As member of an online writer´s group I enjoy being part of a community of craftsmen who occasionally are stumped and look to other group members for advice. Yesterday, a member of the group wrote about an experience she had after dining in a restaurant she was in the process of featuring for a local magazine.
When the writer finished dining she left a substantial tip and began to leave assuming the restaurant had comped the meal as this had been a previous practice pre-arranged by her editor. The waitress presented a check as the guests were preparing to leave and astonished the writer. The now mortified writer prepared to pay but the General Manager, who had just been interviewed tableside, noticed her surprise from across the dining room and quickly solved the problem by taking the check and comping the evening.
Although I only know the writer through an online relationship, I do know that the last thing any restaurant owner needs is to have a writer leave with a bad taste in their mouths. Not that anyone should have a bad experience, a writer on assignment, especially if prearranged through an editorial or public relations department should be shown star level hospitality.
I am not professing that everyone who writes should be comped or dines gratis. I am speaking of the writer who had called ahead of time, or whose editor had called and made arrangements to write a feature story.
Here are a few tips on how to get the most mileage out of a pen.
1). Highlight the name of the writer and the number of guests accompanying them in the reservation book.
2). Awareness is vital. Make sure your staff is made aware the media has a reservation on the night scheduled. Discuss this during your pre-shift meeting that you have each night to discuss special guests, menu changes, and menu items that are new or changing.
3). Assign the table to your best waiter.
4).Instruct the waiter to suggests appetizers, wine, entrees and other items that you would like the writer to feature. Don´t be pushy, but feature writers will enjoy the guided tour through your menu.
5). Publicity is the goal. Don´t over emphasize it. Give the writer a chance to feel the atmosphere and establish their own voice for the restaurant.
6). Hovering is a culinary crime. Know your place-in the dining room- and make sure your wait staff knows theirs. Don´t spend more time than normal at the table unless asked by the writer. Don´t keep asking how everything is.
7). Organization is a sign of a successful restaurant. Communicate with your chef and kitchen staff. Let them know they should look especially groomed with clean chef whites and a more organized kitchen than usual.
8). Lulls are bad. If you notice a lull in the conversation at the table, don´t hesitate to ask the writer if they would enjoy a quick tour of the kitchen and the opportunity to meet the chef. Let the chef know before hand that this is about to happen. Nothing is more impressive than seeing a chef under control on a busy night. You may have to fake this.
9). Prepare a press package ahead of time. This should have a bio on the owners, managers, and chef. It should include a well written paragraph about the restaurant, its history and other points of interest. A photo or two taken as professionally as possible are great assets to have. Don´t expect to see any of this in print-it is merely data for the feature writer to use if needed.
10). Do not present a check. Make sure you as the owner inform the writer and guests that the house has taken care of the check. This will make everyone more comfortable and will not make the writer feel as though a large tip is required. Most professional writers know what to leave in the tip department and will appreciatively tip the staff.
Also, know the difference between a restaurant critic, whose job is to critique a culinary experience and let the world know whether it deserves to live, improve, or die and a feature writer whose assignment consists of announcing to readers that a place of secrecy exists in one state or another.
Both are vital to restaurants and media. And, most readers can tell in the first paragraph, and by the authors reputation whether fluff, puff, feature or critique. But those are the established guidelines of the editor.
As a restaurateur, our guidelines are to feature hospitality and make sure our guests feel as though we have done a superlative job. If that guest happens to be a wordsmith who will spread the word through words all the better.