Foodie Marketing for Beginners with Dan Clapson, Ep #43
Kayla: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the Content Callout today. Today's guest is Dan Clapson, who is the co- founder and creative director of Eat North, which is a prairie- based food media and events company. He's also the globe and mail restaurant critic and columnist for The Canadian Prairies and you know what? Honestly, Dan is considered to be one of the top authorities on Canadian restaurant industry and he's been a regular guest on more things than I can name. So it was really fascinating for us to talk to him about marketing for restaurants, marketing food products and marketing events. So check it out. Hi, Dan. Thank you so much for joining us on the Content Callout today.
Dan Clapson: Thanks for having me.
Kayla: Awesome. Well, you know what? Let's just kick this right off and we'll start talking about Eat North. So tell us about your journey to creating Eat North.
Dan Clapson: So we launched Eat North about seven years ago now, and it originally was a food media company. So the reason why we started is because we looked at different magazines across Canada and when you look in other countries, such as the United States, they have magazines like Bon Appetit and Food& Wine, and that type of magazine never really existed in Canada. So Eat North was our grassroots effort to create that kind of magazine, albeit all digital.
Kayla: Can I tell you what I appreciate about Eat North?
Dan Clapson: Please.
Kayla: Okay. So on a regular day, you're looking up a recipe. You get on the internet, you look up the recipe and then there is two pages of preamble about how someone likes to feed this to their husband and kids and you're like," Where's the recipe?" Now there's 15 pop- ups. On Eat North, you get right into it.
Dan Clapson: We really do. We have a short introduction. There is a reason why websites do that. I'm sure you know it's, basically, to get revenue from the ad views, so that's why you have these stories that sometimes make no sense, or has nothing to do with anything and then at the end, it's a five- ingredient recipe. We have enough content coming out on the site that is longer form that we don't need to do that with our recipes. Maybe we should. Maybe I would make more money, I guess. But I agree with you, I find it extremely annoying, so...
Kayla: Yeah. Praise Dan. crosstalk Praise the Eat North team. Well, I love it because you're considered to be one of the top authorities on our Canadian restaurant industry and that's so fun. So let's just swivel a little bit and let's just ask, so the restaurant market, it does get very saturated. There's always a ton of fun, new places that are coming out. But something I often see is if you're a brand new restaurant, there's no marketing behind it. So what do you say to people who are like,"Well, I just can't afford it because it was really expensive to start the restaurant, and I know the margins are crazy high." So tell us why you think it's still important to market when you're starting these new products, starting these new food services, starting these new restaurants.
Dan Clapson: It's always interesting with different businesses of any size, what they feel like they have budget for and what they don't have budget for. It's sort of like a person when you're going shopping maybe you like to spend a lot of money on jeans where I want to buy them for$ 20 from Old Navy. People, their minds are made up already so it can be hard convincing restaurants they do need to spend money on marketing and sometimes it doesn't need to cost them a ton of money. I think that, obviously, for restaurants, the best way to get the word out about what they're doing there is, arguably, Instagram these days. People want to venture into Facebook, maybe, a bit on Twitter, on TikTok if you're getting creative. But you can do your marketing with a small budget if you just hire a photographer, pay them a good chunk of money and just have them take a ton of pictures. A lot of dishes restaurants serve don't go out of style. They might go out of season, but that doesn't mean that the salad you're serving this summer is not a dish you won't be serving next summer. So I find that if you put the money in at the beginning, you can have a lot of assets that you can just market yourself throughout the year.
Kayla: Yeah. I was going to say, obviously, food photography is a huge thing-
Dan Clapson: Huge, yeah.
Kayla: ...and so I was going to ask you if you had any tips for those that want to get into food photography, maybe try to do it themselves?
Dan Clapson: Yeah. If you do not want to hire a food photographer, which I would strongly suggest people do if you do own a food and drink business again. You can find a, maybe more novice photographer for under$ 1, 000 and they can get you a lot of imagery. But if you don't want to opt for that, and I would just say, as long as you have a really good up- to- date phone and you're using natural lighting or a ring light, you can actually take quite high- quality photos with your phone these days. Honestly, for a lot of work that I do on Eat North and my entire Instagram feed, I use, my phone is just a Google Pixel 3. So it's actually almost two generations old now, but the photo quality is phenomenal. Again, I wouldn't be blowing up these pictures four feet by six feet, but for an Instagram feed, they do a great job as long as you're working with natural light or a good lighting source.
Kayla: I think that's key, too, what you just said is if you can't get natural light, the ring light is really important or a really good lighting source. inaudible crosstalk
Dan Clapson: They aren't that expensive either. They're both-
Dan Clapson: ...250,$300 for a decent- sized one.
Dan Clapson: You can find really small ones for maybe$ 50, but yeah, you can get a big one and it works for live streams. It works for photography. It works for a whole bunch of things.
