It’s no news flash that chefs, just like everyone, can help construct reputations and build followings through social media. But many Sacramento chefs say that, given the competition in the restaurant business, and the number of bloggers, tweeters and Yelpers commenting on food, chefs can’t afford not to have a notable online presence.
“You can’t be quiet anymore,” says Adam Pechal, former chef and partner in Tuli Bistro and Restaurant Thir13en and a guy whose larger-than-life personality helped establish him as one of Sacramento’s better known chefs. “You have to work hard to maintain your brand, and chefs need to realize they are their brand,” Pechal continues. “Their restaurants do better when people like the chef.”
In short, Pechal and other chefs say restaurants and their chefs always need to be thinking about their communications strategy.
“Nobody told me when I was getting started that public speaking and media would be a big part of the industry,” says Mike Thiemann, chef and partner in Mother and Empress Tavern.
Thiemann and Pechal are examples of chefs who’ve built good reputations because they can cook well, but also because they’re likeable guys and because their online personalities resonate as genuine and relatable.
“Mike doesn’t just post great photos of food at Empress,” Pechal says. “He shares stuff about himself and his family. You really get to know the man on Facebook, and he comes across as someone you’d want to hang out with. He’s totally real. That’s how to do it.”
There’s a downside, of course, to being both online and well-known. It’s easy to become a target for the trolls that populate large, unhappy reaches of the online universe.
“It happens,” says Pechal. “You have to not take it too personally. Sometimes you can turn a negative comment into a positive by connecting with that person.”
Pechal contacted one customer who trashed Tuli Bistro online, listened to the patron’s complaint, then offered him a make-up visit. That person had a much better experience and became one of Tuli’s best customers.
“That doesn’t always happen, but you have to try,” Pechal say. “Mostly, you just have to let it go. If you have followers and you do a good job at your restaurant, the positives will outweigh those negatives that come out now and then.”