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Opening Act

Want a successful restaurant opening? Make sure to use public relations.

by Ellen Hartman

I know of a casual dining restaurant that is spot on when it comes to crisis management, but does not use public relations (PR) for new store openings. Sure, they advertise, but that impact is a drop in the bucket compared to the word-of-mouth marketing, social media presence, restaurant reviews – all the bits and pieces a PR consultant can help facilitate to create a positive image of your company’s brand and spread the word about your new venture.

To skip PR for a restaurant opening is short sighted and a failure in so many ways. at’s because a small nancial investment in an opening PR plan and outreach will pay back many times over in the long term.

A restaurant opening in a new community that is unfamiliar with that brand needs PR. You should be the one to tell your story of who you are and what you o er. Because if you don’t tell it, someone is going to tell it for you … and it may not be what you like.

Often I’ve heard, “the local restaurant operator is handling it.” is is a bad idea. You should not depend on the franchisee or local restaurant team to handle PR. They have enough on their plate between construction, staffing, inspections and the whole other list of operational matters they must deal with. Building a media list and reaching out to local reporters and bloggers should not be their priority.

It is helpful to have an experienced PR professional to identify and coordinate media opportunities. It’s also good to have a third-party PR person handle any tricky media situations. Let the restaurant and the local team be the stars, and let the PR person handle the intricacies of the media back-and-forth. If budgets are tight, get creative: hire a college student who is majoring in communications.

Below is a list of the minimal PR tactics you, along with the help of your PR person, should do when opening a new restaurant.

Opening PR Checklist

Develop a media list and pitch local media. is is the most obvious and the most important. A good PR person will be able to identify the correct people to pitch and will come up with di erent angles to maximize your media coverage – starting from opening announcements to a restaurant review.

Train media spokespeople. Once the interviews are secured, your spokesperson needs to know the key message points to best tell your story. Your PR person can train them and get them on message.

Craft a news release and media advisory. It is important that you tell your story in writing. I recommend using Associated Press (AP) style, the standard for journalists, in writing a news release and include the who, what, when and where. Plus make sure you tell what is different about your concept and add quotes from the owners and/or chef.

Join the local chamber of commerce. A chamber membership is valuable if you invest your time in it; what you put in is what you will get out. For example, most chambers have a communications person, and a relationship with that person can lead to your restaurant news included on the chamber website, in newsletters, emails, social media posts, etc. You
also have access to their membership list and can use that for a special opening party and ongoing events.

Host a blogger party. Identify a list of local foodie or mommy bloggers to help promote your restaurant. Of course, you want to invite any restaurant or food bloggers, but you also want to invite any lifestyle bloggers or community news bloggers.

Leverage social media. Starting a Facebook page and Twitter and Instagram accounts are a great way to communicate directly with potential guests. You can use your accounts to provide pre-opening updates and photos to excite guests. You can also use the accounts to announce opening specials, giveaways, etc. But you must first build your followers. A POS loyalty program can gather the contact data, but ask permission and get your customers to opt into your loyalty list. Follow customers, media and bloggers who you want to follow you.

Earn third-party recommendations. By earning media coverage (not advertisements you have bought), you are giving credibility to your restaurant. A positive restaurant review, an endorsement from a trusted blogger or the high praise of a chamber of commerce member can provide credibility to your new, unfamiliar restaurant and can encourage those in the local community to give your restaurant a try.

Ellen Hartman



Ellen Hartman, APR, Fellow PRSA, is CEO of Hartman Public Relations, a full-service public relations agency specializing in the foodser- vice industry. Hartman has experience working with many hospitality companies including Co- ca-Cola, Concessions International, Chili’s, Uncle Maddio’s and Arby’s. An industry leader for more than 25 years, Hartman is active in the Women’s Foodservice Forum and Les Dames d’Escof er International. She is a member of the Public Relations Society of Ameri- ca’s Fellow program for senior accomplished professionals.



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