Why restaurants need strategic PR to survive in a brutal market

20 November 2018

Last week, the Evening Standard reported that London is close to hitting “peak restaurant” as intense competition pushes the rate of closures to an all-time high.

The study revealed that 117 restaurants have closed in London so far this year. Many of these closures, particularly those from large casual dining groups like Byron Burger, Jamie’s Italian & Strada, have been widely documented, however 60+ of these have been from independent restaurants, in thriving areas such as Soho and Angel.

Over the past ten years, London has propelled itself into global limelight; with the passion and innovation of some of the city’s chefs during this period positioning the capital as a hub for world-class culinary excellence. These figures come as the number of new restaurant openings for 2018 reaches 167 and counting – currently the fourth highest year on record since 1992, according to Harden’s. And spends are up, too – a study by Visa showed that spending in the F&B sector has risen 7.7% compared to last year.

With these positives in mind, why do restaurants continue to suffer and close? While the soaring rents in the city can’t be ignored, another explanation could be that the increase in new concepts (food halls, street food markets and pop ups) combined with the arrival of sleek property developments (such as Coal Drop’s Yard and Bloomberg Arcade) have spoilt Londoners for choice when it comes to eating out – with the result being a new wave of discerning diners.

The London restaurant scene has quickly become the new ‘Rock & Roll’ – with many enjoying an intense ‘new opening’ media buzz which can often steadily fizzle out as the next ‘hot new thing’ comes along. Once the hype dies down, a restaurant needs substance to survive, but the closure of restaurants with renowned chefs serving genuinely great food (such as Jason Atherton’s Sosharu and Lee Westcot’s Typing Room) show that a good menu is not enough to keep a restaurant safe.

A long-lasting media strategy is the only way to ensure this buzz is sustained, particularly in today’s new era of eating out, in which social media platforms such as Instagram mean ‘influencers’ are now holding more control than ever over a brand’s success. Identifying the power of influencers is the first and most important step for restaurants. Once a strategy is put into place to harness their value, the results can be astounding – something which was first made clear to us back in 2011, when we launched MEATliquor. Our award-winning PR strategy saw us scrap a press release and focus soley on social media – a risky move during a time when the term ‘influencer’ was virtually unheard of. The result was authentic engagement which started from the bottom up, and a solid foundation of credibility to build on with further ongoing media relations.

With this in mind, engaging PR is more important than ever when it comes to making an impact on a restaurant business. Restaurants need to be at the forefront of the public’s mind at all times in order to give them the best chance of coming out on top, and influencer marketing and traditional and SEO-optimised PR are one of the most effective ways of keeping brand exposure at its highest in the midst of an overcrowded, competitive market. The bubble certainly shows no signs of bursting and ignoring the value of these could be fatal to a restaurant’s survival.

Lisa Kerr, Account Manager, Restaurant Division