Kayla: Yeah. One of my pet peeves, and I know this is so petty of me, but a restaurant that I follow on Instagram, they use a warm filter on every single photo of their food and I'm like," No. Now all your food just looks vaguely pink and that's not appealing to me, unless it's supposed to be a pink food." So let's talk a little bit about food influencers. So you see that a lot now where, specifically in terms of Instagram, you see that pretty much everybody who has over a certain amount of followers is a food influencer. I find a lot of them that I know are asking restaurants for a lot of free product at this time, in order for review, how do you feel about that exchange of services?
Dan Clapson: It really depends on the situation because a lot of influencers online are either doing it as a hobby or maybe they don't have a ton of money to spend on going to a restaurant. So at some level I do appreciate when a legitimate influencer does want a complimentary, whether it's a lunch or dinner or just somebody set up with a specific amount of dishes for photography, I feel like that's a fair ask because honestly, if someone was hiring out a photographer to take nice photos of their food, they would be just cooking out of the kitchen, like cocktails, all these dishes and the sending them out just for photography. So I don't think that's an unreasonable ask. I think that the tough part to navigate, especially for restaurant owners, is finding which influencers are ideal to work with. Again, I think that these days, if you would've asked me three years ago what I thought of influencers in general and who would benefit a restaurant, I probably would have had a lot more of a narrow- minded view of that and I would have said the popular people on Instagram that just love food, so people like Vancouver's Mijune Pak, who's a judge on Top Chef Canada, Carmen Chang, who has a food karma blog here in Calgary, people like that, that they know they live and breathe food every day. But I think that an influencer now can really mean anything. If you're a musician and you have a good following and you pop into a restaurant, that following to that musician is dedicated. So whether they're into food or not, if they sit down and have a bite at a restaurant like, say, Donna Mac in Calgary, and they're like," This is the best brunch I've ever had to eat list."
Kayla: Yeah. I want to go back to something that you just said, because you said legitimate influencers. So you gave a few examples, but I'm wondering what gives the legitimacy, in your opinion?
Dan Clapson: I don't know.
Kayla: Is it the number of crosstalk
Dan Clapson: crosstalk It's so tough to tell these days, because even in my realm, it's interesting for me because I started out in food media as a food writer, I still do a lot of television radio and whatnot. But now we've also segue wayed into doing a lot of culinary events and because of the events, I have to work with influencers on certain levels too, whereas before, I didn't. So they were just peers who are in the same room as me in certain situations so whereas now, I need to look at them and decide who has value in determining the ones that are legitimate. The way that I do it, and I don't know if this is applicable to everyone, but if I was a local restaurant and an influencer reached out to me and, let's say, they have 12,000 followers on Instagram. Maybe they even want to get paid on top of the meal, let's say, they want$ 500 and they'll feature them on their Instagram feed. A good point of reference for me is I see the mutual followers who I follow compared to who follows them. When you look on someone's profile, it will tell you that and I find sometimes with an account that is very high in number, but I have very low mutual following, I feel like that is a red flag for me. So I don't know if that works for everybody, but I think when you're in the food realm, if you are a restaurant, you should be following these local influencers or these local industry professionals. Then, if you don't see that crossover on someone's profile, to me, that is a red flag, for sure.
Kayla: Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. We also interviewed an influencer last year, Shanae Alexander, and she said you should also make a point of looking at what else is in their feed other than what they're selling because sometimes what else is in their feed is them developing a community, then bring you forth their core values, their personalities. So there has to be an alignment there. For example, you mentioned Donna Mac, which is a restaurant here in Calgary. They focus a lot, I believe, on like veganism and vegetarianism. So it's like you probably don't want to pair with, say. An influencer who is also something for Alberta Beef, for example, right? There's probably a misalignment in values there. So how do you feel about you, yourself, being called an influencer?
Dan Clapson: Again, like I said, I think a lot of different people can be considered influencers these days. Absolutely. It's funny when I started food writing almost 11 years ago now. I was definitely the young person in the industry. Now I do feel like I'm one of the older people in the industry, so it's been interesting to watch that shift as many of the food influencers I will say are probably mid- 20s or younger for sure. But it's definitely flattering, for sure. Because of that mindset. I am very careful what I share online. I won't just go to any free dinner influencer events and post 20 Insta stories. It's very rare that I do that kind of thing. So what I'm posting on my feed or on my stories, I'm basically endorsing a product, right? I'm very mindful when I do that. So I don't gush about a lot of things on my Instagram, basically. So, whereas, I think, maybe you see more of that in the lifestyle influencer sphere and there's nothing wrong with that. I think that over the years, too, I just have a different approach to food and, obviously, critique restaurants for a living as well. So I think I just have to be mindful that I hold food in some sort of regard or my opinion of food in some sort of regard.
