He began as a quiet kid. Unassuming. Read a lot. As his brother describes, he wasn’t “bursting with talent.” When his mother died in his early youth, he began cooking – but not the stuff he cooks today. His first love was bread though maybe love isn’t the right word. It was more of an obsession. When he graduated from university, he went immediately to LA to work with bread pioneer, Nancy Silverton at her famous, world-class, iconic bakery, La Brea. After begging her for a job, he lucked out and she took him in. In his own words, he was, “Really not talented at all”. So untalented, that he forgot to add the salt to a 1300 lb batch of rosemary dough on a huge account. “I remember looking in on the ovens and saw the bread going up and then just like the crescendo of a concert, they all fell flat like a pizza.” Needless to say, he was fired.
This career start up disaster was by none other than Dan Barber, as chronicled in the Netflix series, Chef’s Table. Since his whirl at baking, Barber has gone on to run several restaurants, write numerous op-eds on food and agricultural policy, win multiple James Beard Foundation awards (like Best Chef: New York City, Outstanding Chef and Top Chef) and even produce a book, The Third Plate.
Hearing him tell his origin story from his position now (as one of Time’s most influential people), is almost comical for two reasons. First, that this world-renown chef forgot something as important and as basic as salt; and second, because he screwed up and was fired by one of the most world-renown bakers in the world.
The point is: who doesn’t love a comeback story? A rags to riches fairytale? The story of a couple kids who quit the 9 to 5 to start their own bar? We all love tales of success – and every success story is a good one, whether you graduated from food truck to full service, or quit a job you hated to pursue an idea.
Here’s how to find your brand story and how to promote it to put your restaurant on the map.
Why should I promote my brand story?
Great marketing is more than writing a catchy headline or showing the same advertisement to the same people x number of times. It’s about creating brand empathy. Storytelling is the best way to do this.
When we read stories, our brains aren’t just conjuring images. They’re releasing oxytocin – the love hormone – which is triggered by emotional interactions. "We are empathetically engaged,” explains Researcher Paul Zak from Claremont Graduate University, California, in reference to the effect of well-crafted stories. “We are treating this as if it is our real family. We can't help but care for these people.”
What does this mean for you? It means that customers don’t just see your restaurant as a place to satisfy their hunger drive; the restaurant can morph to represent the struggle and triumph of an individual’s persistence and becomes humanized. So, consumers become enchanted by the story that made the restaurant possible and feel a connection.
The numbers have something to say as well. In a study by Headstream, researchers found that 79% of respondents want to hear brands telling their stories, and that a whopping 55% said they would consider buying the brand if they really loved the story.
This means that to customers, it becomes less about buying a grilled cheese sandwich and more about supporting the idea of an owner that against all odds followed their dreams to achieve success.
How do you identify your brand’s story?
While every brand story is unique, identify yours by answering the following prompts:
Start at the beginning: Why did your restaurant come about? What did you or your partners do before owning a restaurant? What were your previous successes? Your previous failures? (Remember: failures are humanizing. We can all identify with them, so don’t be ashamed of them, instead embrace them as part of your story.)
Get at the heart of your motivations, your drive, and your passion: Why did you start your restaurant career? What motivated you? What are you goals? What do you stand for? How have your initial motivations to starting your restaurant manifested into a greater vision? What keeps you going?
Talk about your people: Who helped you get started? Who believed in you? What do you want to give your customers? What do you want to give your staff?
Where to tell your brand’s story?
Once you’ve answered the questions above and have created your story (have it proofread and vetted for clarity and accuracy) it’s time to get that brand story out into the world so it can start working for you. Here’s a few ways you can publish it:
Restaurant website: Your story should live on your website where it is publicly available for all to see. While many patrons might first come to your page to look at your menu, a good story can drive both resumes and patrons to your door.
Video: It’s one thing to write your brand story, creating a mental image of your restaurant’s colourful history. But when that is paired with your voice, your storytelling, as well as those who’ve known you and influenced you along the way, video is a powerful and attractive way to build the empathy storytelling creates. Images from the past, from the development of your restaurant, the construction phase to a full house – that’s what drives this empathy.
Pitch it: Once you’ve crafted your story in either written or video form, send it out into the world to restaurant publications, food journalists, food bloggers, and social media mavens. Also think about entrepreneurial publications and small business blogs that might be interested in the more business-focused aspects of your story.
Social media: It’s a good practice to share all news on social media, especially if the news reflects your restaurant’s values. Once you’re brand story is fleshed out, even subsequent events can be tied back to that story, reinforcing your brand and your values. For example, if your restaurant is running an event for charity and you’re promoting it on your Facebook and Twitter accounts, you can link back to your brand story and the values that emerged from your journey to where you are.
At the end of the day, your brand story should be at the core of all your future marketing efforts, the bottle from which all cups are filled. As Virgin Group’s Chief Marketing Officer, Ian Rowden once famously said, “The best brands are built on great stories.” The good thing? Every brand has one. It’s just about finding the best way to tell it.
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