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September 20, 2011

Restaurant Storytelling: How to Make Your Restaurant Live On in the Hearts and Minds of Your Patrons
By Adele Cehrs

Differentiation in today’s crowded restaurant space is imperative, not only in terms of an eatery’s success, but also for its continued survival and patron loyalty. Foodies everywhere want to be part of the story of how a restaurant becomes successful or remains so, as a result of their patronage. The experience isn’t limited to just sitting down for a quality meal, it’s about conveying a personal connection, a unique backstory, or even a rise from humble beginnings.

Consider the ‘Underdog Effect’ -according to recent research published in The Journal of Consumer Science, an underdog brand biography increases purchase intentions and brand loyalty by consumers. The brand biography is an unfolding story, that chronicles the origin of the brand, the struggles, and its evolution over time. Consider how consumers see themselves before positioning your brand a certain way. People like to think of themselves as the underdog, and identify with underdog stories that remind them of themselves.

Consumers go back to establishments they connect with. At some point they even see themselves as part of their favorite eatery, part of the “family” and part of the story that made the restaurant a success. How restaurants tell this story is critical to long term growth and success.

It’s important to gain objectivity when developing your marketing and PR strategy to convey your story, your brand, and essence to your customers. Why should they care? What does this have to do with them and what they choosing to order today? How does this apply to the food on the menu? It’s about creating similarity. In social psychology, researchers find that creating a sense of similarity increases liking, interest, and most importantly – loyalty.

Storytelling is an art, just like making delicious food. To carefully shape a story, think of the emotional appeal of the brand. What does it evoke? Some options may include visions of baking with grandma or the first romantic dinner out. How about a stroll along the Ponte Vecchio in Florence or the smell of freshly baked bread in the morning in Paris? Perhaps you are a local restaurant that has a history people can identify with and make personally significant such as the cheese steak king Geno’s in Philadelphia.

Whatever your story is for your establishment, each message you relay to patrons must support that story. To come up with some story concepts, consider answering these questions:

• What aspects of the owner’s personality or beliefs do you want to project externally? For example, Chick-fil-a is closed on Sunday for religious reasons, but patrons know that and respect that choice. This helps the chain show personality and tells a story.

• Are you a reflection of your community? Think of that famous hot-dog stand in Coney Island. Are they selling hotdogs or a memory? A little bit of both, right? Think about what makes people keep coming back to your establishment and capitalize on it through strategic marketing.

• What is unique about the community your restaurant is located in? For example, restaurants and bars in dog-friendly towns have started doing doggy happy hours in which the dog owner partakes in a happy hour drink and their pooch snacks on treats and mingles with other pets. Smart PR and marketing that creates customer loyalty.

• Is there a unique take on the cultural aspects of your restaurant? Some Spanish tapas restaurants bring in Flamenco dancers several nights of the week to make patrons feel as though they are having dinner in small cobblestone lined town on the Spanish coast.

• How can you further engage your regulars? Take a cue from Top-Chef or Jamie Oliver and host a contest or form a tasting council that contributes ideas for new menu items.

• Is there a news story that you can spark you to take action and support your community? Consider partnering with like-minded charities and nonprofits in the community. Is there a school in need of uniforms? Has a flood displaced residents? Think of ways to help.

• Do you bring outside people in? Consumers are always looking for new things to do. Offering wine tastings, alcohol pairings, cooking demonstrations or a chef meet and greet are excellent ways to reach new markets.

As a restaurant owner you may be doing many, if not all of the items listed above. Now you just need to spread the word. Add announcements to your website, have restaurant staff tell each table about the happenings that month and consider calling your local newspaper. Tell your story. To everyone that will listen.

Adele R. Cehrs is president of the Alexandria, Virginia-based Epic PR Group. For more information visit www.epicprgroup.com or via email: adele@epicprgroup.com

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