Posted by Patrick Maness
Being a celebrity has to be tough. There was a time when it seemed like you could get by on good looks, acting ability (or lack thereof) or simply your ability to entertain and put on a good show. Nowadays it seems like if you’re in the public eye you have to have your own charity, a team to manage your social media accounts and, apparently, your own restaurant.
Over 20 years ago, numerous Planet Hollywood restaurants sprouted up across the nation. Touting big-name celebrity “owners” such as Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, Demi Moore and Arnold Schwarzenegger, the chain initially exploded in popularity but very soon went bust.
More recently, another celebrity-themed chain, Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill, has fallen on hard times. Sure, you can lure people in with a celebrity, but ultimately what matters in almost every restaurant setting is serving up food that keeps customers coming back.
Examples of celebrity restaurants
Giuliana and Bill Rancic may not be household names (she was a long-time news anchor for E! News and he was the winner of the first season of The Apprentice) but their RPM Italian restaurants, located Chicago and Washington D.C., show how celebrities can leverage their name recognition into a truly successful restaurant.
The vibe of these restaurants is very modern and upscale, and the menu has everything from fresh innovations to Italian classics. Sure, these two have connections in the media and a network that allows them to spread the word about their restaurant, but what really makes their restaurants stand out has little to do with their celebrity status.
Like any good restaurant, the true celebrity is the chef in the kitchen. In their recently opened D.C. location, RPM Italian recruited executive chef Gabe Thompson, and it’s under his direction that the true magic happens. This makes it more a celebrity chef restaurant than a celebrity restaurant.
What the Rancics did was use their name to create that initial buzz, inviting celebrity friends to their restaurants to help spread the word, but ultimately, business success is owed to the stylish atmosphere and talent found in the kitchen.
Robert De Niro’s Locanda Verde in Manhattan has seen similar success. Opening in 2008, this restaurant puts very little emphasis on the fact that Robert De Niro is the owner. It builds its reputation the same way others do: with food and atmosphere.
The takeaway is that a successful celebrity restaurant needs to do more than rely on the gimmick of having a celebrity’s name.
Restaurant owners who don't have celebrity connections can learn from this as well. Promotions, design or marketing ideas can attract people and make them talk, but the fundamentals of serving great food in an inviting environment still matter most.
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