Why You Should Host a Press Party

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First-hand experience with your restaurant is the most ideal way to get journalists to write favorable stories about you, which is why hosting a press party can be an effective publicity tool.

Press parties are geared toward local and regional media, inviting reporters from local and regional newspapers, magazines, television and radio stations to your new restaurant and educating them about your concept.

Existing restaurants may use press parties as an opportunity to promote new entrees, wine selections and drinks, or to reacquaint the media with their menu and ambiance.

For example, a press party at Miami Beach’s cutting-edge restaurant, afterglo, resulted in significant local, regional and national coverage in print and broadcast media outlets for the “beauty cuisine” restaurant.

Two full-length features appeared in the Miami Herald just days after the press party and reviews in the Miami New Times, Miami Sun Post and South Florida Sun-Sentinel followed.

Deco Drive featured the restaurant on its entertainment program, and Lincoln Road MagazineCity & Shore Magazine and Haute Living ran full-length features and several photos.

Freelancers who attended the press party wrote features on the upscale dining establishment for national publications including Elite Traveler and Lucky.

The press party landed media hits for afterglo in VIP Guide Miami, AOL Digital City Miami, Elite Traveler and Gayot.com.

That one event generated almost a dozen media hits for the new restaurant, which had virtually no name recognition beforehand.

Press trips, which are also called familiarization trips, or fams for short, are more comprehensive than press parties.

The idea of a press trip is to invite travel, lifestyle, and food journalists and bloggers from around the country to write about the area or city where you are located. Most travel features are centered on a destination and include an ideal place to stay and eat.

Press trips generally fall into two categories: organized group trips and individual trips. Organized trips typically consist of anywhere from two to 10 people. The itinerary will include visits to area attractions, a stay at a host hotel, and meals at your restaurant.

Targeted media can include, but is not limited to newspapers, magazines, newsletters, books, television, and radio. Journalists may be on staff, but it’s also beneficial to invite freelance journalists who have strong records of getting articles published, because they will often pursue assignments for multiple media outlets.

When Grupo Anderson’s hosted a fam trip for three of its flagship restaurant concepts —  Senor Frog’s, Glazz and Carlos ‘n Charlie’s — the result was media coverage in travel publications throughout the world, including the New York Daily News, Ocean Drive Mexico, Northern Ohio Live, OverTime Magazine and daily newspapers in Brazil and Venezuela.

Press parties are an ideal opportunity for a restaurant to put its best foot forward by promoting the positive aspects of its dining establishment to media members. The costs associated with hosting a press party will be minimal compared with the media exposure it will generate. In the end, media members should leave your press party with two things: a story about your restaurant and a lasting impression.

How to host a press party

If you want the public and the media to know about what’s new at your restaurant, plan an event that will showcase the new and exciting things your restaurant is offering. A single TV appearance or a well-placed mention in a newspaper or magazine can often do the trick.

A restaurant press party is one of the easiest ways to educate the public and media about your new restaurant or reacquaint them with your menu and ambience.

A press party offers you a way to put your best foot forward in front of those individuals who count the most  the media.

Here are some steps designed to teach you how to plan a press party that will leave a favorable impression on media members and earn the kind of media exposure that will keep your restaurant filled.

Plan

The first and most important step in planning a restaurant press party is to begin early. Begin the planning process at least 45 days prior.

Schedule a press party early in the week. Monday and Tuesday evenings are usually the best days to schedule press parties because it’s the slowest time of week for both media members and restaurants.

Pitch

Create a list of targeted media you would like to invite. Invite key media members from local media outlets, including major metro newspapers, community newspapers, local lifestyle magazines, local weeklies and local broadcast stations. Don’t forget to include prominent restaurant and food bloggers.

Invitations should be addressed to restaurant and hospitality industry reporters and editors, business reporters and editors, and food editors and columnists.

Send a formal invitation 14 days before the event with the date, time and location of your press party, and provide a description of what media members can expect to experience at the restaurant press party.

Send a fact sheet or press release that provides background information on your restaurant.

