What we learnt from organising Dakar’s first Restaurant Week

It was quite nerve wracking since we had no office, army of employees, or even a business card to offer, but our ideas were powerful and left an impression on all the owners we presented to. We reached out to eight restaurant owners, and were able to get six onboard as clients. However, maintaining and pleasing them as clients was also very tricky as they were typically competitors, and our initiative required them to cooperate.

We developed a set of guidelines that helped us manage our clients but also made sure we catered to their preferences. Even though all our clients were restaurant owners, they had differences like location, cuisine, style, price points, etc. We had to understand where those differences mattered the most and address their individual needs within a group setting. We realised face time with each of these restaurant owners was just as important as the work we were doing behind the scenes. Business in Senegal was conducted and cultivated through relationships so it was equally important for us to spend time with our clients and be present outside of our working hours.

Strong international partnerships

We were also able to get the support and sponsorship of major international companies such as Turkish Airlines and Hellofood. We realised international companies are very interested in the African market but they are also very selective about what they want to be associated with.

Our event was unique and would offer them a direct platform to the growing middle class. We had creative ideas like a launch party, social media campaign, backstage TV coverage and prizes for participants that helped make our event more dynamic and interactive. We gave our sponsors a lot of opportunities to not only be visible but also be involved with their target market. Leveraging these strengths made us an appealing partner.

Big vs. small marketing tactics

In our marketing campaign we had a massive PR launch event, billboards, TV, print, social media, etc. Each of these mediums had various pros and cons. The billboards gave us credibility with our clients, partners and even with our target market. However, they were not such an effective medium to distribute information since they are static and typically only seen by car owners.

Social media, on the other hand, though less respected by our clients and partners, was a very effective way to distribute information quickly and to the masses. Our Facebook page grew to over 2,500 likes in only two months. People were interacting, participating and sharing mostly from their mobiles. Pictures of food were very popular but even more popular was seeing pictures of their friends at our events. Tagging people helped drive and expand our campaign online and was a very powerful tool. Ultimately, social media was the major driving force behind our campaign.

Overall, Restaurant Week was a great initiative and learning experience for both of us. We received a lot of positive feedback from our surveys. Our restaurant owners who had typically reserved 20 slots for Restaurant Week participants had sold out reservations every day and had to expand the allocation. For many of the participants, it was the first time frequenting most of these restaurants and they planned to return.

It was extremely rewarding for us to be able to share the joys of eating a delicious meal with a beautiful ambience at an accessible price to a much larger audience. Restaurant Week is now intended to be an annual event for the food-loving Dakar community. We hope similar initiatives can also spread across other developing economies in Africa.

Diarra Bousso is an international luxury fashion designer based in Dakar and an ambassador for youth entrepreneurship. Shruti Dhanda started her career doing advertising for Apple in Los Angeles and later moved to Dakar to do a research stint with an NGO. She is now living and working in Asia.