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FoodCycle Tip or Tweet Campaign

13 Oct

I have a belly full of guilt, my friends. In the past month, where it has been reported over 800,000 children go to school hungry, and food poverty is one of most mind-boggling fall outs of the recession and current government welfare policy, my own eating habits have been placed in stark contrast to those having to make use of food banks or those in extreme poverty survive on just £1 a day to feed themselves and their family.*

How, when food waste is a massive issue, are we seeing people across the world struggle to eat?

Other people have written far more eloquently about the issues in the UK than I ever could, and from a far more understanding perspective – see North South Food examine the issues driving the rise in food banks and Jack Monroe’s blog detailing her life on the breadline – but from my incredibly fortunate position, eating out at least twice a week, having a fully stocked fridge and (like most people) throwing out a yellow headed stem of broccoli on a weekly basis, it’s quite evident I can do better, and most certainly give back more.

Food Cycle

There are many great initiatives out there, from ideological campaigns like Live Below the Line to big brands like Kelloggs supporting school breakfast clubs (difficult as may be to see this as entirely altruistic gesture), but the most impactful organisation I’ve come across is FoodCycle, which…

“…builds communities by combining volunteers, surplus food and spare kitchen spaces to create nutritious meals for people at risk from food poverty and social isolation.” 

Started back in 2008, it provides a free sit down meals for the 4 million people affected by food poverty in the UK, (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2000) and more than 500,000 people accessing food banks (Walking The Breadline 2013), in the process cleverly tackling several major social issues through one nifty initiative with four main aims.

  • Reducing food poverty by providing nutritious meals to vulnerable groups
  • Reducing food waste by reclaiming it for use
  • Building stronger communities and reducing social isolation through communal dining
  • Empowering volunteers to develop skills and creating positive social change in their communities

Through making use of food that would otherwise go to waste from supermarkets, drawing on the time and skills of volunteers to cook and feed people in need of a hot, healthy meal, Food Cycle are bringing people together from all walks of life through food, and helping develop the skills of people wanting to get back into gainful employment.

Helping Out

Needless to say really, but I fricking love FoodCycle. It’s such a neat, impactful idea that benefits so many people – over 73,000 meals serves and 74,000kg of food reclaimed to date – and tackles so many prevalent social issues, it’s impossible not to admire the work or be inspired to get involved.

So, whilst time poor and not always available to help out directly and volunteer at the Manchester Food Cycle Hub, I am (slightly more) cash rich, so have started donating to FoodCycle on a monthly basis, and having a big gob and a food blog to back it up, can write about it and the great work they do. This October’s campaign is the perfect place to start…

Food Cycle Tip or Tweet Campaign

The basic premise of the campaign is that restaurants, using FoodCycle Tip or Tweet donation vouchers, encourage diners to make donations to FoodCycle throughout October in the run up to Halloween. Super simple, and a very easy way to get gluttons like me to give back, and to get the hospitality industry – another major part of the food landscape and significant contributors to the food waste issue too – to get involved in supporting food poverty initiatives.

Initial support for the campaign on Twitter started some debate, highlighting (quite rightfully) the concern that tips would be diverted from serving staff who use the money to supplement their (often meagre) restaurant salary. Whilst I’d be happy to both tip the staff and donate, I’m in a fortunate position.

Restaurants getting involved will know best whether its customers would be likely to both tip and donate, and if staff support for the campaign might seem a barrier to entry, there’s always the option to encourage people to tweet about @foodcycle, and raise awareness for the charity instead. A few London restaurants are already involved in the campaign, with more lined up in the run up to Halloween to raise awareness and money.

So, which Manchester restaurants would you like to see support the Tip or Tweet campaign? Are you a restaurant that would like to get involved, or a (similarly greedy and guilt laden) blogger with an audience and feel inspired to write or tweet about the campaign? All the information you need is here.

* $1.25 in the US, which is held as the global marker for the extreme poverty line.

