Welcome to the era of the chef. Between Anthony Bourdain, Top Chef and countless others Americans have developed a bit of an obsession with fast-paced drama and eccentric personalities in gourmet kitchens.
But the draw of the chef and restaurant isn’t limited to reality TV stars or best selling culinary writers; local chefs are using digital communications tools to build customer relationships and, ultimately, get people into their restaurants. They need to. With a struggling economy and a culture of moderation restaurateurs are facing unprecedented challenges.
Several Chicago chefs and restaurateurs shared their blogging success stories at the Social Media Week Chicago 2011 Dining Social session. Panelists included (pictured above from left to right) Liz Mendez of Uva, Paula Haney of Hoosier Mama Pies, Shelby Allison of the Whistler, Phillip Foss of El Ideas and Meatyballs Mobile and Curtis Duffy, formerly of Avenues. Each of the panelists provided advice and anecdotes on the power of blogs and social media for restaurants.
As Shelby Allison notes, “People who come to The Whistler long to be regulars. There’s immense satisfaction in being recognized by the head bartender. Our blog and social media efforts are about fostering that feeling because knowing a chef or bartender makes you want to physically come into the restaurant more frequently.” The Whistler uses its blog to share recipes and talk about new drinks as a part of their “bartend at home” class.
Phillip Foss is a self-described “rabble-rouser.” Well known for shouting about meaty balls from his food truck and Twitter handle alike, Foss likes to stir up a bit of controversy in the food world. He sticks to this strategy because, as he emphasized several times throughout the session, “showing personality in your blog and Twitter feed” is the very point of being online. This tactic has obviously worked for Foss, who has received national press coverage for several of his blog posts.
Chef Curtis Duffy is very well respected in the Chicago dining community. He recently branched out from his position as head chef of Avenues at the Peninsula and is in the process of opening his own restaurant. For Duffy, the logical first step in this process was personal branding. Speaking of social media for restaurants, he said, “You’ve got to lean on videos, blog, Facebook and pictures to establish your restaurant’s personality.” Cooking at a pricey venue like Avenues, Duffy knew that not everyone could get to his food and personality in person, so he turned to blogging to share the unique experience with food lovers.
According to Liz Mendez of West Loop wine bar Uva, blogs are simply a tool for building your personal brand. “It’s all about celebrity chefs these days,” she said. “People want to know them on a personal level. So use a blog to make yourself approachable and start a conversation.” Back in the day the thing to do was go to a great restaurant, head back to the kitchen and meet the chef, Mendez said. But due to the price of the restaurant, size of the kitchen and time crunch, this privilege was limited to an elite group of about 100 foodies. Blogs offer this privilege to countless readers; it’s a restaurant or chef’s chance to share food, experience and personality with more people than ever before.
Fine dining establishments offer unique food, a fun environment and the lively personalities of celebrity chefs. Employing techniques formerly reserved for cutting-edge marketers and tech brands gives restaurant patrons and fans a peek behind the curtain, building strong personal relationships and brand loyalty.
Do you read any chef or restaurant blogs? If so, what keeps you coming back for more? Are you a chef or restaurateur? What techniques have you employed while using social media for restaurants?