To get a customer to walk through the door, it’s crucial they trust the restaurant and what it stands for.

Managing your staff, menu updates, and POS system training are all things within your wheelhouse of running a restaurant. Getting the local media to acknowledge you and write about your establishment—not so much. Yet, despite the perceived or experienced difficulty in promotion and marketing, you’ve got an interest and recognize the opportunity to gain awareness for your business.

Before we get to the how, let’s start with why. Why do you want press coverage for your restaurant? To get a customer to walk through your door, it’s crucial they trust your restaurant—trust that they’ll have a good time, the food will be great and so on. If they haven’t dined at your establishment yet, how can you achieve that? Build trust through press coverage. A review or article from a food writer, editor or critic offers unbiased third-party validation that customers will believe. That’s powerful and important.

Where do you start? Every media person is seeking news or a unique story. Start with that—what’s unique and interesting about your full service restaurant right now? It could be that you’re opening a new location—your first or an expansion. Potentially you’ve hired a new chef or introduced a new menu. Hint: your story needs to be interesting to the broader community—not just your staff or friends and family.

As your wheels start turning for ideas to pitch your restaurant to local media, try these tried and true tactics for securing press.

Host an invite-only tasting event

If you’re celebrating a grand opening or unveiling a new menu, consider hosting a VIP media tasting event. Having 1:1 facetime with top reporters, bloggers and editors will allow you to tell your story better than just a press release. It also provides a controlled environment for storytelling, conveying important details like how delicious the food tastes or how awesome the chef is.

Hosting an event is extra work, but so worth it because it improves the quality of media coverage around your restaurant and sets the stage for future reviews from food critics to be positive. It also gives you a chance to connect and build relationships with these influencers, which will help you long term.

Consider business story exclusives

What is the top media outlet or food writer in your market? Do you have a unique local restaurant business story to tell? If so, connect with the writer and offer them an exclusive. An exclusive story offer makes the interview and story more attractive for the writer and gives you the opportunity to really own how your story is told. And upon publication, it also gets the attention of other local food media, making them interested in you.

This strategy works well if you have big news to share—like a new location or new chef. Work with the writer to schedule their story to hit about two weeks before your opening day or new chef starts to generate some excitement and anticipation.

Create a feel-good story

No news? Create it by partnering with a nonprofit organization. It’s a win for everyone. Loyal new customers find you through the organization’s network, and the organization profits on proceeds from an event. Host a lunch or dinner on a day that’s typically slower and donate a percentage of your sales. This strategy gives you something new to promote to media.

Choose a community group with a cause that is true to you, and also one that is well connected in your community. Determine if there is a special story you can uncover—media love human-interest stories! What will the money you raise support? Is there a special cause or person within the organization you’re supporting who has a fascinating and timely story? If you can, time your event to coincide when people will be talking about a specific cause. For example, if you choose an organization that benefits diabetes, host it during National Diabetes Awareness Month or on World Diabetes Day. This provides added news value and relevance.

Conduct seasonal media outreach

Here is another way to create news for your restaurant when you have none—create a calendar of the top holidays that are relevant to your restaurant and that local food media cover. You can start your search for niche holidays (like National Chocolate Day, National Cocktail Day, National PB&J Day). Develop a pitch for those holidays, including a seasonal recipe or technique tip. Pitch newspapers and online media three to four weeks in advance of the date and up to four months in advance for monthly print magazines. Broadcast media, especially local morning or midday shows, are great contacts for seasonal food stories and cooking segments—pitch them two weeks in advance.

Now ask yourself, which makes the most sense for me. It might be seasonal media outreach or a tasting event today, followed by a business story next year.  Just start somewhere. Overcome the mental barrier and find your place in the spotlight and watch your restaurant grow as a result of your commitment and perseverance.

Expert Takes, Feature