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To open a restaurant, it takes more than inheriting mom’s meatball recipe and finding a deal on a building lease. These three branding, marketing, promotions and social media experts are the overlooked factors in many local eateries’ success.
It’s Sunday morning, and your stomach is rumbling for eggs Benedict and a cappuccino. You’ve been to the regular spots—Tap 42 in Fort Lauderdale, or maybe Salt7 in Delray Beach—much too much, and it’s time to pick a new location. So you Google “brunch Boca Raton,” or you search “breakfast” with the places tab on Facebook, or maybe you reference your favorite local foodie blogger’s Instagram page to find a square image of a dish you’d like to purchase.
The terms front-of-house (hosts/servers/bartenders) and back-of-house (chefs/kitchen aids/dishwashers) make up the classic foundation of a restaurant, but in the digital age, there’s a demand for another house. Its job? Branding, marketing and promoting. Essentially, this “other house” is the group of people tasked with reaching you while you’re decision-making in bed on a Sunday morning, and getting you to sit down in front of a plate of Benedict at their client’s restaurant.
“My job is to help chefs, restaurateurs, mixologists [and] budding TV personalities in the food or beverage world get their name, get their brand, in front of the people who need to know about it,” says Larry Carrino, president of Brustman Carrino PR.
The people who need to know about it are the journalists who write articles about the “10 Best Brunch Spots You Need to Visit Now,” or the social media influencers who get 4,000 likes on the photos they post of breakfast sandwiches.
Carrino and his team of nearly 10 account executives work with brands like Meat Market in Palm Beach, Oceans 234 in Deerfield Beach and Kuro at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood to extract and relay the information about their clients that will result in publicity.
“We are storytellers,” he says. “We are about working with an individual or a brand or a concept and figuring out what it is about them that makes them unique or interesting.”
There to create interest is Manuel Bornia, CEO of Experimar.
You might think the trendy wall in your favorite café was just a nice touch added during the construction plan, or the logo on a plate that arrives at your table is there for theft prevention. (Or the opposite—we all have that friend with an unruly collection of plastic cups they’ve taken from here and there.)
But those details were likely strategically added by a branding and marketing team like Bornia’s Experimar, which boasts 40 to 45 restaurant clients including The Regional in West Palm Beach and Louie Bossi’s in Fort Lauderdale.
“I think that a lot of times people build, create, lease space, put chairs in it, make meatballs, and then wonder where the people are,” Bornia says. “That’s not enough. Great food and good service doesn’t cut it anymore, because I can get great food and awesome service by going online and having it brought to me.”
With on-demand food delivery options, restaurants have to give guests a reason to leave their homes. Bornia says this is accomplished by providing diners with an experience.
Through market research, business plan development and the creation of a mood board, Experimar works with clients to nail down everything from color schemes and uniforms to menus and attitudes for their restaurants.
“You have to keep [guests] engaged. You have to sell them an idea. You have to tell them a story,” Bornia says. “You want to feel like you’re in [chef] Lindsay Autry’s kitchen, or you want to feel like you’re having dinner with [chef] Louie Bossi at his 100-year-old restaurant on Las Olas.”
Creating a brand with personality is one thing, but maintaining it is another.
Aubrey Swanson founded AUBOOM Media in 2012. Through her company, she provides involved social media management for restaurants like the Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale’s Burlock Coast. Services include everything from creating content and engagement on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts to updating Google and Yelp profiles.
“One of my biggest beliefs and hopes is that if I were to list all of my clients out to someone, they wouldn’t know that it’s one company doing [them all], because I’m hoping that all of the voices are very different,” she says.
For Burlock Coast, Swanson uses a voice that’s synonymous with the restaurant’s Prohibition theme. “We’re calling [alcohol] ‘giggle water,’ calling people ‘scalawags,’ things like that,” she says.
In addition to language, with each post she considers the timing, length, frequency, content and the overall aesthetics of the pages she runs.
“There’s really a big [return on interest] for restaurants,” she says. “If you have a new dish, or a special, or you’re promoting an event you’re hosting, you can show [followers] how worthy it is.”
However, Carrino notes that the same digital platforms that help build traction can also lead to demise.
“I don’t underplay the importance of word of mouth,” he says. “You could have great write-ups everywhere, but if everyone who comes to your restaurant is disappointed and tells their friends and family, and they’re on Facebook and they’re on Yelp and they’re on Twitter, and they’re [writing] you’re the worst thing ever, that PR is not going to save you. Eventually, word of mouth will catch up to you and will be your undoing.”
So, while the “other house” is an important—and maybe even essential—tool for building a successful restaurant, it’s all dependent on the eatery’s grassroots: an impressive menu, edible entrées and a friendly staff.
“I can get the right people to you,” Carrino says. “It’s what I do and it’s what this agency has been doing for 30 years, but once they come through your door, that’s on the restaurant.”