Kayla: So you just mentioned the younger generation coming up. Is there some sort of mentorship that happens between you and them?
Dan Clapson: I would love to see more of that. I honestly would. Again, I do make an effort to invite younger influencers to the events that we do. I think it's important to show them that I respect them and I do value their presence at the things that we do. I think it's tough, too, because when you grow up in a more traditional media sense, you've learned to write in a certain way or voice your opinion in a certain way and all that has, obviously, changed over the past decade. So I think that the way that someone would even, let's say, critique a restaurant, I think there is critical thought on Instagram. It's just presented so differently than how I would present it, so sometimes it's almost me wanting to take a page of what a different generation is doing truly and applying my knowledge in a way that maybe is appealing to a different demographic.
Kayla: Well, listen, oof. You don't have to tell me and Amanda about the changes in media. You're talking to a radio and a print girl.
Dan Clapson: It's never ending, right? crosstalk.
Kayla: Let's actually talk about that because you, yourself have written for print and you've appeared on TV a bunch of times and I know from personal experience, you often include radio in your events. I think there is also, for a lot of people, a shift where they're just not including those traditional medias anymore. So why is it important for you, for Eat North, for your events to include both digital content creators, but also traditional media content creators?
Dan Clapson: I am a" Any press is good press," sort of guy, so I appreciate any media platform that's out there that is going to help support my event or help strengthen my own brand. This was a few years ago, but I remember seeing a tweet from Mike's blog and he does tweet a lot, arguably, but he tweeted one day saying," I don't understand why small businesses don't have Twitter accounts. This is a free platform for you to use." And yes, Twitter maybe is not as popular as it used to be, but I really took that to heart. If there are these outlets that will feature you, the social media feeds that you can use that don't take up too much of your time, obviously, I think that there's to all of that, right? You want to spread yourself as far and wide as you can without exhausting yourself, but I think that so many people still listen to the radio and still watch TV, TV segments, still go online and radio clubs still go online. So there's still so much of that that's active online that you can just do it as what's happening in a television or on the radio in the car.
Kayla: Right. It's always ever changing at this point and it seems like there's always something new. Where do you stand on TikTok and the food stuff?
Dan Clapson: TikTok was the first time I looked at a social media app and I was like," Okay, maybe I'm too old for this." Then I see a lot of old people using it. So maybe I'm not too old-
Kayla: We said the exact same thing. We interviewed somebody who does TikTok for a living and we were like," Are we just like our grandma's grandma with TikTok how I feel like my parents probably felt when they discovered emojis on text?" There's just this drawing and I'm just like," Oh no."
Dan Clapson: I've debated, there's so many interesting ways people used to talk, obviously, primarily it is meant to be humorous. But outside of that, you see now people basically doing mini featurettes on restaurants that have just opened or different types of bakeries and whatnot, like must- have dishes and things like that and I love that approach. I also love the simple kitchen hacks or cooking techniques that you can find on there. So for me, that's sort of a takeaway for me like, can I film videos like that? Just maybe it's more about stepping back and thinking about how many videos of a certain type you could do in one day and rolling them out over a certain amount of time. So I do go back and forth about using TikTok, but now it's gotten so popular, have I missed the boat? It's like trying to crack into YouTube world. If you haven't been on YouTube for five years, it's really hard to get a following now. Even if you have 1,000, 2,000, 3, 000 followers on YouTube, you're hard pressed to get over a few hundred likes in a video. So it's sort of the thing that if you're not in it already, I think you've kind of missed the boat, but maybe I'm wrong on that.
Kayla: Yeah, all the kitchen hacks have been done.
Dan Clapson: Exactly. Yeah. It's true.
Kayla: Do you have a favorite kitchen hack?
Dan Clapson: Favorite kitchen hack? That's a good one. This is really basic, but did you know that you're supposed to open a banana from the bottom, not the top? crosstalk crosstalk and then I was just chatting about this earlier with a food writer from Montreal on a different live stream. But a lot of people don't know that you're not supposed to put tomatoes in the fridge. They actually do better when they're on the counter somewhere in room temperature. So I don't know if that's a hack, but that's definitely a proper culinary tip.
Kayla: You're blowing my mind, Dan. crosstalk I always put my tomatoes in the fridge crosstalk so I have been corrected now.
Amanda: So curious. I'm like, is it because they're a fruit?
Kayla: No, it's because when you open it at the top, you get that weird mushy thing. Whereas, if you open it at the bottom, that doesn't happen. At least I think that's why. Dan, am I right?
Dan Clapson: Yeah. It's just easier to open. So the less you compromise the flesh of the banana less, that's really.
Kayla: Nice. crosstalk
Amanda: Learning things.
Kayla: I feel like I need that little star, the more you know.
Dan Clapson: I feel like that was a weird kitchen hack, but inaudible
Kayla: No, for both, I was like," Wait, what?" So I think those are great kitchen hacks.
