In 2011, Fabio Adler and Tracey Howes created the London Restaurant Network to give industry professionals a platform to socialize, learn and network. Fabio has worked in marketing for restaurants for the past four years; Tracey has worked in hospitality and marketing for 15 years runs her own marketing, PR, and social media consultancy for restaurants.
“We felt that working for independent restaurants as an in-house [marketing] manager can be a solitary job sometimes, because even though you’re working with a team your day-to-day job can be a little bit lonely,” says Fabio. “The idea was to create a society, a network of people who could meet up and exchange ideas about what we do.”
Now, the London Restaurant Network is a membership-based organization that offers a regular program of events. At its core is a monthly breakfast, where guest speakers give presentations on subjects relevant to the industry (recent speakers came from Google Plus and Pinterest U.K.). They offer evening networking events as well.
We talked to Fabio and Tracey all about the importance of networking for restaurants and how to do it well, from industry groups and special events to the most effective social media channels. Here are six tips to grow your list of business contacts.
1. Get out there — in person
“The London Restaurant Network is all about meeting people face to face,” says Fabio. While he and Tracey support their events online as well (more on that later) their focus is on personal introductions to peers and experts who can help you understand your business better.
For Tracey, the social aspect is key. By talking to others and getting to know them, you may find a solution to a long-term problem and foster a sense of camaraderie in a competitive industry. Look for events online, join networking groups, follow hospitality shows, and sign up for restaurant and hospitality newsletters to make the most of every opportunity.
2. Do your homework
Before you attend an event, Tracey recommends checking out the Facebook and Twitter pages of the event or organizer to see who else is going to be there and do some research on the other members. That way, you’ll know how to talk to other attendees and can start conversations about topics of interest to you both.
3. Meet up beforehand
Attending an event alone can be intimidating. For their network events, Tracey and Fabio try to meet with attendees ahead of time so that when they enter the room they feel like they already know someone. Consider reaching out to an event organizer or setting up a coffee date to introduce yourself so that there will be a friendly face when you arrive.
“A network is not just about people paying a membership fee, joining, and coming to events. It’s about feeling comfortable and being able to know that when they reach out, there will be a response,” says Tracey. “There is a bit of hand-holding in the beginning, but at the end of the day you have to hold back the fear and jump in.”
4. Be strategic
To make a networking event worth your while, you have to prioritize and strategize. Before attending ScotHot, Scotland’s recent hospitality trade show, Fabio and Tracey went through the list of exhibitors and selected five or six companies they wanted to meet.
“You can spend five hours and hand out business cards and get nothing back,” says Tracy. “It’s very much about being proactive.”
5. Follow up
And it’s not enough just to meet people — you have to follow up. As Fabio tells us, “It’s all very well to go to an event and get 10 business cards, but to follow up is as important as the face-to-face introductions.” Connect with new contacts on social media, or set up time to talk one on one.
“Business may not happen immediately, but that’s the joy of networking,” says Tracey. “It’s still a contact.”
6. Support with social media
When it comes to networking, Fabio and Tracey see social media as a supplement to in-person interactions. “Most of our current base for the London Restaurant Network has been drawn out of contacts we made via LinkedIn,” says Fabio.
If you’re new to restaurants, look for peers to connect with on LinkedIn and Twitter. “Personally, I’ve found those two platforms to be excellent for promoting my services, networking online, following up with people after events, and just sharing knowledge and content,” Tracy adds.