make it so that people who put in a good word for you have to do as little work as possible. Many days, journalists don’t have time to breathe with constant deadlines, so when they have an interesting story served to them ready to go, they jump at it. And they are grateful. The story found the journalist rather than the other way around. It’s only natural that the next press release will get more attention, and you may soon become a trusted authority when the newspaper and nightly news program need to comment on the restaurant industry.

Much of a press release follows another creative moment at your restaurant, whether a promotion or a stunt. This means, while you are developing an idea for your restaurant, imagine how you will frame it to a journalist, especially as a headline.

Now, press releases have a certain format (journalists love information to be organized a particular way) that you have to follow and if you are a talented writer, you should not have a problem. Still, having another set of eyes probably will help. Journalists are smart; they won’t be fooled by packaging if there is no gift inside. The wording of a press release cannot prevent boredom if the subject is predictable. A good way to check is to search online to see how many other restaurants have done something similar.

How To Lessen Disasters

As you see everyday in news, PR is also a way to avert disaster, but getting in the game that late suggests normally that you don’t have a brand strength that can be overwhelmed by one incident. You don’t have anything stored in the bank of public opinion, so going bankrupt is easy. You can suddenly become the place that “lost the mayor’s government credit card” overnight. It makes it very hard to undo if that’s all most people know you for.

The initial reaction makes an even bigger difference. Having an effective PR strategy is absolutely essential at times of crisis. Let’s put it this way, bad media can set your brand back years, and force you to hole up until the public forgets. Here’s your insurance policy against these events:

First, do everything to avoid these incidents. You should communicate clearly with your staff what you expect of them and lead by example. Your staff must prioritize the customer’s dining experience (even when it costs a little extra) and know that certain behavior is unacceptable in your restaurant.

If something does occur, it’s important to act quickly. Even  though at first you may find yourself on the defensive, you can take steps to lessen the blow. First, if you can, you should distance yourself from whoever caused the problem. This could mean firing an employee or contractor.  At the same time, you should be as apologetic as possible, and refrain from passing blame. Being apologetic and diplomatic even when you may think your restaurant is not at fault can save you a lot of pain down the road.

This is incredibly difficult as you may find out about it when the press is on the other line expecting a comment from you before they publish. How you act and what you say counts.  After the story is published, you should release a statement that tries to fix some of the damage.   Reach out to whoever originally complained and address  the problem as the ability of your restaurant to obtain and retain customers who read the story is at stake.

All in all, PR shouldn’t wait until the sirens go off. A good story about your restaurant will bring you new customers in numbers little else can. It will solidify a relationship with the media (which is helpful when crisis strikes). A restaurant that is concerned about its public image is a restaurant ready to become a favorite of the public.