A series of high-profile spats over lockdown sparked high emotion on social media, exposing the extremely complicated and often fraught relationship between restaurants and influencers. We wanted to dive into this and talk about how to get it RIGHT.
Every restaurant or food business owner has had the heart-sinking, grating experience of receiving an email from an influencer asking for freebies in return for promotion. Sometimes it’s a copy-and-paste where they haven’t remembered to change the name of the business, often the benefits for the restaurants are unclear or unspecified. But we can all think of influencers who are genuinely loved, welcomed and respected by the restaurant community, even as their profession is grumbled about. So how do they do it WELL?
Resentment occurs where there is a lack of clarity within the exchange: restaurants feel as though they’re being taken for a ride, pressured into giving freebies, uncertain of the value that they will receive in return, but also concerned by the fear of being overlooked. Influencers can feel that their work and the value they are able to impart is disdained by restaurants who think that their motives are entirely self-serving.
Clarity is our greatest weapon against animosity. There are good ways to conduct this exchange on both sides, and that right way will change subtly depending both on the size and goals of the establishment, and on the intention and reach of the influencer.
We asked representatives from both sides of this relationship how keep it positive for everyone. In this, the first of two INFLUENCER GUIDES, we asked restaurant experts how influencers should behave, so that everyone gets the MOST out of the often-opaque influencer/restaurant dynamic.
Sophie Orbaum is Director of Communications and Marketing at Hart’s Group, which owns El Pastor, Barrafina and others. She notes that working with social media influencers is an integral and crucial part of an overall marketing strategy, but it must be built on fostering the right relationships in the right way. Here are her top tips for influencers wishing to approach any restaurant:
- First and foremost get the name of the site right! A lack of attention to detail on this basic point will immediately convey a lack of interest in the business
- Show a genuine interest in the product. Have you had a personal experience already? What makes this business of interest to you and your followers?
- Explain your value proposition. Why your channel/page? What is it that aligns your content with the business and their product?
- Explain your audience. If you don’t understand your audience, it’s unlikely the operator will understand what there is to benefit from being engaged with them.
- Ask clearly what you want to do. Do you have a specific content idea? Or if you want to experience the product/business for a particular reason make that clear.
- Feel free to chase, these are busy businesses and may not have gotten round to replying. But if you’ve chased once and not received a response, chances are your approach was wide of the mark.
Lisa Markwell is acting food editor at The Telegraph. She has a strong understanding of both sides of this relationship : “I’ve been a journalist for many years, and a restaurant critic too. I’ve worked with PRs on lots of projects, and restaurateurs and chefs as well. I think there are some rules of engagement that would benefit both sides and while it might seem incredibly obvious, I think it’s always worth stating the bleedin’ obvious, because it’s easy to forget!”
Lisa’s tips are invaluable – and if you really want to make sure your reputation spreads far and wide as an amazing person to work with, take note of the last point! Things like that make all the difference.
- Read up on the place/person/thing: if you can’t get genuinely excited about it, don’t go! It will be better for you if you develop an identity that has passions and areas of particular interest/expertise
- Go off peak if you want to take pictures: there is nothing more irritating for other diners and tricky for the restaurant if you order everything, stand on a chair, put it on the floor or whatever in search of a picture. Compounded by not eating the food afterwards…
- Talk to the staff: you’ll get more interesting captions/copy with their insights and know more about what’s going on, plus anecdotes
- Manage their expectations: I know the more established influencers probably do this, but it’s worth everyone being clear from the outset what you’re likely to share. And (I do this myself) if it hasn’t been a success, offer private feedback to the PR etc rather than just ignoring.
- Always say thank you and tip big! The restaurant staff stand to lose out if even one table is comped but around launch time, when they are most frazzled, they might get very few tips. And hey, they’ll remember the generous ones.
Finally, a word from a well-respected influencer: Felicity Spector is the ubiquitous sharer of London’s most beautiful desserts and more. Restaurants and individuals send Felicity kits and dinner invitations because they are clear about the power of her endorsement; and Felicity really puts the effort in. She gets up before work to take pictures of a dinner kit in daylight, or she will leave a restaurant to get better shots outside in natural light, because she cares hugely about doing justice to the people who work hard to make the dishes.
Felicity is ambivalent about the ‘influencer’ label. As Chief Writer for Channel 4 News she says “I never judge people, and I don’t want to sound superior by saying that this is my hobby and I have a ‘proper’ job. Because really I think that being a full-time influencer is no different from being in advertising. But I have a huge responsibility in my day job, and I don’t see the influence of social media in quite the same way. But in a good way, if I can showcase when people are doing good things, and if that generates support and sales for them… if that means being an influencer then that can only be a positive thing”.
So Felicity’s tips are:
- Put the effort in: People are giving you things, so make sure you showcase them to their best advantage
- Make sure you’re not focused on self-promotion at the expense of others – if you’ve been gifted something, use your platform to promote that establishment or person rather than furthering your own agenda.
- Always ensure that the restaurant is at the forefront of your efforts – a fair exchange and a generosity of spirit is crucial
Make friends! Everyone wants the same thing – to have a wonderful time with delicious food. Maintaining relationships makes sure that keeps happening for everyone.
Stay tuned for next week’s spotlight, flipping the advice to the other side – a guide for restaurants, to getting the most out of working with influencers!