Restaurant Blogs Offer A Glimpse Into The Kitchen
As some brands scramble to make the biggest social media imprint, quantifying tweets and gauging Facebook likes, a couple of restaurant chains are initiating deeper relationships with their fans.
Instead of just tossing out a brief (140 characters or less) update on the latest goings-on, some of which are posted for the sake of posting, Arby's and Dunkin' Donuts are also adding informational blogs to their social media repertoire.
Similar components exist on other brands' sites – McDonald's, for example, has a corporate social responsibility blog, while Subway frequently posts nutritional advice columns from a registered dietitian – but few have a kitchen perspective.
Arby's launched its new foodie blog in early March, penned by Brian Kolodziej, vice president of product development. Kolodziej, a professional chef who has worked across a spectrum of foodservice segments, shares a behind-the-scenes look into Arby's research and development process, answers consumer questions, talks about the latest food trends and more.
Dunkin' Donuts, which recently revamped its website to be more localized, also launched its first blog titled "Behind the Beans." Behind the Beans offers news on the latest menu items, innovative recipes from the company's culinary team, Q&A with company leaders, and examples of franchise owners' work within the communities they serve.
Some of these blog posts are created by Stan Frankenthaler, executive chef for Dunkin' Donuts, who has used the platform to directly answer feedback about the inspiration behind products and to share unusual recipes (such as the cocoa donut and strawberry grilled cheese).
Adding an extra layer of social media
From Kolodziej's perspective, Arby's blog adds an important layer to the chain's social media strategy, one that was implemented admittedly late but that is now in full effect thanks to the hire of Kristina Jonathan, vice president digital social media marketing, in September 2010.
"(Kristina) opened our eyes to a world outside of Arby's that included heavy doses of social media that we were behind on or completely missing out on. We believed we could get more involved and have more direct contact with consumers through this blog," Kolodziej said.
Being a culinary expert and not a writer, Kolodziej admits he was a little apprehensive at first, but jumped on board because it made sense from a "strategic standpoint."
"What is in trend and of interest to consumers is what is coming from a food standpoint, so having this come from my keyboard, instead of from someone sitting behind a desk at corporate, was the right way to go. We thought it was more compelling from this perspective," he said.
So far, fans of "Chef Brian's Blog" have inquired about all things food, asking about the company's use of cheese, whether any vegetarian or pizza options are on the horizon, whether pot roast will make a comeback, etc.
Thus far there hasn't been any negative feedback, but Arby's is open to using this platform for unpleasant conversations.
"We're always looking for real-time connections with our consumers, trying to understand what they're looking for and getting positive and, more importantly, negative feedback so we can be proactive with it," Kolodziej said. "Knock on wood, we haven't gotten hate mail, but we'll deal with skeptics and critics as they come."
From Q&A's and informative pieces about the brands' food to recipes, videos and trend discussions, Chef Brian's Blog and Behind the Beans are wide open. However, there are also some specific objectives from Arby's perspective, namely in getting consumers to understand a bit more about the research and development process of a chain.
"We wanted to be forward-looking and food-centric and communicate to consumers that there is a chain of chefs, talented folks, working every day in a test kitchen facility with food safety officers and scientists to help create new products. We want them to know that we're aware of the trends and direction of food and why we introduce the flavors we introduce. I'm not sure how much consumers know that," Kolodziej said.
Not everything that comes from Kolodziej's desk will be about Arby's, specifically. And few secrets on what's being tested with be shared.
"I call it having transparency but not full disclosure," he said.
Arby's used the fledgling blog to introduce its new Three Cheese and Bacon Angus sandwich, and also to provide a sneak peak of more Angus offerings in the pipeline. The response Kolodziej received from this method is when he finally "got it."
"That was my biggest 'A-ha' moment that showed the power and the strength of social media. We are early in this game, but there is so much potential and benefit moving forward," he said.
Right now, Kolodziej's goal is to write about a blog a month and to answer every question that comes in.
"The blog is just one small way of a broader 360-approach to social media. I am proud of my one small part in that and believe it provides a more personalized connection to our fans," he said. "Having a culinarian's point of view will help Arby's gain advantage and increase our emphasis on customer service because this is what consumers are interested in."
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