This post was last updated on Jul 24, 2020.
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The restaurant industry is an already crowded marketplace that just keeps getting more crowded.
Every business — from restaurants, to breweries, to distilleries, and more — is trying their hardest to reach their target customers, but it’s getting harder and harder to stand out above the noise.
Though the restaurant industry is a highly competitive marketplace, the “every (wo)man for himself” approach could be hurting your business more than it’s helping.
Ever heard the phrase “a high tide floats all boats?” With few exceptions, it’s sound advice. Well, restaurant community involvement is the high tide you’ve been waiting for.
Community involvement allows you to expand into new audiences and grow your brand reach by establishing profitable, professional relationships. Connecting with other strong brands in your local restaurant community and collaborating on events, initiatives, and campaigns will lift you both to mutually beneficial (read: profitable) success.
Here are a few examples of real restaurants using community involvement and the power of professional connections to market and grow their business.
1) Take A Field Trip
Pairing food with drink is one of the most basic functions of a restaurant; guests count on it.
Some restaurants will enlist the help of a sommelier to shape a wine menu that is attractive to their guests’ palates and offers a suitable pairing for every dining option available on their menu.
Enterprising restaurateurs and managers can take this one step further by pairing the people behind the food with the people behind the beverages.
Last winter, Serie Keezer, Culinary Director at Sea Level Oyster Bar, with locations in Newburyport and Salem, Massachusetts, took the entire staff from his restaurants to visit Privateer Rum, a distillery in nearby Ipswich, Massachusetts.
While there, Serie’s servers, cooks, and managers were able to chat with accomplished distiller, Maggie Campbell, about her craft, the importance of rum to the area, and about the Privateer products available in the Sea Level restaurants.
After the visit, Sea Level posted about the experience with pictures and a public thank you to Privateer Rum for their hospitality. Those posts received higher than average engagement both because of the novelty of the content, and because Sea Level was engaging fans of the Privateer Rum who may not have been aware of the restaurant previously.
This savvy take on community involvement enabled Sea Level to convert Privateer Rum’s fans into new fans of their restaurants, and fans of both brands into brand evangelists.
Sea Level plans to return the favor by inviting the Privateer team for dinner one night this spring, giving an the distillery the opportunity to conduct a similar social media campaign and convert Sea Level fans into Privateer Rum fans.
2) The Power of Positivity
Sharing praise and showing appreciation for others in your local restaurant community is a great way to make strong, positive, professional connections. Giving compliments also feels good.
Every October, Salem is flooded with tourists who want to experience the “Witch City” during the Halloween season (yes, it’s a whole season in Salem, not just a day).
The Halloween season is great for local businesses (generally speaking) but tourists tend to be less kind than locals when it comes to online reviews given during this uncharacteristically crazy time of year.
The thing is, people often leave reviews when something goes wrong, but fewer remember to leave good reviews when things go right. A restaurant in Salem may be the victim of a backlash of bad reviews; without positive testimony from a regular patron, it will stay that way.
To help boost the ratings (and staff morale) of local Salem restaurants that may be affected by these poor Halloween season tourist reviews, OctoCog created a new local holiday called Five Star Friday, which falls on the first Friday after Halloween. They invite residents throughout Salem and neighboring cities to give 5 star reviews on Facebook to their favorite local establishments.
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We're launching a new annual tradition on the North Shore: Five Star Friday. This is our chance to take back the review pages from the autumn tourists. Don't let them have the last say. This Friday, we are asking everyone to pick just one restaurant that you love (and haven't reviewed before) and give them 5 stars on FB...along with a short description of why you love them. That's it! The 60 seconds you spend on the review is going to make a local business owner and their staff feel loved. We promise. Tag the business you're going to review in the comments! . . . . . #octocog #salemma #northshorema #boston #cooking #food #restaurant #local #nyceats #foodstagram #cookstagram #eatfamous #marblehead #foodblogger #fooddiary #eatstagram #foodbeast #dailyfoodfeed #buzzfeast #chef #truecooks #foodisee #dailyfood #nomnom #forkyeah #eatlocal #cheflife #foodshare #lynnma #beverlyma
The good people of Salem responded in a big way.
