Taking Action to Support Restaurants, Operators, and Canada’s Culinary Communities

Taking Action to Support Restaurants, Operators, and Canada’s Culinary Communities

We’ll always remember Friday, March 13th, 2020.

We were busier than we’ve ever been but distracted by talk of a virus we knew little about, and worried about how it was going to affect us, our clients, our industry, and the country at large. Our clients were calling us for advice and we had none to give.

We all took our computers home for the weekend, unsure if we’d be back on Monday. And, of course, we weren’t.

Agency partner Marian remembers, “on Monday, March 15th, we took calls from all of our clients. Restaurants didn’t know what to do. That meant our clients didn’t know what to do. Heck, I didn’t know what to do. One thing was clear, clients wanted to change messaging and every client asked, “what are we doing to help the industry?”

As restrictions went into place, everything became unpredictable. Events and promotions were postponed and eventually cancelled. Contracts and assignments were paused. “Zoom” went from a verb to a pronoun and back to a verb in a matter of minutes. And takeout became the only viable revenue stream for restaurants.

On Monday, March 23rd at 1 pm, the Premier of Ontario Doug Ford announced that restaurants could remain open for takeout and delivery. At 1:30 the phone rang. It was one of the agency’s long-term clients, Vince DiMaria. He had a simple request.

“Branding & Buzzing, we need to support those who are open now. If we don’t, I won’t have customers and neither will you.”

The path was clear.

Canada Takeout Day

Leveraging our coast-to-coast network of clients, partners and friends in the industry and beyond, we called in every favour we could, brainstormed with some of the brightest minds in the foodservice and marketing worlds, and developed the idea for Canada Takeout.

In what felt like record time, we leapt into action. Our Account Managers handled outreach, media buys, social media, content creation and PR. Casey (our copywriter) furiously crafted the brand, while Jessica (our content manager) advised and strategized from home in the final days of her pregnancy before going on leave. It was all hands on deck, and then some!

“Our agency has worked with the restaurant industry for year, so being able to support it with this campaign was very special,” said Branding & Buzzing partner Sean Beckingham. “It was rewarding to work on something that directly benefited this community and friends.”

When we were ready to bring Canada Takeout forward, we partnered with Restaurants Canada (a logical choice), who jumped in with both feet.

“It was not easy. We worked night and day for weeks to get it going. We called everyone we knew. The team at Restaurants Canada was instrumental in spreading the word,” says Sean Beckingham. “A special shoutout to Troy Taylor who worked weekends and nights to pull this off. He was the 1st call in the morning and the last at night.”

“Restaurants are vital to the social and economic fabric of communities across Canada,” said Shanna Munro, Restaurants Canada past President and CEO. “We were among the first to feel the impacts of COVID-19, and we’ve been among the hardest hit, with nearly two-thirds of our workforce now lost. We loved seeing Canadians embrace #TakeoutDay and supporting local restaurants. It was a huge success.”

Ahead of the first official #TakeoutDay on April 15th, we reached out to the highest-ranked and most visible chefs in Canada, assembling them (remotely) to create a public-facing campaign video.

“One of the first people I called was Mark McEwan,” says Sean. “Just like in the old days, if Mark is on board, the others will follow. The raw video he sent was all I needed to share with the partners to really feel the impact of what we were about to do. In typical Mark form, he was commanding in his voice but his message was clear, the industry was in trouble”

The video became part of what was eventually a series. The first instalment featuring Chefs Mark McEwan, John Horne, Greg Balingit, Nick Liu, Tyrone Welchinski, Alex Chen, Alessandro Vianello, Ted Reader, Elsa Taylor, Jason Bangerter, Jessica Simmiss and Winnipeg farmer Will Bergmann.

It didn’t take long for the farmers to mobilize to action either. Ellen Pruden from Canola Eat Well jumped in stating:

“Farmers care about restaurants too! They are customers as well. What can we do? A video to help encourage the prairies to participate?”

Within 24 hours she had mobilized farmers from across the prairies to send video clips of support for us to use. From there, other farm boards jumped on too.

An extra boost to the movement came in the form of Canada’s Great Kitchen Party: Home Edition, a virtual variety show hosted by George Stroumboulopoulos that launched on April 15th for a four-episode run on consecutive Wednesdays and featured guest spots by Jim Cuddy, Alan Doyle, Ed Robertson, Tom Cochrane and Barney Bentall — all of whom put their own fun twists into their at-home performances.

George Strombo

We were amazed at the response, and at the sense of community that sprang up around Canada Takeout. A movement had begun.

Many big names in the industry jumped in on the effort. Sustain publishing editor Stacey Newman was one of them.

“Every single initiative that puts guests safely in touch with our restaurants is vital,” she said. “Every impetus for adaptation is what will change and ultimately save this industry.”

Since the launch of Canada Takeout, over 12,000 restaurants have registered to participate, while newsletter signups and takeout tags by consumers have grown exponentially.

“Canada Takeout has been an eye-opening experience,” said Marian Staresinic, Partner at Branding & Buzzing. “In hearing personally about how chefs and restaurateurs were impacted and being able to support them through this initiative was an opportunity I’m grateful for. Even if it just made a small difference because this is their livelihood and at the end of the day we’re in this together.”

To maintain momentum, Canada Takeout gave Canadians additional reasons to take out with a spotlight on a specific food niche (BBQ Day, World Day, Game Day, etc.) and an opportunity for chefs to share related dishes. It inspired Canadians to share their favourite dishes, giving the movement relevant, organic user-generated content and upholding the natural connection between consumers and restaurants.

The NPD Group (another partner in our effort) agreed.

“It should come as no surprise that delivery has helped to sustain the restaurant industry through this crisis,” they said. “An increasing number of people are discovering the convenience and variety available to them through this service channel. Supported by initiatives like Canada Takeout Day that are raising the voice of the entire industry.”

As for what’s next, the new normal of reduced seating capacity, rolling shutdowns and restrictions is likely to persist well into 2021. In rising to this new challenge, the Canada Takeout program is evolving in two noteworthy ways:

It’s leaving the Branding & Buzzing umbrella to become a separate business entity with a Board of Directors, dedicated staff and a new mandate.

It’s expanding its support for the operator community in Canada, working with consumer and foodservice brands to execute programming aimed at benefitting and advocating for restaurants.

As Canada Takeout matures, you can expect new offerings, a new look and a holistic platform built to support and champion the cooks, dishwashers, hosts, operators and customers that make our restaurants, and our country, so vibrant.

To find out what’s next for #TakeoutDay, visit CanadaTakeout.com or follow on Instagram @CanadaTakeout.

Banner Image Credit: Judy Yu

Takeout Day By The Numbers

Restaurants Registered: 14,500 (and counting)
Social Following: 17,500+
Major Sponsors & Partners: 75+
Video Views: 5.7 Million
#TakeoutDay Hashtag Reach: 52.9 Million
#TakeoutDay Hashtag Impressions: 160.1 Million
Press Reach: 101 Million
Nationwide TV Impressions: 43.7 Million
Website Visitors: 459,000+
Page Views: 765,000+