The integration of social media into private clubs has changed the landscape of communication with club members.
I take a ridiculous amount of pictures of food. Not just of composed dishes either. I’ll take pictures of a flaring steak on the grill and beautiful vegetables when they arrive. I’m kind of a barbeque/smoking junky, too, so my phone is filled with pictures of various items on the smoker and hunks of meat with beautiful bark and perfect smoke rings.
What I don’t take pictures of are the charred pieces that fell victim to too much multi-tasking or a plated dish that is monochromatic or otherwise boring. That doesn’t make for a very sexy picture, right? Good food pictures are sexy. (I should emphasize that the good applies to the picture, not necessarily the food. You want to assume the food is good, but I think we have all seen how a poor photograph can make good food look bad and vise-versa.) It’s not that I haven’t over-smoked a piece of meat or conceptualized a dish that was completely monochromatic. Believe me, I have (and still do); I just have no desire to take a picture of it. And I really have no desire to share my mistake on social media.
Which leads me to my point: How has social media changed how we “Chef?”
In my last post, I talked about the role of the club chef beyond the kitchen. One of the things that came to mind—but frankly was too broad to cover—was the benefit of engaging members and making them part of your support group. The integration of social media into private clubs has certainly changed the landscape of communication with club members; as well as how you make fans from within your membership and outside it.
While there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction with members, social media provides a platform to reach them when you can’t be in the dining room as often as you would like. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are just a few of the ways we can reach members and followers.
Part of the reason I take so many pictures is because I like to document everything that is new to me. In addition to pictures, I take notes, so that I don’t repeat failures and am able to lock it in on the rare occasion that I get it right the first time. Sometimes, I’ll post an “experiment” on Facebook, Instagram or our Kitchen Facebook page. If the members see it, they become invested in the success of the dish and look forward to trying it when we run it as a special. They get the story that you can’t tell in a menu description.
A huge component for growth as a chef is working with and mastering new ingredients and new techniques. Let’s face it; if they are new to you, they are probably new to your members as well. That’s why building trust and making fans from your membership is such a big deal. You want them to take the journey with you. You want their palates to grow with your knowledge and when they trust you, they will take a chance on a dish that they may not somewhere else.
If we’re having an event that requires long term food planning, like curing or aging meats, I document the progress as the event approaches and even create a hashtag that we use leading up to the event. Building excitement and anticipation helps us to drive the much-needed participation for costly special events.
Social media also keeps me on my toes. I know that I may be in a culinary rut when I haven’t created a “post-worthy” dish or experimented with something that I feel would be interesting and post my progress. It keeps me energized to continue to create and grow and it allows people outside of my membership to see what I have going on. Who knows, maybe we’ll attract new members?
Because I’m a chef, I follow several other chefs on Instagram and Facebook. When I see their posts, I feel pride, curiosity, jealousy, humility and inspiration. It doesn’t take long to make me a fan. I’m excited for the next post and I want to try to figure out their story through their food. It only makes sense that I would want to do the same for others with my own posts.
This philosophy applies to your staff as well. If your cooks are creating dishes that they are snapping pictures of then there is definitely pride going into that dish. If I see a dish that doesn’t look so good, I may ask the cook: “Would you post that dish on your Facebook page?” (I will also ask them if they would send that dish out to their parents if they were in the dining room.)
Lastly, social media can help you with the difficult process of hiring staff. Like I mentioned earlier, cooks follow cooks on social media. We pay attention to what you do and your operation as a whole (at least as much as we can deduce from your posts). It’s not like an applicant can just walk into our dining rooms, try our food and check out the operation. Most clubs are private, so that is not an option. Social media gives these potential new hires a glance into your kitchen that they might not otherwise get. Would you rather interview an applicant who has in interest in what you’re doing there because they’ve seen your stuff online or someone who blindly applied to every cook position they came across?
That said, if I have a stack of applications to go through, you better believe that I will Google every name and…Oh surprise! I’ll be stalking you on Facebook. Much can be learned about an applicant from their Facebook posts. What’s that? That’s private? Let me give you a piece of advice once you’ve cleaned up your social profile: Change your privacy settings.
Social media is a powerful tool. But with great power comes great responsibility. Make sure you have permission to post on your club’s behalf (and if there is some hesitation from your club, make sure you’re using your name instead). Post often, but not hastily. Use proper grammar and spelling. Turn off the flash. Tap to focus. And be prepared to challenge yourself because every Facebook post, every Tweet and every Instagram is an opportunity to showoff your kitchen, your food, your club and yourself.