Foodie Bashing

31 Dec

It’s no way to start the New Year, but a recent BBC News article, evocatively titled The British Vomitorium, has left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. Appealing to the food obsessed masses of the UK, writer Will Self implores us to emerge from our festive glut and put down our forks, challenging the notion (as I read it) that food is a mark of class and culture in a foodie’s aspirations to achieve a middle class lifestyle. Accordingly, this simply acquired and easily digestible cultural snackette, as it were, should be brought back up in favour of more serious cultural endeavours.

Despite the misery mongering and slightly snobby attitude, Will has a point. The increasingly oft maligned foodie can be a badge-wearing glutton, motivated by the need to feel superior to those ‘eat-nots’ (as Mr Self so beautifully words it) who don’t know their porter from their stout. No different from the social showcasing exhibited by any other type of culture vulture, but given the prevalence of foodie content today, from TV cookery programmes to instagrammed pictures of people’s tea on your Twitter feed, over exposure has given way to a creeping and increasingly nasty bout of foodie-bashing.

I’m aware it can be irritating. As a food blogger and marketer, I’m fully immersed in this ‘culture’, contributing to the conversation surrounding food through both my work and my hobby. Sometimes, it’s more than even I can stomach. Twee representations of female cooks on the telly, bloggers brown nosing in the name of a free feed and the occasional sniffy food writer, looking down their nose at trends which months before they were spearheading; without doubt, there’s a lot of horseshit surrounding foodie culture, but do we really need to intellectualise the conversation?

If we are going to take this seriously, let’s look at some of the criticisms levelled. Griping about spending ‘more on food and eating out than ever before in our history’ in response to foodie pretensions seems silly when you consider the money spent, whether to make budgets go further or for enjoyment, there are obvious benefits for UK employment and the wider economy as a result. The change in food standards over the past 30 years is nothing to be scoffed at either, considering that our produce and our chefs are now bankable exports, which long-term will also help support much needed food tourism revenues for the UK.

The turnaround in attitudes towards food has also made a huge difference to people’s day to day lives. Through a slow process of attrition, the information we have been drip fed for years, watching Jamie Oliver challenge our school dinner ethos and River Cottage show us how to make best use of our leftovers has changed attitudes, and with information now readily available online on new and interesting ingredients, cooking techniques and food sustainability, not to mention healthy, balanced diets, for many people this culture has positively changed the way we buy food, cook and eat beyond measure.

All well and good, but if culture truly is the crux of the issue, consider that food is one of the most accessible ways to introduce people to other countries and cultures. Food traditions and national dishes tell the stories of a country’s history and the lifestyles of the people who live there – the history of rum in the Caribbean and its links to the slave trade, for example – and for many, is a contributing factor in the desire to travel. Celebrating our own food traditions and artisan crafts helps foster a better understanding of where we have come from too, the current real ale revival as case in point.

It’s not about culture, though, is it? Food is about people; coming together, breaking bread, having conversations. Food is the social glue that binds us. Since having started this blog, I have spent more time with friends and family than ever before and met fascinating, talented and interesting new people who, yes, love food, but indulge in myriad other interests too, and guess what? We share these over the dinner table. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Michelin or McDonalds either. It’s the coming together that counts, and that’s the real value in the appreciation and enjoyment of food.

It’s no use spouting culturally superior advice to foodies when you are engaging in the exact activity you are chastising them for. Sure, you’ll always have your one who gets wanky about what goes in a traditional Bolognese, but what we need is a re-evaluation of our food principles, not an all out purge. Showing off aside, the sharing of a recipe or recommendation of a restaurant can be useful, and of all the people I know who love food, I’ve never met one who didn’t have the ability to let go and have a good time. Writing parsimonious articles and bringing bad feeling to an inherently pleasurable pastime, well, it just misses the point.

So, my advice for the New Year? Keep tight hold of your forks, my lovelies, and go eat drink and be merry. What else is food for?