Set an RSVP date at least five days before the event is scheduled to take place. Set a deadline for RSVPs to ensure you have enough time to order, prepare and plate food.

Persist

Follow up with emails or phone calls to media members seven days before the event and three days before the event.

Media members often won’t commit to an event until the last moment. When Miami Beach’s Fratelli La Bufala hosted its press party, 20 media organizations showed up to the upscale Neapolitan restaurant’s press party, but nearly all RSVP’d just three days before the event, even after repeated emails and phone calls.

Publicize

There are several ways to garner publicity for your press party, but celebrities and entertainment seem to be the most successful.

Invite local prominent figures to your restaurant press party 30 days in advance. Prominent figures may include school officials, local politicians, local celebrity figures, radio personalities, local professional athletes, etc. The presence of local VIPs will generate more media interest in your restaurant press party. Set an RSVP date at least 10 days before the event.

Invite a local charity to participate in your restaurant press party 30 days in advance. Charity involvement generates more media interest and often motivates VIPs to become involved.

Make a monetary donation to the non-profit group and plan a visual event with the charity that will entertain media members and land you a spot on your local news station or newspaper.

For example, Myrtle Beach’s Senor Frog’s kicked off an official Grand Opening Celebration by parachuting humans dressed like frogs above the restaurant. Senor Frog’s also unveiled the World’s Largest Pair of Underpants at a record-breaking Sock Hop event to benefit the American Heart Association. Both were featured in local newspapers and news stations the following day.

Prepare

Track RSVPs diligently to help determine how much food to prepare, how much seating to reserve and how much staff to hire to work the event.

Always plan for more. Some media members may show up to your restaurant press party without an RSVP.

When Miami Beach’s afterglo restaurant organized a press party last summer, the organizers were counting on 50 attendees. The final head count at the new beauty cuisine restaurant’s press party turned out to be 72, but each unannounced guest received the same service that other guests did because the restaurant had planned for extra guests.

Position

Make media members remember you for the things you want to be remembered for. If your restaurant specializes in seafood dishes, then serve signature seafood entrees at your press party. If one corner of your restaurant offers a spectacular view, seat media members in that area of your dining room.

Create a scaled-back version of your regular menu for the press party. Be sure to serve any menu items you’d like to promote at the press party. Provide complimentary cocktails, wine, coffee and dessert.

Have core leaders of your restaurant mingle with media members at the press party to educate them about the concept of your restaurant, its history, and future plans and goals. The information will help media members harvest a variety of story ideas for your restaurant.

Make it easy to cover you. Create press kits that include a variety of press releases, contact information and photographs and video news releases of your restaurant.

Send all attendees home with a thank you gift. This may be the first and, possibly, only impression you make on the media and distinguished community members. Make it a good one.

Pursue

Your press party can continue even after the official event is over if you play your cards right.

Media relations success depends on one-on-one interaction, so follow up by phone or e-mail and find out what materials media members might still need to give your restaurant the coverage it deserves.

Never rely on a one-shot attempt at media coverage. Follow up with post-party press releases to those media members who could not attend, and offer to host them at your restaurant at a future date.

Patience

Positive press is a valuable tool, but sometimes it’s not always instantaneous. The timing and placement of media coverage may be out of your control. But the old adage “better late than never” does apply in this situation.

For example, afterglo’s press party resulted in significant local, regional and national coverage in print and broadcast media outlets. But most of the media coverage came weeks or months after the press party wrapped.

Reviews in newspapers and magazines came weeks later, as did a spot on Deco Drive, a broadcast entertainment program.

Features about afterglo appeared in Florida International Magazine and Miami VIP Guide almost six months after the press party, and several more stories stemming from the press party were scheduled to appear over several months in national publications such as Elite Traveler.

The sporadic media coverage has been an asset to the beauty cuisine restaurant because each time a new story appears on a new program or within a new publication, the buzz about afterglo is immediately renewed.

Getting ink for your restaurant is entirely possible if you plan a press party that media members will simply eat up.

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