We catch up with doyenne of restaurant Press Relations, Maureen Mills, to learn more about restaurant PR and her thoughts on Harden's 2013 Restaurant Survey.
What is restaurant PR?
Matching a restaurant’s objectives with the right media, and therefore the right customer. It’s but one strand of the marketing mix. Unlike many PRs, I tend to be involved at stage zero, helping a restaurateur define the concept, find a site, and find the chef. I’m also a headmistress, keeping clients and journalists in line.
My approach isn’t for all. In fact I advise numerous potential clients who have already emptied piggy banks on getting their buildings open that they don’t need my services. For them, I offer my ‘DIY PR Kit’ for free, a 20-step approach outlining advice like ensuring their website is up and running, Twitter etiquette, and thinking about their local market.
What furrow did you plough to launch your firm, Network London?
After gaining an insight in hotels with Four Seasons, I worked at British Airways for eight years in my home city, Toronto. I was subsequently posted to London for a year by Chairman, Lord King as part of a handful of inter-continental marketing experts. I recall our scheme, ‘Great Restaurants of the World’ whereby we arranged local chefs to cater routes to and from their countries, resulting in a cookbook. At the time, I made ample use of the privilege of almost unlimited air travel, weekending in Tokyo, for example, which led to memorable and formative dining adventures.
I subsequently became a freelancer for the likes of the Wall Street Journal. I recall writing a six page article on London while on honeymoon in Mauritius! I went on to edit, then publish Where London magazine, providing a crash course in everything happening in the capital, from first night plays, to retail, and crucially, restaurants. After six years I wanted to do my own thing and Network London was born.
What makes your job difficult?
In an average month I’ll deal with 250 journalists, of which 10 are independent big circulation critics. Like any customer, writers bring baggage. It’s particularly frustrating when journalists refuse to take a step back and consider what a restaurant is trying to achieve. Having said that, I say my prayers for journalism’s future. I’m a media omnivore, subscribing to over 150 publications. I feel the paper, read advertisements and study layout. And, when the bath is running, I’ll grab my iPad or laptop and read online and go through Twitter.
How often do you eat out?
There are 21 opportunities in a week of which I dine out approximately 16 times. Plus there are menu tastings and afternoon meetings, which often include afternoon tea...
Do you cook?
Finally, aged 57, I’m beginning to learn. Having amassed some 900 cookbooks, I intend to cook one recipe from each, documenting the process in a blog which will take my nickname: ‘Madame Foie Gras Learns To Cook’. I gave myself 8/10 for a recent broad bean risotto. My efforts were buoyed by the wine I sipped while stirring it for 25 minutes (I never normally drink at home).
What’s your favourite dish?
I have 73 recipes for lemon tart. If there’s a lemon tart on the menu, I become blind to anything else. If I didn’t restrain myself I’d have foie gras to start, veal as a main, then lemon tart. Out of curiosity, I’ve trained myself to choose dishes which read like car crashes!
What’s happening in Britain in 2012?
Despite the Olympics, 2012 is proving tough for restaurateurs because of weaker spending, particularly in the city. The ‘Mayfair bubble’ has a few holes in it too. While there will always be a market, fine dining in hushed temples of gastronomy continue to diminish – informality is preferable. Breakfast becomes the new lunch too, a convenient option, with no booze requirements, and my favourite meal of the day.
What new restaurants deserve top spots in the 2013 Harden’s Survey?
I admire what Harden's have achieved over the years, and I've witnessed numerous worthy restaurants rightfully get top billing. It’s important that readers vote for their favourites. In past months, I’ve come across a handful of new favoured spots, both clients and non-clients, including: Quo Vadis, Roganic, The Delaunay, Burger & Lobster, Alyn Wiliams at The Westbury, and the ever-popular Ledbury...
Follow Maureen Mills on Twitter: MadameFoieGras
Rate your favourite restaurants in the Harden's 2013 Survey: Harden's 22nd Annual Restaurant Survey