In 2016 179 new restaurants opened in London, whilst 56 closed according to The Harden’s 25th annual issue of their Guide. Whilst the guide celebrated this as the highest ever openings rate with a ratio of openings to closures to be applauded; there is still a highly significant churn. Indeed, London restaurateurs warn the situation will worsen, as they appeal to the government over soaring business rates, the weak pound and Brexit (the latter two impacting in many areas including ingredient price and labour).

So, in these times of heightened strain is it fair to say restaurants which give greater attention to their communications output and branding, behaving as successful brands do, stand a greater chance of survival? Put simply, deploying a strategic over-arching brand message and mission or objective to which all activity must point, based on insights and audience data. To add to this, working with integrated intent across marketing, social, PR, experiential and of course the restaurant-goers’ experience. We look at high end restaurants to chains as well as trend led ‘one item’ restaurants to consider this point.

Restaurants are at the sharp end of trend, living and dying by the sword if this is the chosen route. So let’s consider these and put aside the obvious victims of churn straight away. They are the Pokomon Go restaurants; here today and most likely gone tomorrow as a write off to long term trading in most cases. These include for eg- The Cereal Killer Café, Hip Chips, Balls & Company, Top Dog.

But what about the rest? First up, the high end ‘celebrity chef’ restaurants. They have brand ambassadors and need a stringent communications strategy to insure against at best media fatigue, and at worse, crisis comms if things turn sour. Trade can be severely knocked with both without planning and structure. Unlike a brand, these restaurants cannot distance themselves and fire their ‘Ambassador’. There have been some highly visible tumbles from grace and re-invention can be as hard as making Blue Nun cool again.

Next, the high end destination restaurants without the star chef, their positioning frequently built on the ‘glittering clientele with great food’. Here, we would suggest days are numbered on the traditional approach of ‘address book PR’. Maintaining the first flush of opening excitement and resultant positioning as the celebs and influencers ‘hot right now eatery’ is as painful as chasing youth with facelifts and fillers in a bid to retain the gleam and appeal, once the next new hot spot is open. So, is it good enough these days to have a ‘great chef and a bunch of fickle famous faces’? Yes – if you deploy strategy and create content on top; Rita Ora to launch and continued brand activity and positioning in the heartland of the clientele such as the BAFTAs is smart restaurant brand thinking, additional content is needed even when you have ‘everything’ already. The perils if you don’t? Empty tables, an over reliance on social and finally the graveyard of constant online discounting.

What about the mere mortals – one offs or small three or so groups? You are never too small to brand and a branding agency can reinforce the proposition with an identity and the tools, as well as mindset, to be single minded in speaking to the defined target audience. This can even go to the point of the creation of a tone of voice guide; hugely beneficial in PR and social – they keep all agencies and in-house teams (including the kitchen) on brand. Like a choir all signing together without a bum note – a joy for your audience, ergo business.

Rita Ora maybe out of budget scope but clever thinking and working hand in glove with partners who are pros at recommending and delivering a single minded comms plan is smart and arguably essential in this climate. Take for example our recent work with Roast – open for years and recently featured in Time Out, Metro, City AM and on BBC Breakfast with the ‘Roast Dinner Burger’. It is this sector of the restaurant business that is best placed to jump on trend – from food to lifestyle and place specials on the menu that can be promoted – as long as they link to the over-arching messaging and brand identity.

And the mighty chains. The mid-market high street and shopping mall stalwarts are also facing the same issues as the sector overall and more, with decreased footfall on the high street due in part to online shopping. The ‘branding’ is obvious, but brand thinking is often not seen through. Offers are in abundance and often ‘price’ is the only communications consumers receive, without looking after the brand’s key credentials and over-arching messaging, and there is a huge arsenal of media opportunity here at the chains’ fingertips to do just this. Like big brands, they have the right to comment on their area of expertise; an established burger restaurant can comment on relevant sales and trend for example. Furthermore, as lifestyle food and drink brands, with the right PR agency they can skillfully take the media opportunities further than food pages and listings and onto the news and features pages with strategic campaigns; In the case of our work with Giraffe we have generated editorial relating to the UK’s enhanced world food appetite over traditional British. All working with the over-arching single minded goal of communicating the restaurants positioning on world food and most important bringing all editorial back to the brand, to drive footfall and sales.

Wild Card, specialists in restaurant and consumer brand PR combine this to deliver successful campaigns for restaurants across all genres and sizes. If you would like to talk about your business please get in touch.