Veteran Food Publicist Says Restaurants Need Better PR Strategies

In the wake of the Groupon collapse, lots of people in the restaurant industry are wondering what’s next. According to PR/food veteran Ellen Malloy, the answer is simple: Instead of focusing on “deals”, restaurants need to take charge of their brands and promotional efforts.

Malloy founded a food-focused PR firm called Restaurant Intelligence Agency in 2007 to help chefs and eateries address the same problems supposedly solved by Groupon–the challenges of connecting to “audiences that matter” and standing out in an extremely crowded field. In an interview with Grub Street Chicago, she explains what that means:

Wowing people who are sitting in your restaurant isn’t marketing strategy, that’s you doing your job. Marketing is what happens once they walk out the door. How are you going to get them back?

The appeal behind Groupon was that restaurants could publicize themselves without paying standard agency fees–the service only collected on sales. But that was also its biggest problem–businesses ran to Groupon because they had no real plan for promoting themselves, and most people who used these “coupons” never became regular customers anyway because they were only interested in getting a “deal”, so revenues remained static.

So what do chefs, restaurant managers and food PR firms need to do?

According to Malloy, they need to refocus on telling stories–not just their business’s origin stories but the tales behind the unique dishes they serve every day. Malloy also emphasizes that this doesn’t just mean sharing positive reviews on Facebook and liking visitors’ Instagram photos. The purpose of her company is to create a sort of Rolodex for everyone involved in the industry, bringing chefs, publicists and food journalists together to generate buzz for great restaurants that don’t happen to be run by Bobby Flay or Anthony Bourdain.

What do we think? We’d love to hear stories from PR professionals regarding their own food clients’ experiences.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.