Amanda: It blew my mind when I figured out you could put your green onions in water and they would crosstalk well.
Dan Clapson: I will say out of all the weird food trends that arose during, well, I guess we're still in the pandemic, but earlier on in the pandemic, I thought that that one was the most interesting, or regrowing celery., That was also fun. But yeah, the green onion thing is pretty crazy how fast it regrows and kind of inconsistently too. It's really impressive.
Kayla: See, I actually thought sourdough bread was the weirdest one because that is actually very hard. Specifically, sourdough bread is actually really hard to make well. So when people were taking this on, I was like,"You know you guys can just do cookies?"
Dan Clapson: Well, I think people thought the world was ending and they would just be stuck in their houses forever, so what best to do when you're stuck at home forever? I think make some sourdough.
Kayla: Well yeah, because you need the starter if I'm not incorrect, right?
Dan Clapson: Mm-hmm(affirmative).
Kayla: These are starters that can be passed from families to families, they kind of eat and grow forever, so when somebody is start their own, I'm like," Oh, this is a generational thing." crosstalk
Dan Clapson: It definitely is a lot of work, for sure, to keep a starter active and to find success with bread. I feel like probably if you took a poll now I think that'd be a lot of Canadians that did not do so well with their sourdough projects because it's not easy to do.
Kayla: That's why I was honestly pretty surprised that people chose to take it on because, yeah.
Dan Clapson: I have zero interest in baking that bread. I'll just pay$ 5 for a loaf at a great local bakery. Just support the restaurants and bakeries right now. They need it, so...
Kayla: Let's talk about that a little bit. Why is it so important for people to support local right now versus the chains that are prevalent in every city that we live in?
Dan Clapson: Well, I think you hear this more and more now, but if you're not supporting these independent restaurants and well, any sort of small business right now, they might not be around when the pandemic is over whenever that's going to be. We don't want a city that has, you walk on a block and every second shop is closed, or there's nowhere to eat except for chains. No one wants that. So I think now is the time that you need to make an extra effort to order takeout, maybe one time more a week than you normally would, or make an effort to go to a smaller scale grocery that's local, or go to a local bakery to get your bread, instead of picking it up at the grocery store. Those kinds of things will make a difference now more than ever. I can't encourage people to dine inside at restaurants because I know that everyone has different levels of feeling comfortable in that situation. So I think that if you're comfortable to go to restaurants, I feel comfortable when I'm at restaurants, the majority of restaurants, especially the ones that are the more well- known eateries around the city, they're taking everything very seriously and sanitizing. Obviously, there's plexis in place now and there's so much spacing between tables, so I think if anyone is wary of going to restaurants, but hasn't been out yet, I think it is a safe thing to do, in my opinion. But again, I don't want to overly encourage people to if they don't feel comfortable.
Kayla: Yeah, no. I feel that I've had some great meals actually, since this whole thing, Ten Foot Henry, shout out Ten Foot Henry. That was a really great experience. So how important is it, I guess, well, that's kind of a dumb question. It's very important, but how can restaurants go the extra mile even making people feel comfortable?
Dan Clapson: I think it even comes down to the signage sometimes. I look at a place like CRAFT Beer Market and they have beer jugs on every table that say," This table has been sanitized before you sit down." It's largely about giving people peace of mind. A lot of restaurants now will have small bottles of sanitizer on the table. You never want to feel like a place is too crowded these days either, right? So again, a good way to combat that is to not go to a bar, particularly, during peak hours. If you're going to have a drink with your friends, maybe go from 5: 00 to 7: 00, not 8:00 to 10: 00 on a Friday night. But no, I think it all comes down to, I like seeing signage when you walk in. Obviously, seeing the service staff wearing masks is a must, but that definitely is one major thing and then just knowing that the table has been sanitized when you're sitting down,
Kayla: There's been a little bit of some back and forth with some restaurants that I've seen, some local restaurants, that have been really standing by their patrons wearing masks rules and patrons coming back and pushing back on that, which is, how do you handle that?
Dan Clapson: It's very difficult. You just have to be polite as possible and this is a pandemic. This is a global issue so if you have to wear a mask to walk to your table and put it back on to walk to the bathroom, I'm sorry, that's just that cross you're going to have to bear and servers are overworked. Restaurants generally are understaffed now. People are tired, so I don't think it makes it any better by yelling at your server. I was actually just at the Ship& Anchor Pub the other day and I did see a kind of altercation, but a table was being very confrontational with the server. It's do you think it's the server's fault that this is even happening?
Kayla: You know what? That just leads to a bigger point, even in normal times when you get your meal and something is wrong. Let's not be rude to the servers, everybody. I have a rule when I go out on a first date with a guy, I always watch very closely how he treats the server, because if he is a dick, then I don't want to date that guy quite seriously.
