Smoke-Free, No Reservations

What's the famed restaurateur Joe Bastianich doing pitching a nicotine patch that's sold at Walmart?

Plenty of big companies boast a celebrity endorser these days, but GlaxoSmithKline scored a coup when it recently signed restaurateur and vintner Joe Bastianich, who runs world-famous restaurants including Manhattan’s Del Posto and Babbo, and serves as a judge on Fox’s MasterChef. Bastianich doesn’t do the pitchman thing for other people’s brands, but he’s put his name on GSK’s Blueprint to Quit stop-smoking regimen for one reason: Nearly a third of all restaurant employees are smokers (one of the highest rates for any industry), and he used to be one of them. Adweek lucked into a reservation and asked Bastianich about his new project.

Adweek: What is it about the restaurant business—your industry—that causes so many of its employees to light up?

Bastianich: It’s a fact that the type of people who are successful in our industry are so creative and hardworking, they have a tendency to be compulsive—and that leads to bad habits.

You operate famous eateries all over the world, which means that plenty of smokers are on your payroll. Does that bother you?

As an employer of a lot of people, I saw partnering with Blueprint to Quit as an opportunity to help people. The program’s well-rounded. It expresses their issues. If it can help them out, I saw it as an opportunity.

The program is a mix of online peer support and nicotine-replacement drugs like NicoDerm CQ. If the NicoDerm brand hadn’t worked for you personally, would you be putting your name behind it?

No. I never really do stuff like this. But it made sense because I used the product and it worked. This industry is close to me, and I feel like I need to bring leadership to it. And mine is a real story.

Yours is a scary story, too. You smoked for 18 years, sometimes up to three packs a day. Quitting must have been horrendous.

I had a serious physical addiction. It was a tough thing to break. But Blueprint to Quit offers you support both socially and habitually. I didn’t have this program years ago, but it synthesizes all the tools you need to do a thing that’s hard to do.

For anyone familiar with food, just seeing your name behind a product says enough. But do you plan to do any direct marketing—TV spots, personal appearances?

We’re just beginning the relationship with GSK and Walmart [where Blueprint to Quit is sold exclusively]. The first steps are communication and PR. I don’t know where it’ll lead, but I’m open for future collaboration. I’ll wait to see where they want to go with it, but so far the response has been very positive. This is a real solution that meets a real problem.

There’s a unit-level side to this too, isn’t there? If food service workers stop smoking, however they do it, they’ll be running better restaurant brands, won’t they?

It’s ironic that the thing that’s most important to us—our sense of taste—is most adversely affected by smoking. So you’ll have people better suited to the jobs they’re doing, whether they’re cooks or servers. You’ll have better sanitation, too.

Millions of people out there know your name, even if they don’t work in a restaurant. I presume it’s OK with you if you wind up with a broader audience.

If anyone quits smoking because of me, I would be happy.