Most restaurant brands use social media to post their specials or show off appetizing photos of dishes, but to Shawn Walchef, owner of San Diego’s Cali BBQ and host of Digital Hospitality, customers want more than just shareable snaps: they want to know your story. Walchef is passionate about spreading their mantra: “slow food fast” not only to their ghost kitchens and the traditional store pipeline, but also through their many social media channels.
“It goes back to digital hospitality,” he said in an interview with Nation’s Restaurant News at the National Restaurant Association Show. “Our job is to not to judge how people want to get food. We love the restaurant experience, but ultimately, people's habits change […] it's not that restaurants are going away: We just we need to think of ourselves differently now.”
Part of that transformation, he said, is to fully embrace investing in the tech stack, which is really more of a “tech maze” nowadays with all of the tech partnerships and integrations that operators need to master.
Cali BBQ utilizes technology to turn up the volume on the brand’s e-commerce presence with tech partners like Toast, though that might not work for everyone: building a “Tech maze” is not a one-size-fits-all approach.
With Cali BBQ, for example, the goal was never to be the best barbecue restaurant of all time. Walchef said he knows that he is not serving the best barbecue in the world. Instead, his goal is for Cali BBQ to become “the Amazon of barbecue.” He wants his customers to be able to order slow-cooked barbecue and sides whenever and wherever they want and to bring the on-demand e-commerce economy to the world of slow-cooked pork and brisket.
A crucial aspect of getting to that point of digital ubiquity is mastering the art of online storytelling. Cali BBQ has a podcast, YouTube channel and a massive presence on every social media platform you can think of. Walchef uses that social media presence to interview and converse with other colleagues in the barbecue and restaurant industry, and to tell the brand’s story.
“Be the show, not the commercial,” he said. “The problem with social media is that we all want to put our best foot forward. We want that curated Instagram feed that shows off all of the best dishes in a restaurant […] But the competitive advantage would be to tell the story of what really happens behind the scenes, who the pitmaster is […] if you’re in this business, your story matters.”
Walchef encourages all restaurants to take this route of exploring storytelling through media platforms like YouTube and TikTok. But when the Digital Hospitality podcast hosts another barbecue restaurant as a guest on the show, isn’t it odd to be discussing “trade secrets” with a competitor? No, Walchef said, because “a rising tide lifts all ships.”
“We’re not trying to compete with each other,” he said. “We’re masters in a room sharing ideas.”
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