Each week, we seek out expert advice to help a small or medium-sized company overcome a key issue.
When one of the world’s best-known food connoisseurs singles you out as an outstanding chef, you can expect business to improve. That’s what’s happened for Scott Vivian, chef and owner of Beast, a Toronto restaurant featured prominently in an episode of The Layover, a popular U.S. television series starring Anthony Bourdain.
During the hour-long program, which aired in December in the United States, Mr. Bourdain complimented Mr. Vivian’s cooking, and the two were shown dining together around the city. While Mr. Bourdain didn’t have a meal at Beast, he talked glowingly about the chef’s cooking, which the TV personality said he had enjoyed during a visit to Massey Hall in 2010 that was catered by Mr. Vivian. In a voice-over, Mr. Bourdain recommended his viewers stop at Beast, which focuses on tapas-style shared plates, when they travelled to Toronto.
The Travel Channel has nearly 100 million subscribers in the United States, and after the show was broadcast Mr. Vivian began to receive phone calls from out of town. Prior to the episode, one or two Americans would dine at his restaurant each month. After the program aired, that number increased to 10 a month, which is not an insignificant number for a small restaurant with just 34 seats that focuses on earning business from the residents in its quiet residential neighbourhood in the King West area of Toronto.
“We’ve never paid for advertising in the three years we’ve opened. We’ve always relied on social media and word of mouth,” said Mr. Vivian, who opened the restaurant in 2010 and has seven employees. “With The Layover, it’s kind of shown me there’s another source of business that I didn’t necessarily think about before. There are quite a few businessmen and businesswomen who travel and who are part of the foodie culture and who follow his show.”
Mr. Bourdain, who recently moved to CNN, has 1.3 million Twitter followers. His fans often use his recommendations when they travel around the world. At Mr. Bourdain’s appearance last month at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall, Mr. Vivian again catered for him.
“Not only are The Layover clientele enthusiastic about Anthony Bourdain, they’re also enthusiastic about the restaurants he features,” Mr. Vivian says. “The challenge for us is how do we keep seeing more of that business while still doing things the way we do it?”
He would like to have a strategy to draw upon the media exposure to bring in more business, especially since the Canadian network Travel + Escape broadcast the Toronto Layover episode earlier this month, and Toronto’s summer tourism season begins soon.
“We anticipate the same kind of thing might happen when people outside of Ontario start to plan their trips to Toronto and start to make restaurant reservations weeks or months in advance of their visit,” Mr. Vivian says.
The Challenge: What can the restaurant do to capitalize on the attention created from Anthony Bourdain’s TV show?
THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN
Joe Warwick, U.K.-based culinary expert and author of Where Chefs Eat
There’s no set formula for building an international media presence as a chef. If you’re looking at capitalizing on Beast’s appearance on The Layover, the most obvious thing to suggest would be a cookbook. Then you’ve got something to promote beyond the restaurant itself. Appearances at overseas culinary conventions – the equivalent of the Terroir Symposium that’s just taken place in Toronto – and guest spots cooking at other restaurants abroad are another way to build a profile internationally.
It’s a well-trodden path for chefs to tour around doing that kind of thing. I also think, as with everything these days, that a strong presence on social media – but one that’s genuine and personality-driven, as opposed to just selling all the time – is essential.
Shannon Heth-Vergette, director, Heth PR, Vancouver
Coverage like this can have a lot of legs – case in point, Rob Feenie, who is still often referred to as Canada’s first Iron Chef thanks to an episode that aired some eight years ago. Beast’s Scott Vivian would benefit from some short- and long-term tactics.
I suggest inviting some of Toronto’s top food writers to a tasting dinner where the menu consists of nothing but dishes Vivian would have enjoyed serving to Bourdain – call it “Bourdain’s Beast.” With the presentation of each course Vivian should explain a bit about the dish and provide some anecdotes about Bourdain. This will keep the story alive and may even generate some coverage for items on the menu. Vivian could also take one or two of these dishes to local TV and radio, demonstrating how to make a Bourdain-worthy dish at home to viewers.
Thinking long-term, I’d try to position Vivian as the city’s go-to food expert. Bourdain picked him as his guide to the city’s culinary scene and he should continue to present himself in this manner. This could lead to event appearances and requests to judge culinary competitions. As well, now might be the time for Vivian to consider publishing a cookbook. Just be sure to send Bourdain an invitation to the launch party!
Paul Rogalski, chef and co-owner, Rouge restaurant, Calgary
When we made it onto the World’s 100 Best Restaurants list in 2010, we got a lot of attention and a lot of new customers, and we did a bit of soul searching. We wanted to make sure we met the expectations of the people coming into Rouge because of that accolade. We didn’t want to let them down and we didn’t want to let down Calgary or Canada, for that matter.
We felt we had a responsibility and what I would recommend to Scott is to be true to himself and be honest. He’s in this position because he’s a great guy and that’s the biggest thing I would say: Continue being genuine and people will keep saying great things and keeping coming through the door.
THREE THINGS THE COMPANY CAN DO NOW
Produce a cookbook
They allow chefs and restaurants to promote themselves in different ways and reach a larger audience.
Get the word out locally
Beast can turn the notoriety into more media exposure for the restaurant by making appearances on local broadcasts to discuss the dishes that impressed Mr. Bourdain.
Be prepared to meet heightened expectations
Diners will spread the word about restaurants, good or bad. To take advantage of the attention, Beast needs to ensure through tip-top service and outstanding cuisine that the dining experience matches or exceeds the expectations of Mr. Bourdain’s fans.
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