The past year has seen the biggest challenges Irish hospitality and food businesses have ever faced. Yet despite the constant battle to simply survive many businesses have managed to pivot and take imaginative approaches to adjust their business which has usually meant shifting their focus to the online world.
This was the topic of discussions of a recent Fáilte Ireland webinar I was part of – How to Maximise your Opportunities for Online & Off-premise Sales. I was on a food writers panel along with Gillian Nelis from The Sunday Business Post, food and wine journalist Aoife Carrigy and hosted by the brilliant Olivia Collins director of Food PR & Communications. We got such strong feedback from food businesses during and after the event I thought it would be worth sharing some of my notes from the discussions (below). Here’s the full video of the event also, teed up to Olivia giving an excellent overview of how to tackle doing your own PR, followed by the panels advice on pitching and promoting your pivoted business.
Making a meal of it
There’s no denying that the big restaurant pivot has been the arrival of the ‘box’ in many guises. Take-away boxes, finish-at-home meal kit, drinks selections. And while they may sound like cool add-ons to a business, they are in fact most peoples attempt to stay afloat and keep their brand alive during these strange times. So how do you get your box noticed? And how can you get and keep those orders coming in?
My first bit of advice was a question – can you be found? Google yourself. What shows up? Where does your information live online? And then is all your information up to date. Are your opening hours there? Are your contact details clear? It’s important to do this online audit regularly to check what customers or media will find when they look you up. These days your online profile is your only shop window so you want to make sure the display looks as good as it can. Social media and PR go hand in hand these days, so you need to make sure your house is in order before you start putting yourself out there.
Social Media matters
Don’t be afraid of social media – it’s a great way of getting the word out to customers and to the media. If your customers are on these platforms then you should be too. Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are easy ways to share news, information and updates once you get the hang of them. And they also allow your customers to tag you, share their experiences of your business and spread the word organically.
Content – you already have it, just be creative
You already have your stories. Your menus, ingredients, your suppliers. They are all stories to be pitched and content to be shared on social media. What is unique in your offering? Are you supplying food that you wouldn’t be able to create at home? Does it represent your local area? Are your ingredients special or foraged? Does your kit deliver a big impact for a small effort? Will it teach me skills at home? Find your point of difference or the star in your story and shout it loudly and clearly. Start with a simple list of everything you do. Then a list of what you’ve got coming up to promote. I bet you’ll end up with a strong list of content to share. When you’re contacting journalists try to editorialise your story, think about what you want them to say about you.
Photos are so important. Go back to what I said about the shop window, your Instagram grid, your Facebook page, these are your shop windows. If you can invest in at least one batch or professional photos do that. Watch what Olivia has to say about photos in the video above, she has some great advice. For everyday photos for social media, a phone works great, just find a nice bright spot to take photos, and figure out your style. Is there a wall or some scenery that will make a good background? Finding one or two spots that work and reusing them adds a consistency to your photos. It’s a good idea to make a list of all the photos you need to sell your offering and get them ticked off as you work, or spend a few hours getting them all done and ready for when you need them.
Target and Tidy
Another list is needed for a targeting plan. Where do you want your offering or story to appear? Who do you want to write about and notice you? Start with that list. Remember local news can be just as effective as national news. Make sure you are following the relevant people writing and talking about food like yours. Plenty of writers, radio shows etc. do call-outs on Twitter. Most journalists and creators will have their email or a way of contacting them in their profile so you can easily build up a contacts list. It’s worth tidying up who you follow on social also. Do a bit of Marie Kondo on it. You should treat your time on your business social media as another part of your job. Only follow relevant food and media accounts so when you do go on there you won’t get distracted.
Time & scheduling
You need to spend time on social media, responding and engagement matter, but it’s also easy to lose yourself in it. Set timers when you use social media to avoid losing chunks of the day to scrolling. Remember all your content can be planned out and scheduled in one go instead of panic posting daily. Write out a list of what you want to talk about each week then plan it out. Maybe Tuesdays are for sharing your menu, Thursdays you talk about a supplier etc. Facebook Creator is a fantastic tool worth getting to grips with, it allows you to schedule Facebook & Instagram posts easily.
Yes more lists! This time I’m talking about ‘Listicles’ – articles that are written in a list-based format. They are a great place to be, whether it’s a listing in your local paper, on a blog or Instagram post or printed press. Lists are where many people look for recommendations. Make a list of the lists you’d like to be on. Are you hoping to be featured in McKenna Guides or Georgina Campbell’s Ireland? Then think about who else is featured on their lists. And how did they get there? What are they doing that’s different? There are also some great places online that give good exposure. All The Food is excellent if you are Dublin based, the Gastro Gay’s Irish Food List is a widely used for nationwide delivery options. Figure out where you’d like to be and then focus on how you can get there.
Be aware and be nice
Be aware of who you engage with or who contacts you. There may be people with lots of followers but are they relevant to you? To your business. Don’t feel you have to give freebies if asked.
Don’t tag people you don’t know in posts. If you want draw someone’s attention to a post, send that post to them by direct message. They may or may not share it but it’s a better approach than just tagging something of no relevance to them.
Most importantly though, remember to be nice online. There is great support and good vibes out there in the food industry. Remember to tag and promote others or comment and congratulate when you can.
I hope you’ll find some of this useful. Do get in touch if you have any questions & good luck!