The reviews contained glowing, often personal, praise for staff and owners alike; one restaurant owner was even moved to tears.
It was an emotional, positive day in the Salem restaurant community that capped an otherwise notoriously stressful month.
By getting involved in our local restaurant community and solving problems that affected the Salem restaurant community as a whole, the Salem business community views Octocog as proactive, productive, and positive.
By providing health insurance and charging a 2% kitchen appreciation fee — and by saying "thank you" every day — Ming Tsai shows his staff he cares.
3) This Little Piggy Went To Market
A "beer dinner" is an event held by a restaurant or brewery where the focus is for guests to enjoy a specific selection of beer that is perfectly paired with an accompanying prix fixe menu.
Tony Maws of Craigie on Main in Cambridge, Massachusetts, decided to present a new take on the old classic.
Maws teamed up with Notch Brewing to offer a special, ticketed event where guests would accompany him to a local Farmer’s Market and pick out ingredients for their lunch at Craigie and Main. The meal they helped create was then paired with beers from Notch Brewing.
Guests got the chance to interact with one of their favorite chefs — which doesn’t happen often given the nature of busy kitchens — and were able to learn more about the chef’s thought process with ingredients when putting together a menu on the fly.
Working together on this beer dinner was a great way for Craigie on Main and Notch Brewing to lean on one another’s audiences for increased brand exposure and new customers. It was also a positive experience for the vendors at the local Farmer’s Market who were thrilled to engage with a group of people discussing innovative ways to use the produce and products they made.
Since the event was such a big hit, Craigie on Main decided to turn it into a series called Burger & Beer Friday Lunch. They've since involved more breweries, including Somerville, Massachusetts' Aeronaut Brewing.
4) Surprise & Delight
For the past few months, Flatbread Company has been delivering lunch to one area school each month.
They coordinate with the school’s administration to feed the entire staff and post photos of the delivery process on their Facebook and Instagram accounts. This initiative allows them to thank their community’s teachers for the hard work they do while introducing their brand at the same time.
Last month, Flatbread delivered free lunch to Hadley School in Swampscott, a K-3 school with about 50 staff members. The teachers were overjoyed. Some didn’t know that the restaurant had a location nearby, while others knew about it but weren’t aware Flatbread also has a bowling alley at the restaurant.
The social media posts garnered plenty of likes and shares because the public was happy to see an act of kindness being paid from a local business to a local institution.
Side note: Free food is preferable to discounting! Discounting isn’t always a cost-effective play because it anchors the value of your product lower in the minds of your guests; offering free items does not have the same effect because there is no price associated with the food.
5) Everyone's A Winner
This past December, Rumson’s Rum came up with a brilliant idea.
They built an enormous version of a Christmas Advent Calendar and asked members of their local community to get involved by donating gifts to hide behind each of the doors in the calendar.
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It’s a Christmas miracle! Thanks for following our advent calendar adventure! 🎄 . . . . . #rumsons #lifelived #lifeenjoyed #beverlyma #salemma #northshorema #boston #rum #spirits #caribbean #killdevil #beverage #rhum #imbibe #drink #marblehead #blended #drinkhistory #cocktail #bottlingday #rumlife #craft #worldclass #fineliquids #piratedog #forkyeah #eatlocal #mixology #foodshare #octocog
The contributions were creative and diverse: Local restaurants gave gift cards, retailers sent clothing, and an area hotel even sent a free night’s stay.
Every day, Eric Glass and Steve Orne, co-founders of Rumson’s Rum, opened a door on their massive calendar and made a video which they then posted to social media. Any fans who engaged with the post were entered in a drawing to win that day’s prize.
Rumson’s saw a huge increase in their social media reach throughout the usually sleepy month of December and local retailers felt a boost in brand recognition and sales.
Make That "Me, Me, Me" a "We, We, We" Approach
Community involvement is often a great way to engage new audiences and turn them onto your brand.
Using the relationships you have with businesses around you is not only a low-cost idea, but you can make new connections in the process and turn your neighborhood or region into a more tightly knit community.