MFDF: Awards

9 Oct

So, that’s it for the Manchester Food and Drink Festival (MFDF) for another year. No more binge eating street food on Albert Square, supping beer and cider by the pint, ace value restaurant taster menus or local producers schlepping their wares. Were it not for the copious amounts of food and drink consumed in the name of capturing all that has been great and good about the last two weeks, I’m sure I’d feel empty. Instead, I’m in dire need of a detox and a miniature blogging break.

Thankfully, not all is lost. Finishing on a high note, the final fanfare in the form of the MFDF awards has helped pinpoint all that is currently great and good in the food and drink scene across our fair city, providing a handy guide to get you through the coming winter months, when the need for sustenance and great hospitality is at an all time high. Taking place last night at The Lowry Hotel, the winners were announced following the annual gala dinner, which lying tucked up in bed, (praying I be spared from festival-induced gout), I sadly didn’t get to enjoy.

What I did get to enjoy was the live Twitter commentary from the ceremony, particularly the run up, where everyone tweeted how off their tits they were, though who didn’t enjoy the pictures of Lee Frost of WH Frost Butchers fame, winner of last years Best Food and Drink Retail Outlet, in a bow tie?

So, in case you missed it, the winners of the MFDF Awards 2012 are…

Restaurant of the Year Aumbry, Prestwich

Chef of the Year Andrew Nutter, Nutter’s, Rochdale

Pub of the Year Port Street Beer House, Manchester

Bar of The Year Liar’s Club, Manchester

Newcomer of the Year Bakerie and Bakerie Tasting Store

Food Pub Of the Year Shoulder of Mutton, HolcombeVillage, Bury

Casual Dining Venue of the Year Teacup, Manchester

Food and Drink Retailer of the Year Booths, MediaCity UK.

Coffee Bar of The Year North Tea Power, Manchester

Wine Retailer of the Year Hanging Ditch, Manchester

Food Pioneer Almost Famous, Manchester

Family Friendly Venue of the Year Croma

Food Hero Beau Myers, Marie Carter and The Team at Almost Famous

Howard and Ruth Award for Outstanding Achievement David Fox, Tampopo

Truly Good Food Award Trove, Levenshulme

Voted by the public, there wasn’t a great deal in the way of surprises, though how the pig did Home Sweet Home lose out to Teacup? (Shocking service, FYI). Aumbry, still setting the fine dining bar across Greater Manchester, makes for a very deserving winner of the highly coveted top prize, further cemented by its number 57 ranking at last night’s National Restaurant Awards. Bakerie’s arrival on the scene, bringing a much needed easy-going and perfect for sharing dinner option is also a joy to see on the list, as are the two award nods for Almost Famous.

Trailing a blaze this year with the pop-up gone permanent burger restaurant, and a master class in how to deliver a buzz through social media, Almost Famous has played a huge part in putting some oomph into the Manchester restaurant scene and delivered some of the craziest fricking burger concepts known to man. (The 50 Shades of Bacon Burger was a particular highlight). Food hero indeed!

Other winners have delivered some of the best experiences of this year’s festival, including Andrew Nutter, with his proper local food cook off with Robert Owen Brown, not to mention whacking his jewels out for charity, plus Port Street Beer House, winner of pub of the year, which delivered a blinder along with Common in organising Indy Man Beer Con, a beautiful lesson in how to truly celebrate real ale.

So, that’s my two penneth worth. What do you think of this year’s winners? Any establishments from those nominated you were sad to see miss out? Who should be on the list next year, following the recent crop of new establishments, especially in the Northern Quarter, with the arrival of SoLita and The Blue Pig? Which Manchester food and drink diamonds do you want to see shine?

Restaurant Marketing

14 Aug

It was only a matter of time before I brought the old day job into this, but I reckon marketing a restaurant must be a tough gig. If you’re not part of a large scale fast food or national restaurant chain, it’s highly unlikely you wield the budget or man power needed to effectively spread the word about your lovely new independent eaterie or local chain, so how do you encourage the hungry masses to come taste your wares?