Amanda: It leads into other places in their lives right, and I think we-
Dan Clapson: There's nothing more embarrassing than going to a restaurant with someone that is rude to service staff. crosstalk
Kayla: Okay. What about people that don't tip?
Dan Clapson: That's bad too. Although, sometimes you can't tell what's happening with they up the ante. Sometimes you don't see the receipts, you're not sure, but-
Kayla: You just see their fingers moving on the buttons.
Dan Clapson: I feel like the people that tip bad are usually vocal about it, saying they don't understand why they have to tip more than 10% and et cetera, et cetera. I think looking five years into the future, we probably will move more to a no tipping model anyway, where servers are paid just a flat of living wage. Some restaurants across Canada are doing that now and I feel like that will definitely become more of the trend.
Kayla: Yeah. That's very prevalent and you see that pretty much everywhere else in the world, outside of North America. So I think it's about living wages and I think the thing that often people don't understand, and, obviously, you're an expert in this, but restaurant margins are not high. It costs a lot of money to start a restaurant, to take an empty building, put in all the utensils, put in all the decor, then, put in like the utility things like the stove and everything like that. Then the food costs and then so when you have certain businesses that come in, whether it's delivery or certain things like that, the margins are very low. So when you're yelling at this server who had nothing to do with it, take a second, take a breath, take a step back, right?
Dan Clapson: Yes. Take a breath and just treat everyone nicer. That's what we all should all be striving for every day of our lives.
Kayla: Let's do a little bit of switch now because you mentioned Eat North started as a multimedia platform and now you're doing events. So what is the difference between marketing and events, like what Nat North does versus marketing a physical restaurant or a product launch?
Dan Clapson: I guess with restaurants, as well. You're trying to bring people to the restaurant or make them aware of the restaurant in general; whereas, an event, I feel like you have a finite amount of time and people need to come to what you're putting on, on X dates. So I feel like that's always the challenge and what we've learned over the years is it's not ideal to announce an event or event series way too far in advance, unless it's a huge music festival or something, sure. But if it's, let's say, I'm putting on a dinner for 100 people, I don't want to announce that three months out because if it's happening at the end of September and we're announcing in June, people have summer on the brain, they don't care about a fall harvest dinner. So I feel like that, to me, is a key thing; whereas, a restaurant, you can just be actively marketing all the time. With an event, I feel like there is only a good window of time where you can really capture people's attention and get them purchasing tickets or thinking about the event.
Kayla: So what is that sweet spot for the time?
Dan Clapson: Oh God, I don't know if I want to tell people. I think everyone would agree with me, but I think it's typically about six weeks out from an event it's usually a good time. If it's a really small event and you're looking to sell 30 or 40 seats, I think maybe even three or four weeks is good. But yeah, I would say about six weeks is good.
Kayla: Or the domes, you know those dome ones? It seems like those ones come out sometimes, really far in advance, but I guess it's because they have to sell the dome as well, right?
Dan Clapson: It's more experiential as well. I don't know if that's just the way that they choose to market that as a very bespoke event that will never happen again, now or never, sort of thing. It's a bit different when it's an annual dinner series or a bi- monthly music event or something like that.
Kayla: I think it's also the thing about marketing for that one too, is they're trying to create an exclusivity around it. But the problem is I've seen a lot of people now shift because, for our audience, we live in Alberta, very cold in the winters. So these little domes, they've discovered a way for us to do basically individual dining in a snow- covered way that's very beautiful, but so now have other restaurants and other patios and other people. So that kind of exclusivity of them marketing six months out, it doesn't exist anymore, whereas like-
Dan Clapson: Another thing that's difficult too, I think, at least restaurants can come up with dinner features, cocktail features. They can participate in X campaign that's happening city- wide with dining. Whereas, with an event, if you do an annual event or something like Blue Jay Sessions that does happen every two- and- a- half, three months, you have to find a way to get people excited about it again because it had just happened, so that's also a challenge. crosstalk.
Kayla: Can you tell us about Blue Jay Sessions?
Dan Clapson: The Blue Jay Sessions, definitely born out of my love of country music, as well as Southern- inspired food. I go to Nashville, well, I used to go to Nashville, a lot when we were allowed to travel. Yeah, so basically, it's a multi- day pop- up. We book about 20 musicians over the course of three nights and we take over a space. Currently our home venue in Calgary is Mikey's on 12th, which is a great blues bar, just on the corner of 12th Avenue and Eighth Street Southwest. It's meant to just showcase Canadian talent often emerging or up- and- coming talents and with primary focus on a Albertan artists. What people get to see while they're eating interesting whiskey cocktails and some fun food is that they really get to hear the stories behind the music because the musicians perform in what's called a songwriter circle. That's when you have musicians sitting in a semicircle on stage and before they perform a song, they tell a story behind it, so it's really introspective where you normally wouldn't get that kind of experience. Typically, when you're seeing a musician perform at a bar, you're probably just sitting with your friends at a table, chatting, having drinks, not really paying attention to what's happening over in the corner. Where this fully captivates the room and sometimes you can hear a pin drop. It's a really special experience.
