Cali BBQ thinks restaurants should move towards multimedia brands

Most restaurant brands use social media to post their specials or show off mouth-watering photos of food, but for 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 its mantra: “slow food fast”, not only in its shadow kitchens and brick-and-mortar store pipeline, but also through its 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 not to judge how people want to eat. We love the restaurant experience, but eventually people’s habits change […] it’s not that restaurants are disappearing: we just have to think differently now.

Part of that transformation, he said, is investing fully in the tech stack, which is really more of a “tech maze” these days with all the technology partnerships and integrations operators need to master.

Cali BBQ uses technology to increase the volume of the brand’s e-commerce presence with technology partners such as Toast, although it may not work for everyone: building a “tech maze” is not not a one-size-fits-all approach.

With Cali BBQ, for example, the goal was never to be the best barbecue restaurant ever. Walchef said he knew he wasn’t serving the best barbecue in the world. Instead, her goal is for Cali BBQ to become “the Amazon of barbecue.” He wants his customers to be able to order barbecue and stewed sides whenever and wherever they want and introduce the on-demand e-commerce economy to the world of pork and brisket stews.

A crucial aspect of getting to this point of digital ubiquity is mastering the art of online storytelling. Cali BBQ has a podcast, a YouTube channel, and a massive presence on every social media platform you can think of. Walchef uses this social media presence to interview and converse with fellow barbecue and restaurant industry colleagues, and to tell the brand story.

“Be the show, not the publicity,” 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 a restaurant’s best dishes […] But the competitive edge would be to tell the story of what’s really going on behind the scenes, who the pitmaster is […] if you’re in this business, your story matters.

Walchef encourages all restaurants to take this path of exploring storytelling through media platforms like YouTube and TikTok. But when the Digital Hospitality podcast welcomes another barbecue restaurant as a guest on the show, isn’t it strange to discuss “trade secrets” with a competitor? No, said Walchef, because “a rising tide lifts all ships”.

“We’re not trying to compete with each other,” he said. “We are masters in a room sharing ideas.”

Contact Joanna Fantozzi at [email protected]

Follow her on Twitter: @JoannaFantozzi

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