TV, radio and press advertising can be freaking expensive, and though countless lifestyle and food review sites offer seemingly reasonable rates for advertising and direct marketing, the lack of a market leading publication at national or local level must be an issue. Without the readership, audience targeting and reporting capabilities needed to determine whether your event listing or price promotion converted into new customers, how sensible an outlet is it in which to invest?

There’s always PR of course, with food editors and bloggers lining up to put pen to paper for free food, but despite effectively being a free advert, it still costs. A considerable amount of time needs to be spent courting the press, (if you can’t afford an agency that is), not to mention footing the food bill and using your staff’s precious time to serve non-paying customers, which despite all your efforts could result in a bad review. That said though, unless you have the goods to deliver a great dining experience, why put yourself on the line?

The holy grail, of course, is to let the marketing do itself through word of mouth. Though there is still trust placed in restaurant reviews, nothing can beat the recommendation of a friend, family member or peer who has been and experienced a place first hand. You have to get punters through the door first though, and one of the most instant and accessible ways in which to do this is through the use of social media, and most popular in the case of hospitality businesses, through Twitter.

Managing your business’s social media is a huge investment, as getting the right tone of voice, providing relevant content and building genuine relationships with your target audience requires time, effort and skill. Despite much discussion in the marketing world over social media’s value and effectiveness, for a small businesses who can closely monitor the conversation, count the retweets and conversions into customers (should you be close enough to your operation), the rewards are all there to see.

Some get it uncomfortably wrong, like new favourite Slice, who last week got a ticking off from Gordo, of Manchester Confidential fame, for requesting a retweet only three weeks into opening, with no attempt at wooing the man. Some do it spectacularly well however, like Almost Famous Burgers, which through the buzz created on Twitter for the semi-secret burger pop up achieved queues half way down Edge Street, so desperate were people to get through the door and try a bitch juice or triple nom burger.

Whereas Almost Famous became notorious through peddling exclusivity and playing on people’s desire to be in the know, Solita NQ, the newest addition to the Northern Quarter dining scene, has launched through a beautifully executed campaign of inclusivity. In the run up, they tweeted menu items, asked for dish testers, educated their followers on the magic that is the Inka Grill and (being savvy) reached out to the most mouthy foodies in Manchester (hello) to review and blog the menu, all of which hit launch day and resulted in an almighty scrap to get a table and try the pulled pork sundae, amongst other delicious things.

Free opening weekend aperol spritzers for all, tasters of the constantly updated menu and being on first name terms with most of their customers has put Dom, Franco and Simon up there amongst the warmest and most welcoming hosts in Manchester. In addition to the incredibly good value for money and innovative comfort food they serve, they really have created a special place which comes widely recommended, much to their delight.

Most admirable, however, is that Solita NQ openly seeks to refine what it does, with my most recent jaunt being in aid of providing open feedback on the whole experience. It’s a rare thing for a restaurant to do, and in the face of the fickle nature of the Manchester food scene, where people would attend the opening of a crisp packet, it makes good business sense to keep innovating and improving, engaging your customers in the process and building a relationship that will last beyond the first few months of trading.

As a marketer, I admire them massively, but as foodie, I love them even more, because they deliver on every promise they make, making great headway in establishing a strong new food brand for the city, and keep on promising to get better. So here’s a little something for the fellow food lovers. It speaks for itself.

Rooster Scratchings. Salty, crispy chicken skin.

Pulled Pork Sundae. Rich anise flavoured meat with buttery mash.

The Hungry Hoss Burger. Two 6oz burgers with kentucky fried bacon, melted cheddar cheese, bbq sauce and red onion marmalade.

Lobster Roll. Lobster in a brioche bun with mayonnaise, pickles, smoked butter and fries on the side.

*For other fab Solita NQ reviews, see Mrs Petticoat, Things to Do in Manchester and the legendary Hungry Hoss, who due to his much valued custom has had a Solita NQ burger named after him. Let it never be said these guys don’t value their customers.