As a food blogger, I get invited to quite a bit of press dinners. Some are run perfectly, while others leave a bitter taste in your mouth. If you are a restaurant and are planning to invite press (including bloggers) to dine at your restaurant, here are some suggestions for you:
1. Research Your Writers: Don’t just invite writers willy nilli. Read their pieces. If you are an Italian restaurant and they tend to review Italian restaurants negatively, he/she may not be the right person to invite to your press event. Check their traffic and social media credentials. It’s all well and good if you get a glorious review, but not if nobody reads it. You may not need for 1 million people to see the piece, but if the writer has a good audience in your neighborhood, he/she could be the perfect person for you to target. This means you have to check if they are active on social. If they have a facebook page, twitter, and google plus page; you should give them more weight over writers that do not.*
2. Be Very Specific: It is important to structure your dinners. Let bloggers know exactly what they are in for:
Can they bring a guest
What items will they be tasting**
Will there be wine included with their meal
Can they take pictures or will you provide images
Find out if they have allergies (last thing you want to do is send someone to the hospital)
Tell them who will guide them through the meal
Kindly ask them to tip at their discretion (your servers deserve to be tipped for their service)
3. Select a Date: Ideally, you want to pick a day of the week when you are not empty, but not incredibly busy. If you invite press when you are completely empty, they may get a bad idea of the atmosphere. If you are too busy, you may not be able to devote the right amount of attention to make sure that all goes well.
4. Pick a Guide: Do not let food writers/bloggers sit alone at the table. Things can easily go wrong this way. Instead, ask a family member or a seasoned member of the restaurant to sit with the group and guide them through their meal. This person needs to be carefully selected. He/she must be knowledgeable and personable. By having someone at the table from the restaurant, they can make sure that anything that does go wrong can be mitigated immediately.
5. Prepare Press Sheet: Prepare some press sheets with information about your restaurant. It should include at least the following information, but you can include anything you feel is important. Make sure to digitize this press sheet so that when the writers leave you can email them the information along with a few pictures (a picture of the chef, logo, a signature dish, and the interior/exterior of the restaurant).
The Basics: Name, address, telephone, website
Social Links: Facebook Page, Twitter, Google+
Hours of Operation
Brief History: When did the restaurant open, who is involved (chef, restaurateur, sommelier, etc…)
Cuisine Type & Features
Media Contact: The name, email, and telephone number for someone who can answer questions or render assistance if needed
6. Send a Reminder Email: Email your selected writers a week before, and then the day before your event to remind them (bloggers and food writers get insanely busy and sometimes we forget things…it can’t hurt to send a gentle reminder).
7. Triple Check Everything: Are the salt and pepper shakers filled up, is the wine chilled, are your press sheets ready…you get the idea.
8. Welcome the Group: When the group arrives, have the chef or your “selected guide” introduce him/herself. For an added touch of class, offer a nice (albeit inexpensive) glass of Prosecco while they wait for everyone to arrive…and a little chit chat.
9. The Dinner: Have your guide tell the group interesting anecdotes about the restaurant, fun things they can write about. Little personalized tid bits can make the experience worth it. Make sure that each dish is explained: ingredients, sourcing and preparation. If you are offering wine pairings, why was each wine paired with the dish.
10. Thank The Group: Sounds like such a silly thing, but thanking the group for taking the time to come to your event can be a huge deal. Thank them at the restaurant, and honestly ask them if there was anything they did not enjoy. This is a great chance for you to find out if there are things that need changing at the restaurant. If they have criticism, don’t take it to heart. See it as an opportunity to fix said issue. The following day, email each writer individually to thank them for coming. Include your press sheet and images. If the blogger mentioned something negative when you asked for feedback, thank them for their feedback and acknowledge that you will work with your staff to resolve said issue.
11. Socialize: Spend a few minutes on social to add their facebook pages to your pages’ favorites. Follow the writers on Twitter and keep an eye out for their reviews. Also, offer to do a chef/restaurateur interview. If they enjoyed their meal, no doubt they will take you up on this offer and increase your visibility.
12. Share: When the reviews/features come out, make sure to share them on your website (links help bloggers come up higher in the Google engine, this is probably the nicest thing you can do for them), Facebook page, twitter account, and Google Plus page.
These are the absolute basics to running a successful press dinner. Most food bloggers/writers love food and want nothing than to see a place they love succeed. If they have a good experience, I can guarantee that they will become your most loyal ambassadors.
*Keep your dinners small…no more than 4 writers at a time. This allows them to get to know each other, and allows your ‘guide’ to manage the group better”.
**I usually recommend a 3 course tasting menu with 2 glasses of wine (not including the welcoming Prosecco). I suggest you create a special menu for the evening, where they have a choice between three items for each of the three courses.
If you want some more tips, drop me an email at bvalbuena at friendsEAT dot com.