While most families are shopping and planning for the holidays, destinations across California are busy making preparations of their own. They're making their lists and checking them twice--but the lists are of participating restaurants, not gifts, as we head into Restaurant Week season.
Since 2011, January has officially been known as California Restaurant Month (CRM), created by Visit California to promote the wealth of Restaurant Week and Restaurant Month programs held throughout the state during the month of January. What began as a way of encouraging post-holiday travel to the Golden State during a typically soft period evolved into a valuable marketing platform dedicated to broadcasting California's incredible culinary tourism offerings.
During CRM, Visit California partners directly with Convention and Visitors Bureaus and Chambers who create their own Restaurant Week or Restaurant Month events, typically promoting specially priced prix-fixe menus or event-specific menu items. CRM promotes the collection of destinations and each of their unique events, but it also works to provide partners with the resources to help build and grow those programs.
In 2013, Visit California hosted its first Restaurant Week Best Practices Webinar, covering an in-depth body of information, samples, insights and recommendations for executing a successful Restaurant Week program. While most destinations will agree that these programs take a fair amount of organizational muscle, those who most feel the impact of a successful event will likely agree on a few of the most important elements fueling their success.
Tell Your Story
Offering specially priced menus as a driver for business is only one piece of the equation. How can you use your Restaurant Week event as a hook to help tell your destination's story? Are you known for a specific product or ingredient? A style of cooking perhaps? Do you have a culinary figurehead in your area's history that has informed what it is today? How do you want visitors to see your destination and its place in the California culinary landscape? This is your chance to paint that picture--through your PR messaging, digital communications, even your program's overall concept and branding. Taking a moment to think through the positioning behind your destination and making sure your programming echoes that will create a more robust promotional vehicle for all.
Find a Flag Bearer
I frequently hear how challenging it can be to recruit restaurants for Restaurant Weeks, especially in the midst of holiday chaos. What's one thing you can do to make this a little easier for your organization? Find one noteworthy person within your culinary community who will help to champion your cause. If you can identify one chef or operator who believes in the program and what it stands for ("all boats rise with the tide", etc.), you can use him or her as a flag bearer to build momentum and buy-in. Ask this person for a quote to use in your recruitment materials. Ask them to co-host an industry mixer, helping to support your message and encouraging others to come on board. And, if they're willing, perhaps they'll even make a few phone calls to other restaurant operators in the area encouraging them to get involved. Having a little influence on your side from someone respected within the industry goes a long way. Find that person and use them wisely. Then thank them with PR and marketing coverage once the event goes live.
Engage, Engage, Engage
Oftentimes destinations create a solid Restaurant Week event, doing all the right things with all the right restaurants offering great deals, and it still falls flat. What happened? The work behind a successful Restaurant Week doesn't end when you've pushed your list of restaurants live and crossed your fingers. Your work has just begun. A successful program needs constant engagement: engagement with your restaurants, making sure they clearly understand what it is they agreed to and how to execute it (especially through proper staff training); engagement with your consumers, making sure that you remain in conversation with diners as they experience your restaurants and your program (this is your program after all); engagement with your partners, making sure that they too deliver the agreed upon exposure and have all that they may need to support your program in the most robust way possible.
For a look at the video or PDF of the entire Visit California Restaurant Week Best Practices Webinar and for more on how to continue to refine your Restaurant Week programming, click here.
As California Restaurant Month continues to grow, we want to support our destination partners in growing with us. We'd like to hear from you: what best practices can you share?
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