Skip navigation

Restaurants cook up new business with online 'chef' videos


For years, Restaurant Serenade's website was essentially an online brochure, serving up menus, directions, recipes and, later, reservations. But about two years ago, James Laird, owner and chef of the Chatham, N.J., spot, sought to "give the recipes life" by producing cooking videos and uploading them to the site. While he hopes those tales on tape will lead to a cooking show, their practical purpose was to boost Serenade's business, which turned out to be a successful effort.

These days the website draws 3,000 hits a month, and online dinner reservations have skyrocketed from two per month to 150. Overall business is up as well, and Laird says that customers stop him in the dining room to say, " 'I saw your video and I made that asparagus dish.' It's been great PR for the restaurant."

Meanwhile, as Quiznos' vice president of culinary development, Zack Calkins has made dozens of training videos for the sandwich chain. So when the marketing team approached him about doing customer-centered cooking videos, they didn't have to twist his arm.

"I really enjoy what I do, so anytime I get to stand in front of a camera and ramble on about food, I'm in," says Calkins, whose "Chef Inspired Minute" videos are downloadable both at Quiznos' website and through iTunes. To date, the videos have been downloaded 30,000 times.

Interestingly, the videos aren't Quiznos branded or focused on the chain's food. "What they show is [that] Quiznos has a chef who is passionate about food and willing to share great ideas with consumers. Other than the logo on my chef's coat, you don't see Quiznos anywhere," Calkins says.

Seven years ago, George Mavrothalassitis posted a video on his website that enticed tourists from all over the world to the operator's Honolulu restaurant, Chef Mavro. Since the segment was produced by Travel Café, a Los Angeles-area TV show, Mavrothalassitis paid nothing. And better still, ATA airlines picked up the video four years later and began showing it on all its flights headed to the Hawaiian islands.

Mavrothalassitis credits his publicist with making the video so appealing. The entire shoot was done in ankle-deep surf at Waikiki Beach, and the naturally flamboyant chef immediately took to water in the new medium.

"It seemed people were really interested in more information from the Web, and we'd put photos on the site for that," Mavrothalassitis says. "But the video was so different. It got a lot of people looking at us. And since Travel Café did it, the quality was fantastic."

Even though the salt-crusted fish recipe demonstrated in the video is no longer on Chef Mavro's menu, Mavrothalassitis says customers requested the dish so regularly that he ran it as a four-week special during his restaurant's 10th anniversary celebration. "So many came to the restaurant just to have that dish, I had to do it," he says, adding, "When they couldn't get it in the past, they'd say, 'But I saw it in your video.' "

Since Quiznos already had the manpower and the camera gear in house, the only added costs were a wired lapel microphone and just over $100 for food, according to Calkins. Laird said total production cost for his four five-minute videos was $1,500. Filming the videos in his home on a Sunday reduced the rate for his media crew and negated the need for studio rental.

"We did those four demos in under three hours, and that's shooting each twice," he says.

Calkins says most of his videos also run about five minutes and that nearly all are done in one take. He says he wants each to feel professional but less formal than a true cooking show.

"Now we're shooting them in people's homes to get a different feel and to keep them approachable for consumers," Calkins says. "[We] want all the recipes to be very simple and not mixing a ton of flavors. We want the recipes to be simple and clean."

In his videos, Calkins encourages people to e-mail questions about recipes. Problems he can't solve by e-mail often lead to phone calls about foods he doesn't feature. Unlike Laird, Calkins says he has no aspirations for a cooking show. "It's just a great creative outlet for me, a chance to buy those cool ingredients and show someone how to use them in a meaningful way," he adds.

Even the National Restaurant Association is getting in on the cooking video trend by encouraging professionals and amateurs to compete in its Hot Chef Challenge, in which contestants can upload cooking videos to YouTube. There, viewers will vote on their favorites. The winner will perform at the NRA's annual show in Chicago in May.

"Culinary inspiration is not confined to the kitchen these days but can also be shared online," William C. Anton, 2008 show chairman, and founder of Anton Airfood Inc., said in a news release. "We invite any individual who has a passion for cooking to share their talents with us via video to potentially win a great opportunity to showcase their culinary skills at the largest industry trade show in the country."

TAGS: Technology
Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.