Kayla: It is named, if I'm not incorrect, after the Blue Jay Cafe that is in Nashville?
Dan Clapson: It was originally inspired by that and then since then, we've definitely had a departure and we're not fully Southern- inspired anymore. But yeah, it definitely was born in my love of Nashville and just the songwriter circles that happened in the city in general.
Kayla: I think that's something that's really special about your Blue Jay events is the intimacy that you get with these artists, because there is a process for it, and I think it's really fascinating for anybody, whether it's restaurants or songwriting, but to get a peek behind the curtain, so I think that's something that's really special, that kind of intimacy of getting in that songwriter's circle.
Dan Clapson: Absolutely. One thing that we've learned through Eat North over the years, we do a variety of events. Again, we used to pre- pandemic. It's hard to do a lot of different things now, but everyone likes food. So you can add music, music and food, drag and food, art and food, everything goes with food. So we've really tried to leverage that, both through our website, with who we feature online, we get to chat with country artists, actors, drag performers, get their favorite restaurant picks from across the country and things like that. But also, in the events, we like to incorporate just different parts of local culture into our events. Whereas, I feel like a lot of other culinary events companies might just focus on having a chef- driven dinner, where we looked beyond that because there's just so much that happening already. We want to do things that are a little bit different.
Kayla: It's a good point. Food is an excellent partner for many things. It's a great marriage. When you were talking about marketing restaurants, the best thing you could do is hire a food photographer. What do you think is the best thing that someone can do to market their food event?
Dan Clapson: If people aren't comfortable sending out their own press releases, I would honestly look at contracting a PR firm, just for a one- off contract, just to help you get the word out initially, or maybe even help you build a template for how you should construct a press release and then keep that as your template just going forward for any event. I do think sending out a traditional press release to all types of outlets, as well as influencers, is really beneficial. A lot of people don't do that anymore. A lot of people just think that putting it on Instagram is enough. Now, you know, people will find it on Instagram. People will share it, but you forget that people don't often immediately buy what they see on Instagram, right? You need to see something. I think that they say through advertisements or just brand awareness, people need to usually see something in three times, three separate places, before they'll purchase it. So that's what comes back to my mindset of any press is good press. I want someone to maybe hear about Blue Jay Sessions on the radio and then they will maybe see it out with their friend re- share on Insta Story. Then a week later, maybe they'll see a TV segment shared about it an online. So that's my mentality is that a traditional press release, send outs to a variety of contacts, again, like radio TV influencers. I think that will definitely help you find success because people forget that all of these outlets, Avenue, Daily Hive, Global News, everyone, they're all looking for content, right? They want content. So you need to give it to them and I'll tell you this, they're not sitting on Instagram, flipping through posts, looking for content. They're busy, so I think it needs come to them.
Amanda: Yeah, I think that's something-
Kayla: People forget, too, not to target specifically restaurants, but I think that is something people forget that not everybody is going to come to your page. Not everybody's going to be able to see you on your feed, so you do have to make an effort to communicate with your audience in more than one way, instead of just relying on one medium.
Dan Clapson: Absolutely.
Kayla: I think there has to be a multi- level strategy. So how do you advise people, Dan, who don't have the budget or don't have the time to do a multi- level strategy or to hire someone to do that?
Dan Clapson: I think don't be afraid to ask your peers. A lot of people that work in your industry probably have experience in other, I don't know, little facets of the industry than you might, so it never hurts to ask. That's been my philosophy through my entire life. It never hurts to ask somebody. Either they're just going to say no, or they'll probably help you. Outside of that, if you do work, loosely, in a media realm where you deal with media, chances are you might even have had a press release be sent out to you for some reason. So even if you can't afford a PR person, you might've had an old email with the press release format that you could, essentially, mimic and just send out yourself. So there's a lot of resources available, I think, if you just spend the time looking for them as a small business owner, or if you're looking for a way to further engage on Instagram or a different social media platform, definitely look and see what your peers are doing, right? If you're taking photos with your phone and they aren't the best photos, and you're wondering why you're getting 25 likes on your food photos, whereas, you look at a different restaurant down the road or a place like Proof gets hundreds of likes on a cocktail, there's a reason for that, right? So I think maybe being critical also of your own social feeds is a good place to start on how you can improve.
Kayla: I think, too, one more thing. It's when you're hiring a PR agent you're paying for that Rolodex and their contacts. So I think for me, it's been really valuable to when you meet someone, make sure you're grabbing that contact, right? Because at some point, if you do want to take it over yourself, that's what you need. You need a good list.
