media update’s Adam Wakefield spoke to Ronelle van Schalkwyk, communications manager of award-winning Johannesburg restaurant DW Eleven-13, and Katharine Jacobs, editor of Eat Out, about how food is the product and how they market it.      

The key marketing ingredients

From the restaurateur’s point of view, marketing their brand is as much about the food as it is about specific marketing decisions.

Van Schalkwyk, speaking on behalf of DW11-13 co-owner and head chef, Marthinus Ferreira, acknowledges that formal marketing is important, but much of the heavy lifting in this area is done by the cuisine they serve.

“The food, flavours, and experience our customers experience is of the utmost importance to Marthinus. Word of mouth is power in this industry. Our key marketing is done around our dishes. If you have a good product, people talk,” she says.

“The fact that we have won awards, are very active on social media, and are constantly evolving just adds to the momentum of marketing opportunities.”

Ferreria is constantly in search of new ideas and dishes, while leveraging contacts he has made in the media, leading to features and interviews on a regular basis. Partnerships with the likes of Mercedes-Benz, being a brand ambassador for Gaggenau, and his work on Ultimate Braai Master and Master Chef have aided this, leading to DW Eleven-13 spending very little on actual advertising.

The building of a strong brand is what makes an impact with the likes of Eat Out, with Jacobs arguing that a restaurant needs to focus on their core offering and not be all things to all people.

“Restaurants who try to please everyone end up with a very diluted brand, a huge menu, and can lose focus,” Jacobs says.

“If a restaurant can make the best toasted cheese sandwich in the city or the best affordable lunches, the focus should be on that. The marketing strategy will follow naturally once you know who you are.”

Social media: a friend of food and marketing

Social media’s impact upon the food service and dining industry has been widespread. The likes of Instagram have changed the way the food service industry and its customers see food. According to Jacobs, it is a signifier to customers of a restaurant’s quality.

“Social media can be an amazing marketing tool when done well. The key is to set up a posting schedule and plan things a little strategically. Respond to what works and change how you post accordingly,” Jacobs says.

“Lastly, make sure there’s a level of quality associated with each post – blurry and grainy photos, misspelled captions, etc., can reflect badly on your restaurant.”

Like social media influencers who specialise in all things food and lifestyle, such as Patrick Janelle who has over 456 000 followers, Van Schalkwyk says DW Eleven-13’s playground is social media.

“We are currently working on a new social media campaign where we have been lucky enough to have some influencers get on board to further increase the reach of posts on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter,” Van Schalkwyk says.

“We change our menu regularly and changes are made on the website, notifications are sent out on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as other platforms such as Food24, Eat Out, and Zomato.”

Ferreira himself uses social media to personalise the DW Eleven-13 brand, while a cursory search on Instagram of the restaurant sees their own customers marketing their food. One hand washes the other.

Word-of-mouth, that most valuable of marketing currencies

According to the American Marketing Association, word-of-mouth is the manifestation of brand-sharing, with the majority of this taking place offline and not online.  

As Van Schalkwyk notes, “We believe word of mouth is our best form of marketing. Because dining out is a personal experience. We pride ourselves in making a connection with each and every one of our customers; from them making the booking, arriving for the reservation, to their culinary experience.”

Word-of-mouth, according to Jacobs, is so important because social media has become widespread, with human interaction being the key ingredient in affecting a person’s opinion. She uses the example of how the approach of staff in a restaurant distinctly alters a person’s experience of it.

“Warm, welcoming staff who try to fix problems rather than deny them win over more regulars and more advocates than restaurants with good food and snooty service,” Jacobs says. 

The marketing no-nos

Asked what marketing initiatives are best left in the kitchen, Van Schalkwyk says media lunches, more often than not, prove to be fruitless exercises, especially for newer businesses.

“This is something that is pretty much like Russian roulette. You rarely get an article, write up, or post about it from the attendees. Due to the nature of our restaurant, the cost of hosting an all-inclusive media lunch could rather go towards paid advertising,” she says.

Jacobs’ primary tip is to avoid engaging with trolls online as soon as possible, as it is an energy-negative.

“I think it’s wise to always take a deep breath before responding to people online, and always try to take the discussion offline as soon as possible by asking for an email address or phone number.”

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Traditional marketing tactics no longer get the job done with the "new" consumer. Read more in our article, The death of the traditional approach marketing

*Image courtesy of DW Eleven-13