At the inaugural Best New Chefs mentorship program, industry leaders spoke to the new class of up-and-coming chefs about how to navigate the world of PR.
While long hours, weird liquor laws, and funding woes are some of the more obvious struggles new chefs face while opening restaurants, there's one topic that gets talked about significantly less: public relations.
When should a chef hire a PR firm, and when should they not? When does media attention help a restaurant, and when does it hurt? At our Best New Chefs mentorship program in May, Alex Stupak, Michael Solomonov, and Polished Pig Media founder Melany Robinson gathered at Empellon Taqueria to speak with the new class of chefs about what makes smart restaurant PR in the social media era.
"Embracing PR and your personal brand sounds great," Solomonov said. "But it's also super uncomfortable."
Indeed it is. Below, find all of the intel we gathered from Stupak, Solomonov, and Robinson on how they navigate the process.
When chefs do need PR ...
1. If there's media interest.
"If you think about it, someone calls to make a reservation at your restaurant, you would want to be able to call them back right away. If someone is interested in what you're working on and reaches out for something, you should want to answer the call—it's just an extension of how a restaurant should be run." - Alex Stupak
2. If you're overwhelmed by event, charity, and festival requests.
"PR can vet opportunities for you and charitable requests. Outside of charity, the reality is that people’s free time to take care of themselves and their families is so critical. The requests that come in are out of control. I'm sure just sitting here now that there are 10 requests in my inbox. Everyone wants chefs to come to their events and their establishments, and my advice is to you all: Be highly selective. Your time is valuable." - Melany Robinson
3. If you're at a place when you can, operationally, handle the consequences of good press.
"You have to be able to go through on those promises. There's nothing like winning an award and coming back to an awful night of service." - Michael Solomonov
"The beauty of awards and press comes real operational challenges that you really have to be ready to manage." - Robinson
4. If you're comfortable with it.
"There's an excessive amount of vulnerability you have to feel comfortable with. Everything you are, your life's work, your existence—you're putting it all out in the world." - Solomonov
5. If you want to be part of bigger conversations.
"Getting a James Beard Award or writing a book or having a profile piece written about you, those things may not convert to revenue, but they’re extremely important. They’re not the how; they’re the why of what we’re doing. There’s building a shelter, and then there’s architecture. Without the media documentation of those things, it's not an art. It's just food." - Stupak
When chefs don't need PR ...
1. When you find you're manufacturing something inauthentic to get press hits.
"I don’t want to pitch myself. I don’t want to adjust the truth. I’d like to be just honest about who I am, my relationship to food, my relationship to Israel, my relationship to drug recovery. The moment if I start coming up with ideas for how to get a hit, that’s a huge fucking problem. It's not at all what we stand for. And I think its really confusing. My purpose is to make people feel great and special. I love hospitality, I love cooking for people, I love representing Israel and my family and my heritage. The moment I start putting myself before that, it sets a really shitty example." - Solomonov
"I think there are plenty of times when PR is a bad idea, and when PR doesn’t work. When you're having to work with someone that’s having to twist and create and not be completely transparent and honest, that’s bad PR." - Robinson
2. If you're not working on anything noteworthy.
"If you feel like you’re not working on anything at the moment that is of note, and you are taxing a PR team to go ahead and drum up stories, well, my attitude is if you’re not working on anything of note, start working on something of note ... Don’t say anything if you don’t have anything to say." - Stupak
3. If it's out of reach financially.
"I think social media has made it very easy and inexpensive to talk about your craft. So if, financially, PR isn’t a resource to you right now, use social media. It’s a great tool." - Robinson