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BITAC Food & Beverage Panel: Connecting with Hyper-Local Audiences

By Gavin Fraser | February 13, 2024

In a dynamic panel discussion moderated by Nick Bellini, industry experts Steve Kilroy, Dale Miller, and Nathaniel Brethold delved into the nuances of marketing to the hyper-local customer base and navigating the contemporary challenge of reaching one’s backyard. With a wealth of experience and diverse perspectives, the panelists shared valuable insights and strategies for businesses striving to connect with their immediate communities in an ever-evolving market landscape.

Nathaniel Brethold, VP of Restaurants, Bars & Events at CoralTree Hospitality, shared valuable insight on reaching hyper-local customers. He spent 15 years at The Ritz-Carlton and has vast experience in the restaurant industry, including work with the Chicago Cubs and NoHo Hospitality Group in Detroit.

Reflecting on the rising costs and challenges in the restaurant industry, Nathaniel stressed the importance of shared passion among employees and owners. Joining CoralTree Hospitality, Nathaniel advocates for a customer-centric strategy focused on authentic connections and personalized experiences.

“It’s the passion game, more than anything. And, to find people, owners, and the latitude to make that happen is going to be the most imperative thing that we have here. Restaurants have become a lot more expensive to operate, right? In terms of the cost of goods, the kitchen equipment, and all these different things. And the mentality has to be shared with the ownership group and the management group to share that passion because you’re not going to achieve anything without it,” Nathaniel emphasized.

Nick then pivoted to Steve Kilroy, SVP of Hospitality & Marketing at The Connell Company.

Steve Kilroy’s career trajectory began with a remarkable opportunity at a young age, working for a high-end catering group in Rye Beach, New Hampshire. Inspired by the opulent events he encountered, Steve pursued culinary school and obtained a hotel degree.

His journey led him to Nashville, Tennessee, where he secured his first job. Through hard work and fortuitous opportunities, Steve ascended to leadership positions at various large hotel groups, standalone restaurant groups, and rejuvenation resorts offshore.

Reflecting on the evolving marketing landscape, Steve noted the challenge of truly reaching the hyper-local audience despite the reach of modern marketing techniques. “We came up with an idea of utilizing our space and offering it at cost, if not complimentary, to the schools, towns, and the people around us. So we are actually becoming a part of the communities within these towns that are surrounding us.”

Steve recounted a specific example of how they implemented this strategy, “We did a fundraiser for the local high school’s prom to be able to reuse dresses. So we allowed them to use our space to host their auction and dress event at one of our ballrooms, and there was no cost to them at all. This allowed the community to do a lot of the marketing heavy lifting for them through word of mouth and social media. Now we are getting significant exposure from that.”

By integrating themselves into the surrounding communities, Steve’s organization established a stronger presence and connected with their hyper-local audience.

The third panelist on Nick’s panel, Dale Miller, is a certified Master Chef with a rich culinary background, hailing from a small town in New York. His journey in the culinary world began at the young age of 12 when he started his own cake decorating business. He later transitioned to working at a local restaurant and eventually pursued formal culinary education at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY.

At the age of 26, Dale opened his first restaurant, and by the age of 36, he achieved certification as a Master Chef, marking a significant milestone in his career. Notably, he was recently appointed by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to the 10-member culinary kitchen cabinet, tasked with promoting diplomacy through food and hospitality.

Throughout his career, Dale has always prioritized catering to the local audience. When asked by Nick about his experience in reaching hyper-local customers, Dale gladly shared insights into his approach, “I always say chefs and restaurateurs are some of the most generous people in the world because we are always being called on to do charity events and community events. I suggest saying yes to all those events. Yes, there’s some expense to it, but it’s much more impactful in getting positive feedback and local customers than just investing in a print campaign.”

Through their diverse experiences and strategies, the panelists provided valuable insights and strategies for businesses striving to connect with their immediate communities in today’s ever-evolving market landscape.


Gavin Fraser

Gavin Fraser is an Editor at Hotel Interactive, a leading provider of online resources and information for the hospitality industry serving as a hub for industry news, trends, and insights. Gavin covers the hospitality sector for hotelinteractive.com, distributes its e-newsletter, and moderates panel discussions for the company’s BITAC events.

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