Struggling restaurant Una is now full every day thanks to social media influencer Joe Wicks

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 29th March 2019

Do you know of any local restaurants that are struggling to make ends meet? Places offering great food, drink and hospitality, but suffering from a lack of exposure?

We’ve all heard the story before. Small, independent restaurant opens, promising high-quality food and excellent service with a smile.

Twitter heavyweight Jay Rayner

The hope is for a bright and prosperous future, but a play of circumstances, like location and proximity to cheaper, lower quality but crowd pleasing, TripAdvisor friendly alternatives, seasonality, or an ill-advised post-Christmas launch cause the restaurant to fall onto hard times.

Without the external financial support, it is usually a matter of months before the burden becomes too much and the business falls into administration. We've all watched in sadness as time upon time again, amazing restaurants, projects in which people have poured their hearts and souls, are forced to close.

Last year, Harrogate's Norse put out a plea to its customers - disgruntled by changes made when the Scandinavian-inspired restaurant moved and unaware of efforts made to counter criticism - to return, dine, and support the business before it was too late. 

Shared by many, including food critic and Twitter heavyweight Jay Rayner, the post drew widespread attention, but nonetheless, the restaurant was unable to keep its head above water, and finally closed in May last year. 

But does it have to be this way? Studies show that people are turning away from restaurant chains in droves, seeking heightened experiences elsewhere. But in the oceanic abyss of the Internet, is it becoming harder for businesses to get noticed?

Could it just be a matter of poor exposure? 

Two weeks ago, fitness celebrity Joe Wicks, known to most as The Body Coach, visited restaurant Una in Richmond, sharing his experience on Instagram and Facebook. Joe’s visit changed everything.

Joe is known in marketing speak as an 'influencer:' with more than 660,000 subscribers on YouTube and over 2.5m followers on Instagram.

A few pictures on his accounts had an immense effect on Una’s business. On the night of his visit, the restaurant went from having 200 Instagram followers to 4,000.

“Instead of doing one or two tables a day, we’re doing fifty or sixty covers every day.”

Una chef owner, Andy Varma, once the owner of Varma on King’s Road explained. He and his wife Undulie had been experiencing hard times at the Asian Tapas restaurant after a string of unexpected costs hit them.

“It was a struggle and it was a bit painful but we managed, and when we managed we were expecting some punters to come through at least on the weekend so we could kick back and recover a little bit, but that was a bit of a struggle.”

Joe Wicks

The Body Coach, visited restaurant

Una in Richmond, sharing his experience on Instagram

and Facebook. Joe’s visit changed everything.

What a good review was to a restaurant ten years ago 

The chef explained that the effect was similar to that of food critics at his restaurant twenty years ago: back then, AA Gills, Fay Maschler, The Evening Standard and the Sunday Times reviewed Varma, bolstering its popularity. “We’ve had our saviours,” he said.

Although it’s been a scramble to guarantee it was staffed enough to cater for the new influx of customers at Una, Andy said he had ‘a happy cry’ when he realised what Joe had done.

The Body Coach still gives them advice, he said: “He's monitoring us and then he sent personal private messages saying 'do this, do that, I haven't seen you posting, keep it up.”

The couple plans on employing someone to help them with social media in the future, because although they saw themselves as being savvy to an extent, Andy said he didn’t know about the algorithms and how they decide what visibility an app gets.

Here at The Staff Canteen, we have the hospitality industry's best interests at heart. This is why, starting this week, we’re calling on you, chefs, foodies and anyone with a loud enough voice on social media to nominate your favourite local restaurant, film a short video of yourself talking about it, go and take a selfie with the chef, help us create a buzz to get bums on independent seats.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 29th March 2019

Struggling restaurant Una is now full every day thanks to social media influencer Joe Wicks