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What your social media managers can learn from savvy chefs

Last updated on October 2nd, 2015 at 04:33 pm

Your social media team is always looking for inspiration, not just from the B2B space. That’s where media-crafty food industry professionals come in.

It wasn’t so long ago when a restaurant’s online presence consisted of a simple website that listed the venue’s address, hours, phone number, and menu. Now there’s also a Twitter account, Facebook page, Instagram feed, and the occasional shouting match on Yelp! between the restaurant owner and customers.

Chefs (and to a lesser extent, bartenders, farmers, butchers, and fishermen) have been propelled into celebrity status and patrons-turned-fans want to know more about them beyond what they’re serving that night. A few places emerged at the top of this social media heap, gaining followers around the world, respect from industry veterans, and most importantly, more seats being filled at the restaurant.

Your firm’s social media branch could learn these key takeaways from some media-savvy chefs.

Admit things aren’t perfect (then do something about it)

Addressing issues within your industry rather than pretending everything is hunky dory shows self-awareness, leadership, a deep understanding of the business. Most importantly, strong management shows what needs to be fixed within the system to improve the lives of your peers and those in the surrounding community.

The most well-known recent example of this is Kitchen Bitches, a conference back in September organized by restauranteur Jen Agg of Toronto’s Black Hoof, Rhum Corner, and Cocktail Bar. After news came out of a female pastry chef alleging that she was repeatedly harassed at a popular Toronto restaurant, Agg got fed up with what’s considered a wide-spreading, but seldom addressed problem in the industry.

So she organized Kitchen Bitches where women chefs spoke out about being harassed in the workplace and shared ideas on what could be done to stop it. What started out as an idea for a conference Agg tossed around on Twitter gained momentum as people volunteered their services, resulting in a sold-out event with high-profile speakers like Geogia chef Hugh Acheson, chef Amanda Cohen of New York’s Dirt Candy, Lucky Peach magazine editor Peter Meehan, and Eater editor Helen Rosner.

More recently, Enoteca Sociale’s chef Kris Schlotzhauer posted on Instagram about changes he made in his kitchen to address the industry-wide problem of burnout, long hours, and low pay among cooks. Schlotzhauer gave diners a glimpse into the hardships of a glamourized industry, and showed other chefs that small changes can result in a healthier working environment.

Your B2B firm’s social media efforts should be open about what needs to be done to better make a buyer journey or customer service experience smoother for your fans. Otherwise, you aren’t being as transparent as what many experts advise.

Show how the (metaphorical) sausage is made

The idea of social media for businesses—aside from straight-up self-promotion—is to show transparency between you and the consumer. Chefs often upload shots of themselves prepping for dinner service, the staff meals they fuel up on before service, the construction progress on their upcoming restaurant, and foraging trips to get the absolute freshest ingredients.

In another example, Chef Shahir Massoud of the casual Italian restaurant chain Levetto tweeted pictures of himself making gluten-free pasta to one customer who inquired if they could accommodate her gluten-intolerant friend. The customer really appreciated the extra length the chef took in personally reaching out to her, earning the restaurant a repeat customer and positive word of mouth that can spread quickly in the age of retweets.

Granted, the creative process at your business is probably more akin to a half-written Word document on your laptop than making pasta, but see if there is any way to show the research, development, and manufacturing stages that give prospective customers a behind-the-scenes look (and appreciation) of all the hard work and time that goes into the finished product.

Of course, the teasers also builds hype and anticipation. That being said, if you’re a new business, don’t get too coy and abstract with the previews unless you already have a big following and are opening a restaurant with Drake (we’re looking at you, Susur Lee). Be succinct and to-the-point with what you’re doing or else people will just be confused by the cryptic posts and forget about this company they’ve never heard about.

Don’t be get angry at your critics 

Having a social media presence means opening yourself up to criticism and attacks from the public and peers—and we all have our favourite Twitter fights where the only winners are the people watching it all go down on their lunch break.

In the early days of Twitter (back in the prehistoric year of 2008 when Toronto’s restaurant scene was getting a new generation of young chefs opening their own places), it seemed like every other week a chef would have all-caps diatribes about getting a bad restaurant review. One chef in particular, who cooked at a now-closed restaurant that was fairly well-received at the time, tweeted endless insults (some personal) at one critic who didn’t care for his meal (sorry rubberneckers, those tweets have wisely since been deleted). Not only did that show immaturity and unprofessionalism on the part of the chef, it pointed readers to the negative review and repelled potential customers.

Another chef tried to lure away customers lining up at another brunch spot by tweeting that they shouldn’t wait in line because his place had plenty of available seats. Stealing away customers from another restaurant? Bad. Basically admitting that you barely have customers? Even worse.

Chefs have wizened up about how they present themselves online now. When a customer leaves a negative Facebook message or tweet about their experience, they simply ask for their contact and settles the issue privately over the phone or email as soon as possible. A problem is rarely solved within the confines of 140 characters, and a phone call means that you’re taking the time to personally handle the situation rather than just typing out something on the way to lunch.

Similarly, a thank-you tweet to positive feedback also shows customer engagement.

Photo via Karon Liu


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Karon Liu
Karon Liu
Karon Liu is a Toronto-based freelance food writer, photographer, and recipe columnist for The Toronto Star. His work has also appeared in publications such as The Globe and Mail, Vice’s Munchies, Sharp Magazine, The Grid, NOW Magazine, and Toronto Life. You can see if he practices what he preaches at @KaronLiu on Twitter and Instagram.