Dan Clapson: Absolutely, because PR people won't always share contact lists with their client, right?
Kayla: Oh, no.
Dan Clapson: Because that is what you pay for, so that's a great point.
Kayla: I think the thing people often to forget about too, is when you're doing a startup there's energy in and around a startup, right? There's energy that people are really excited about. So sometimes looking in your peer circle and seeing and asking, like you said, just ask for help, or ask for it in return for sweat equity, right?
Dan Clapson: Mm-hmm(affirmative).
Kayla: So here's what I can provide you. There are unconventional solutions, it's just rather than a straightforward," I'm going to pay you. You're going to do this for me," right?
Dan Clapson: Absolutely, and especially if you are in the food and drink round with, you have the ability to give gift cards, maybe that value that you're giving someone isn't your cost, right? So I think that that's also something that people might be happy to work for that as well. Especially if someone that's more up and coming in a industry like PR or you can photography, after you're going to offer them$1, 000 in gift cards, maybe that only costs you$ 200, then I think that that's a great option.
Kayla: Totally. So let's rewind to 11 years ago when you're starting out and you're thinking to yourself," Okay, I have to market Dan Clapson now. I have to market Eat North now." If we're talking to people who are just starting now, what's your advice to them on starting out in this kind of realm?
Dan Clapson: I definitely thought about the name of my brand. So 11 years ago, I used to have a blog called Dan's Good Side. That's why my social handles are Dan's Good Side. So back then when Twitter had just come out, but as Facebook pages were new and my website, I made sure they were all under the same name so it wasn't Dan Clapson 2000 here and then Dan crosstalk somewhere else and Dan's Good Side on Facebook. I made sure it was all the same right away. I think that that is something that people don't think about. Generally, when there's a new social platform out, I will go onto it and I will take my handle just so it's sticking. I think a lot of people make that mistake because that can be cause for a lot of confusion down the road when you are a big or even, look at someone like Taylor Swift. I think her Twitter handle is TaylorSwift13 because someone else took that handle from her a long time ago and I assume she just didn't want to pay them for it. But it's kind of funny that the world's most famous singer doesn't have her own name as her Twitter handle and how many people probably type out her name incorrectly all the time when they tweet her, right? So I feel like that that's a key thing and I think just know what you are interested in. I think that these days maybe just liking food might not be enough anymore because there's a lot of people out there that already like food and they already have tens of thousands of followers, so why do I care that you like food too? You know what I mean? I'm a huge fan of Vietnamese food, but let's say you just want to highlight Vietnamese cuisine in Western Canada. That's an interesting feed and then you end up becoming sort of an expert in that area over time, right? No one's an expert right away. You have to, obviously, work towards it, but I think if you have a clear vision of what you want to convey on your feed, that's great. Another thing, these days especially, I get pretty tired of seeing people that almost exclusively do paid content posts and it's really hard to tell what their original concept for their feed even is, so I think that just staying away from that is good as well, because it's not all about making money at the end of the day.
Kayla: It's hard to look at an influencer and only see paid ads and then be like, I don't actually know who you are or-
Amanda: Why do I care?
Kayla: Where do I relate to something other than what you're currently being paid to solve, right?
Dan Clapson: Mm-hmm(affirmative).
Kayla: So I do think that's a very important point that you have to show what you're about other than," This person gives me money and I'm willing to talk about their product now."
Dan Clapson: Absolutely. No, I agree 100%. I will say that over the years, my focus in work has changed as well. Eleven years ago, I was primarily focused on just recipe developments and home cooking and I wanted a cookbook and then it evolved somewhat naturally into restaurants, reviewing features and that kind of thing. So I guess you never fully know where things will take you, but I think starting out with a clear vision in your mind definitely is helpful, even if it does evolve over time.
Kayla: So since food is your business, do you also still have food as your love when you're not doing business? Is it still relaxing for you to like go out and try a new restaurant? Or is it like always business then, for you?
Dan Clapson: I will say your passions do become work over time and anyone that says it doesn't I think is lying for sure. But there's definitely something cathartic about cooking at home. I definitely love that. It's a great way to unwind for sure. I definitely still find love in cooking at home, especially cooking meals for other people. I love doing that. Dining out, for sure, has become mostly work- related now. Don't get me wrong. If I'm going to go Ship& Anchor shipping grabbing beers with my friends or popping into National or something like that, I just relax and have a good time. But if it's a newer restaurant, it's highly likely we'll end up in, well, a column of mine or we'll end up on a TV segment. So I am definitely in work mode a lot of the time when I go to restaurants, especially newer ones crosstalk
Kayla: Oh, come off it. They're like," There he is."
Dan Clapson: The masks help these days, so crosstalk so I am thankful for that, but crosstalk there's always a basically love of food for sure, but it's my job. It's what keeps me going and what puts a roof over my head and so I have to treat it like work.
