A Masterchef’s Decade Old Reign
Director and executive chef Yogesh Datta of The Painted Heron, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, and Bangalore Express, talks to Humayun Hussain about his career and restaurants.
In this day and age, raising your business profile is important, as Tandoori finds out .
When the advent of modernity and authentic regional cooking finally took hold in Indian restaurants a decade or so ago, what also came with those aspects, was an awareness on the part of restaurateurs of how important PR and marketing can be.
After all, it makes sense to raise the profile of your restaurant as much as possible because it in the end means is bums on seats as well as media coverage. This is particularly the case nowadays as there are more restaurants than even before and the competitive nature of the restaurant sector as brutal as ever. Stay ahead of the game and you’ll survive, stay behind and you may not survive at all.
However, there are also certain caveats: namely, don’t be unrealistic in your approach. If you think you can get top national critics to come and review your restaurant, which offers no more than a formulaic high street menu, then you are mistaken. You not only have to have a quality menu that is distinct with hopefully the added bonus of good service and appealing surroundings, you ideally need to have a unique selling point.
The latter could be anything from a renowned and highly talented chef to a menu which is very different from your competitors – it could be all organic or the sourcing of the ingredients could be ethical – or there is an aspect of the design which stands out. In fact, it could be a number of things.
If you are confident that there is something to shout about your restaurant and tell the media, you will need to services of a good PR company. But if you are just another neighbourhood establishment that just wants to make money based on a familiar menu then you are better off doing marketing on a local level – conducting advertising, taking advertorials out in the local press, doing mailshots, have all kinds of special offers for your customers and so on - so that the public becomes aware of your restaurant.
“Restaurateurs need to understand,” says Paul West, managing director of Ignite Marketing, one of London’s leading marketing companies, “that the competitive environment in the Indian restaurant sector these days is very intense. Indian cuisine is much more eclectic now with regional cooking, as well as casual and contemporary restaurants, all vying for attention. So a business really needs to be able to stand out.
Restaurateurs who are very conservative in their outlook and not willing to change, both in their menu and their décor will in the end lose out because there are always new places opening up with ever more unique selling points. If a restaurant can at least get the basics right of being modern and attractive with food which is also at a certain level then a company like ours can focus on the communication and promotion side. We can implement techniques like ensuring that the restaurant’s website is visible, run competitions in the local press, build a database of customers so we can keep them updated with offers and newsletters. There are a number of other simple and effective things that can also be done.”
Ben Groom of Roche Communications, a PR company with clients such as The Cinnamon Club, states that while there are differences in whether it’s PR a restaurant wants or marketing, the former is part of the overall marketing strategy and ideally, both should be deployed.
“Marketing encompasses a wide range of techniques,” says Groom, “to inform consumers of a product or service. With marketing initiatives such as advertising and direct mail, the restaurant controls the content and tone of voice, when and where it goes out. In contrast, PR generates editorial, securing the endorsement of a third party opinion maker i.e. the journalist. Although with the risk of the content not being controlled, it is perceived as being independent and more likely to be trusted by the consumer, therefore arguably has more value.
To maximize awareness about a restaurant both PR and marketing should be employed with each having its own strengths. Marketing can reach a targeted audience quickly and is a great way to inform people about a specific opening or offer. PR can help spread the word further afield with much more scope available. For example, press reviews can be generated or features can be placed about the people behind the restaurant, giving much more depth to a brand.”
Gaby Riley, of JRPR, one of London’s best restaurant PR companies, with clients that have included the Mela group and currently has Indian Zest, in Sunbury-on-Thames, amongst other clients on its lists, notes that there is still a myth that PR for Indian restaurants is different from that done for non-Indian ones.
“Perhaps it was true 5-10 years ago,” she notes, “when the new style of Indian cooking was emerging and the press were more wary about featuring too many ethnic restaurants, but with the diversity of cuisine offered in the UK today and curry adopted at the UK’s national dish, I don’t think these attitudes hold true. There is currently a huge diversity of Indian restaurants operating successfully in the UK, each one seems to have its own identity, niche market and clientele. In London alone it is possible to identify many types of Indian restaurants. From our point of view, we look at each client as an individual, rather than bracketing them into a generic type by cuisine, and all PR campaigns undertaken are designed to meet the client’s individual objectives.
This is obviously the same whether they run an Indian, French or Spanish restaurant. It’s not unusual that we would have on our books a number of restaurants that would appear in the same section of a restaurant guide, eg French, British, Modern European– but normally there is a considerable difference between them all and the job of PR is to look to highlight what differentiates them from their competitors and promote that as widely as possible to generate business. There always has to be a story to set the restaurant apart, whether it is the chef, the regional style of the cooking, the interior, the cocktails, the set menu etc and this is what the PR campaign would focus on thus highlighting and creating a bespoke identity for each restaurant.”
Some restaurateurs prefer to take on PR services when they open a new restaurant, while others, for various reasons, may decide to take on PR once already established.
“When a restaurant is opening,” notes Groom, “the PR is responsible for having accurate and easily accessible information that journalists can use to write about the eatery. The opening and people behind the restaurant are the story so press liaison is more strategic with the placing of opening features, profile pieces and reviews. If a PR is responsible for an established restaurant the role of the PR becomes more creative. The restaurant and PR work together to forge new events, menus and offers, creating reasons for a journalist to continue writing about the venue.
There is no time restriction how long the services of a PR company can be used, but as a general rule an agency is retained for a minimum of three, ideally six, months in order for long lead times to be met and initiatives realised. The amount of coverage a restaurant enjoys, more often than not, directly correlates to the retention of a PR, either in-house or agency. Without someone to inform the press about developments, journalists simply may not hear about what is going on.”
Manoj Vasaikar, who, other than owning Indian Zest, also opened Indian Zing, in London’s Hammersmith, in 2005, initially, could not afford to employ the services of a PR company. But adds that if you have the budget, then it’s worth it.
“Good PR companies,” he says, “have the clout and know how to be able to get the media to review your establishment so long as you have a concept that is worth selling rather than just an average high street restaurant. Getting written about means you get exposure and your profile is raised. Besides, I’m too busy running the day to day business so the burden of PR is taken off my shoulders. So start researching PR companies early. Seek endorsements from other restaurateurs as well as journalists and invite a few agencies to pitch.At the same time, I don’t think restaurants should get too complacent just on the basis of good reviews. Sure your restaurant will be full and buzzing with excitement after the positive reviews have come out. But once the fuss has died down, you have to still maintain a good business and ensure that customers keep coming back to dine at your restaurant.”