How to Host a Blogger Dinner

As a blogger who used to cover lots of local events for the Central Florida Top 5, I received my fair share of invitations to dine at restaurants as part of their blogger outreach. Some restaurants did an excellent job of reaching out and hosting, while others didn’t quite seem to grasp quite the right way to connect with us.

Last night I dined at Red Lobster – all the way out in Clermont (30 miles away!) – as part of a blogger outreach. And, as I was chomping away on the yummy food, I wondered why all restaurants didn’t do such a great job of courting bloggers… thus this blog post to show what they did right.

1. Establish the Relationship First

Costa Communications Group, who helps Darden with this blogger initiative, has done a consistent job of reaching out and connecting with me as a blogger over the years. Not only have they shown an interest in my professional blogging projects, but they have also reached out personally on my social media channels – Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. They’ve made comments on my new Great Dane puppy, etc., so I feel like a real person who matters to them. They do not just hit me up when they have an event they want me to blog about – this is important!

2. Send a Personal Invite

Costa Communications’ Jenni Izzo contacted me via Facebook messages to be sure I saw the general invitation to the Red Lobster event and to ask me to personally attend. Just like any party where a friend asks you directly, I felt a bit more obligated to respond. Compare this to a general mass email where it is easy for me to ignore. I was even willing to drive out Clermont due to the relationship that had been established – good strategy!

3. Allow a Plus 1

Far too many events only allow me, the blogger, into them. Everyone I know hates this! I  feel awkward going places alone and I am not too keen on small talk with new people. It is much more inside my comfort zone to be able to bring my husband or a friend. If you are going to host a blogger event, make it something we actually want to attend!

4. Be Prepared the Night Of

It’s one thing for the owners or marketers of a restaurant to set up the blog night, but it’s another to be sure the on-site staff are on-board and ready! I’ve had an event where the communication broke down and when I arrived, neither the hostess nor waiter knew anything about a special blogging event – yikes! Awkward and embarrassing for me and a real turn off! Well, the Red Lobster hostess not only knew about the event, she was expecting me and knew right where to direct me. The wait staff was friendly and welcoming as was the restaurant’s General Manager.

5. Treat a Blogger Like a Queen

Did I mention the Red Lobster was a 30-mile drive for me? And I think most of the other bloggers who came were also from the Orlando area. (How many  bloggers could Clermont realistically have?) So, since we made the drive, make it worth our while. Red Lobster did and then some. We could have anything we were curious about, from mixed drinks to lobster or crab legs. They automatically brought out several appetizers for us to try, including the crab-stuffed mushrooms and the garlic shrimp – oh my, it was all delicious!

Garlic Shrimp - Red Lobster

I then ordered the grilled cheese lobster sandwich for my main entree – which I promptly pretended wasn’t fattening at all! And the hosts gently encouraged us to post Instagrams throughout the night, so here’s one I did:

Lobster Grilled Cheese Red Lobster


And then for dessert, I had strawberry shortcake in a cute mason jar – addictive!

strawberry shortcake mason jar red lobster

The thing I really liked about the service was I felt like Red Lobster was my grandmother worrying about me not eating enough. Not only did they keep bringing food, they insisted I take some home once I got too full!

6. Keep It Cozy

Some restaurants make the mistake of inviting every blogger within a 100 miles radius, which makes you feel like you are attending a cattle call. Instead, Red Lobster opted for smaller groups over several nights. In Fact, there had been a Yelp event at different Red Lobster just the night before. A smaller group is not only more personalized, but the intimacy allows for better conversation and connecting. This was our very comfortable group last night:

red lobster

7. Don’t Be Too “Salesy”

We get it, we really do. The reason we bloggers are invited is for a sales pitch; however, the way in which you do it makes a world of difference. Kelly, the GM, would stop by every once in a while and go over a few different items that were new on the menu.  She was a very confident speaker, which is always good. And instead of one long sales pitch, we got it in small doses mixed in with our regular conversation. The wait staff was extremely knowledgeable and all responded to our questions well. For example, one of the bloggers is allergic to shell fish. The answer? An “allergy menu” was instantly brought out listing all the ingredients. (Who knew they had such a thing?) And it turns out Red Lobster recognized there are quite a few diners who don’t like seafood, so their revamped menu has plenty of “land” items on it as well as vegetarians options.

8. Have Social Media Links Readily Viewable

I cannot explain how many times I’ve gone to an event prepared to tweet and have no idea what the relevant links are! Red Lobster remedied this by having table top cards listing all the relevant links and hash tag for the night. This is an easy way to provide vital information!

red lobster social media

9. Give a Swag Bag

In addition to the take-home doggie bags, Red Lobster also prepared a special swag bag for each of us. Inside were menus for us to refer back to as well as gift card to be sure we would be coming back. Nice and appropriate!

10. Keep It Short and Sweet

My hubby and I both enjoyed the night. We were in and out within two hours, and appreciate Red Lobster respecting our time. Not only had we eaten way too much, we had really enjoyed the experience.  So, thank you, Red Lobster, for creating a very positive night! Other restaurants, pay attention – they are doing things right!