Kayla: I think we need to get you a mask with a fake beard on it crosstalk
Dan Clapson: Yeah, or maybe like the fake glasses and the fake mask?
Kayla: Yeah. We're in winter, right? So the tubes and the mask, it's kind of hard to tell.
Dan Clapson: It's true, but I don't think I can keep that all on for dinner, but-
Kayla: That's true. crosstalk That would be a full disguise. So before we wrap up, my last question is what do you do when somebody wants to cook for you and it is not good?
Dan Clapson: I don't judge anyone's home cooking unless they specifically want it to be judged. I think that when someone is inviting you into their home, which is a rarity these days, let's be honest, it's nice. They're opening up their home to you. They're cooking for you. They put a lot of love into what they're making, so I don't critique people's home cooking. Sometimes you might need to add a little salt here and there, but I'm definitely not the one to push the plate away or roll my eyes in that situation.
Kayla: So, because we did a podcast interview with a human behavior hacker a little while ago and I was so cognizant of my face during the podcast, I was like," Should I have gotten Botox to school my face so she can't read me?" Because I said something and I was like," I wonder what she's taking from that? Oh, did I say it wrong? Is my face showing? Could she tell that I'm not actually paying attention?" So I feel like-
Dan Clapson: It's interesting how people will preface things before they serve me food. It does happen at home. They'll say," Oh, I'm not a chef." crosstalk I realize most people are not chefs, so crosstalk.
Kayla: You're also like," Yeah, we've been friends for years. I'm aware of this."
Dan Clapson: Yeah. Absolutely. I do encourage people, though, if they are cooking primarily from scratch. I do think base level, if one of my friends served me dinner and it was mostly out of boxes, I would definitely say something because from scratch, cooking is definitely not that hard and I do encourage that. So that, perhaps, would be the one critique I might share at a table.
Kayla: Okay. Noted. If ever cooking for Dan, make sure it's from scratch, not out of boxes.
Dan Clapson: Yes.
Kayla: But I think you're right though. People think it's a lot simpler to open a jar, but it's probably only give or take 10 more minutes to make your own basic red sauce, so there's little things, right? I don't know. Cooking, I feel like is more of like an art; whereas, for me, baking is more of a science. You can't be like," Oh, I'm going to make this bread and we'll see what happens if I put in half the amount of flour." No, I know what will happen-
Dan Clapson: Which is why I don't bake-
Kayla: ...it will fail. Whereas cooking, you can be like," I'm going to start with some onions or garlic and see where it takes me," right?
Dan Clapson: Mm-hmm(affirmative). No, absolutely.
Kayla: Okay. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for your time today, Dan. Where can everybody find you on the internet or find out about Blue Jay Sessions or any of other Eat North events?
Dan Clapson: So you can find a whole bunch of content on eatnorth. com or on socials @ eatnorth and myself, I am Dan's Good Side on all platforms and Blue Jay Sessions has its own social as well, so it would be bluejaysessions.
Kayla: I love it. Everything branded properly crosstalk You make marketing people like us very happy, Dan.
Dan Clapson: We do try our best.
Kayla: Awesome. Well, thank you so much for your time today, Dan. I really appreciate it.
Dan Clapson: Thanks for having me, you two. It was great.
Kayla: Bye. Hey everyone. Thanks so much for joining us on the Content Callout today. Amanda and I just had a fantastic discussion with Dan Clopson, who is a food critic writer, restaurant marketer, event thrower, et cetera, et cetera. I've been following Dan for quite some time actually, so this was an exciting conversation for me. I think my biggest takeaway that I thought was really cool was Dan mentioned that if you're really just starting out and you don't have a lot of money to spend, probably the best thing that you can do is hire a food photographer and take a ton of photos. I really agree with that and I totally fall for food photos all the time. So Amanda, what did you think of that?
Amanda: It's literally how I make my decisions on what I'm going to eat every day. So-
Kayla: Exactly, right?
Amanda: It is important. It is very important. I think Dan made a really good point too, where he said," If you're starting out in there and there just isn't the budget for certain things that you need, you can piecemeal it and find people to help you with certain parts of it, but then also you can look around your peer group or educate yourself or ask for help," and that's huge as well. So I think that was a really cool takeaway.
Kayla: Yeah, that was really excellent. So anyways, thanks for tuning in everyone. Give us a like. Give us a share. Give us a follow and we'll catch you next time on the Content Callout. Bye.
You’ve opened a restaurant and have an exciting concept but have no idea where to start with marketing. Maybe you’ve thrown some photos on Instagram and have some word-of-mouth going—but is it enough? In this episode of Content Callout, Dan Clapson—the co-founder and Creative Director of Eat North—shares some tips and strategies from his years of experience. Don’t miss it!