Is there anything more necessarily evil than the press?
Without them, we’d be stuck in a cultural dark age, never knowing what was happening beyond our own scope and wondering if the grass was greener on the other side.
With them, we’re subjected to an appalling ratio of clickbait to relevant news at a scale of about 20:1. There is no middle ground.
For the hospitality industry, the press acts as a catalyst of sorts. If your venue has good press, odds are that you turn a good trade and spreading the word about your place comes a little easier.
If it doesn’t, it can sometimes seem like getting the word out is an impossible task, like you’re somehow lacking in credibility until the street-press gods deem you worthy of a write up.
I wish it weren’t true, but here we are.
I’ll start by saying this: write ups and the decisions that go into choosing who gets one seem unfair to me.
I’ve been into a million great places that are on the verge of closing down because they just haven’t been able to get that arbitrary seal of approval. These places were, most of the time, capable of putting out products far beyond my own abilities. It’s a shame there are so many.
To give you an idea of how unfair things can be, I had 3 write ups for my cafe before we’d even opened the doors. Three!
The first one I get. A piece to let the locals know that that perpetually hungover barista who yells at them somehow has it together enough to follow through with his drunken plans to open a place of his own, and it’s opening soon.But the next 2 articles? Beats me.
You see, the key is to work someplace popular whilst you’re building your venue and then piggyback off their fame.
In the press I was the barista from this place, or the guy from that place. There were even venues being added to my resumé that I’d never even worked at. That’s just how word of mouth works.
Pretty soon, the Instagram account with the single ‘Coming soon’ post on the wall started gaining followers faster than your long-lost uni mate’s MLM downline.
But what happens when the doors open? How do you manage any press requests then?
Look, there’s 2 types of press (in my experience) that you’ll get, and each has the ability to induce their own versions of anxiety within you.
The 1st type is the street press. This is publications like Broadsheet, Time Out, Concrete Playground and any other publication trying to elbow their way into that particular corner of the food press landscape.
These guys all seem to partake in an elaborate game of Follow The Leader, only the leader changes every time. You see, once one of them writes about your venue, the others inevitably follow and what you end up with is a series of articles all praising the same dishes, making the same observations about the fit out and describing you with the same references and backstory.
They will also notify you beforehand that they’ll be paying you a visit, and that’s where the anxiety comes in.
I hate any changes to my routine, and plating up a few dishes where I need to nail a poached egg for photos, followed by a sit down interview with zero lead up info is, most definitely, a change. That, in itself, makes me anxious.
Not to toot my own horn (because poaching eggs isn’t really that difficult), but I can poach an egg in my sleep. But what if on the day of the interview, my eggs aren’t fresh enough, or the water’s not got enough vinegar (you can never have too much vinegar in your egg-poaching water. NEVER!) and your eggs end up a matte yellow yolk with a stringy, white tail?
What if it’s busy and you have to juggle photo-worthy plating, an interview and a bustling trade?
What if the interview goes south and you end up coming across like an idiot? (Before you say it, I already know I’m an idiot but there’s always room to go dumber.)All of these factors play into my anxiety, so they would probably play into yours too. And apologies if I’ve just crafted a new nightmare scenario for you, I’m sure you’ll be fine on the day.
After everything’s gone smoothly, and the food looks amazing (and your poached eggs look like beautiful mozzarella balls), and the interview made you seem normal, you wait for the article to go live and to see what a perfect stranger thinks about the thing you’ve dedicated the past year (and all of your money) to.
The good ones will send you a link to let you know it’s live. The better ones will send you a copy to approve before they post it. Unfortunately, most of them will just publish it and leave it at that, perhaps hoping that, like me, you’ve been obsessively refreshing their homepage in anticipation of your glorious write up.
And then yeah, all the others soon follow suit and you have to do it all over again.
The 2nd type of press are your traditional media outlets. This includes any Good Food Guide pieces, print media, etc. and these guys are sneaky.
Saving a visit from a well-known face (like good ol’ Terry & Jill), you won’t even know you’ve been reviewed by one of these publications. Seriously, the 1st you’ll know of it will be a phone call or an email asking when a good time is for a photographer to pop in and take a few snaps of your food.
This is where the anxiety creeps back in. I know the horrible part’s over, and they never interview people, but I always worried that, in my obliviousness, I let my standards slip and these sneaky journalists would lay my deficiencies out bare, for all to see.
Of course, this is dumb.
These places don’t bother with negative reviews (one of them is literally called ‘Good Food’), so they wouldn’t be asking for photos if they didn’t have something good to say. But I still feel slightly duped.
When the photographer is booked, they’ll usually give you a list of dishes that they need to photograph and, honestly, you’ve never seen such bizarre pairings in your life.
It’s as though whomever was doing the reviewing just threw a couple of darts at the menu and let the gods decide.
But, you grit your teeth and wonder what a review which includes a lunch of muesli, potato salad, 2 sandwiches, pancakes, a bruschetta, 4 coffees, a pot of tea and a milkshake looks like.
The day arrives and you realise that you forgot to iron your shirt. You prepare the dishes and let the photographer arrange them on a nearby table so that it doesn’t look like, at best a boujie buffet and, at worst the orderings of an insane person with a lot of disposable income.You’ll also have to be on camera too, and take cues from the photographer like, “at least look like you enjoy being here” and “for god’s sake, would it kill you to smile?”.
And after everything’s done, anyone with a mouth is offered some tepid (but, crucially, free) food which they might nibble at for a minute out of common courtesy before faking a phone call and leaving forever, or they flat out refuse whilst patting their stomachs and telling you about all of the potato salad and milkshakes they’ve already eaten at breakfast.
The traditional publishers will then never talk to you again about your review and you’ll have to find it in that weekend’s central pull out yourself where you’ll learn that you did just fine, they also had to try your cheese toastie and, in my case, I have “astoundingly clear blue eyes”.
I write this so that you can be prepared for what is to come when people deem your venue worthy of their words and their ability to both control the hospitality industry whilst not really considering their impact on it. And, of course, the anxiety that follows.
Just remember to iron your shirt and smile. You’ll be fine.
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