For want of a nail...
Over the past 48 hours I've watched with a mixture of horror and sympathy as a new restaurant opening has attracted a backlash from media both traditional and social unlike anything I've seen since...well, the last time it happened, last autumn.
In the most recent case, a group of chaps - who I am quite sure are lovely and kind and good to their mums - decided it would a be spiffing idea to open a restaurant offering a particular cuisine in an area of London that is known for being home to some of the best places serving that particular cuisine, cooked by people from the countries whence it originated, to a local clientele who are fiercely loyal to them.
So far, so clumsy. But in addition to this tanks-on-the-lawn approach to location, the chaps also made at best hubristic, at worst implicitly racist claims as to the quality of their food relative to that prepared by the [I paraphrase] savages serving up slop in the area to gullible fools who'd yet to try this premium product from people who knew better.
They capped it all off with a really, truly, terrible name, the sort of name that might make seven year olds snigger and drunks guffaw but makes most right-minded adults roll their eyes so hard they stick in the top of their sockets, while slow-hand clapping. The whole package was overwrought and under-thought.
When I say I've watched this with some sympathy, I mean it. Not because I know or feel especially sorry for the chaps responsible, but because situations like this can so easily be avoided, by making use of a consultant at the early planning stages. When mistakes happen with a restaurant opening, you can pretty much guarantee that a consultant hasn't been used.
I describe consultancy as, 'engaging someone detached from the project to – gently! – pull it apart at the seams, find the strengths and flaws you might have become blind to, and guide you on what to keep and what to rethink'. Someone fulfilling that role properly would have said to the chaps, "Guys, I would suggest not making claims that could be read as criticising a much-loved swathe of the local community. In fact, are you really sure this is the right area to open in first? And about that name..."
Of course, the client doesn't have to take a consultant's advice; they may be so confident in their offering that they decide to go against recommendations and open anyway, but at least they'll have had some food for thought. And a terrible name doesn't have to spell disaster, if communicated well from the get-go; one piece of invaluable advice I've picked up since starting my PR business was from a doyenne of the industry who, when I gently mocked the name of a new client of hers, told me firmly, "Hugh, the name is the name and we work with it." Wasn't I eating humble pie when it went on to win every accolade going?
As I write, no amount of backtracking, apologising and rejigging of the brand seems to be reducing the ire of the press and local community; whenever - and under whatever name - the site opens, such negativity early on can be very difficult to bounce back from. I really hope that the chaps concerned can turn this around; they clearly have ambition, enthusiasm and passion, however misdirected, all of which are lovely qualities which should be encouraged. But a few hundred pounds invested in engaging a consultant could have saved thousands of pounds further down the line.
If you'd like to have a no-obligation chat about whether your project could benefit from a consultancy period, I'd love to hear from you.