13 November 2018
“Buongiorno!,” “Buena sera!”
A chorus of enthusiastic voices speaking their native Italian sounds the opening of every trattoria before letting in the first wave of impatient diners into the hallowed walls of the restaurant, and letting down those behind the cutoff who will have to wait for their turn—or, for the latecomers, come back another day. Big Mamma has achieved, then repeated, every restaurant owner’s dream: never having a single empty table.
East Mamma, Ober Mamma, Mamma Primi, Biglove Caffè, Pizzeria Popolare, Pink Mamma, La Felicità, La Bellezza in Lille… each restaurant of Big Mamma’s turns down customers on a daily basis: every seat is already filled. So what’s the secret sauce of their success? Great products, scrumptious food, a warm and welcoming staff, a homey decor that’s not lacking in charm. But that’s not all: the group has also adopted a powerful social media strategy that allows them to generate buzz before every restaurant opening, and not to drop after that.
Ingredient n°1: Strong storytelling with visuals showing the behind the scenes of an Italian decor
Behind every meal at a Big Mamma restaurant is the promise to its customers that they will be transported to Italy. As soon as you walk in the door, the waiters’ lilting accent, the smells wafting through the kitchen, and the menu foreshadow the experience. But before all that, to persuade customers to (wait, then) step into the restaurant, the founders have already ignited the Italian experience—on social media.
One of Big Mamma’s strengths lies in the fact that they exclusively serve products imported by small Italian producers, and that everything is homemade by Italian chefs. And we’re aware of all that before we’ve ever tasted anything off the menu: on the website, users are greeted by a video showing the arrival of a mozzarella shipped directly from the small Italian producer.
On social media, a video of the making of fresh pasta highlighting the authentic nature of the Big Mamma experience was viewed over 64,000 times on Instagram, and 7,000 times on Facebook.
The journey to Italy continues with the friendly squadra.
Ingredient n°2: An offbeat communication strategy built around the “squadra,” an irreverent and affable team
Large smiles and Italian hospitality greet every customer in the form of Big Mamma’s staff. Out of 300 employees, 280 are Italian. Members of the squadra (average age: 25) are strong assets conveying charm and personality to reinforce the Big Mamma experience, but also to communicate in an effective way. They’re showcased in a number of endearing portraits and humorous videos shared on the group’s social media accounts. To celebrate the opening of La Belleza in Lille, the Italian team was tasked to repeat chti (typical of the North of France) expressions with their accent, and to taste some Maroilles, the region’s famous cheese… The result: the video was viewed over 30,000 times on Instagram, got people smiling, and reinforces the squadra’s likableness and people’s goodwill towards it.
The Italianness of the staff is regularly emphasized on social media. On Facebook, a French “class” was filmed and shared, again in the interest of amusing people and presenting members of the squadra as likable buddies we’d like to be friends with.
On social media they are funny, easy-going, and express themselves at the right moments: for Mother’s Day, team members celebrated their mamma with humor on the group’s social media accounts:
When a restaurant wants to advertise that a restaurant is exceptionally closed or that there are new job openings, the squadra, like a merry band of friends, is used again as a communication tool.
Ingredient n°3: Adopting a light and playful “con molto amore” tone on social media
Diners are bound to smile as they read Ober Mamma’s menu and discover pizzas named the “Connect Four” (four-cheese pizza), the “Instagram Regina,” or the “Norma makes videos” (named after the French Youtuber, Norman Makes Videos). The group’s communication is handled with a lot of finesse and humor, in their restaurants as well as online. Norman was prompted to react on Twitter:
On the menu at La Bellezza, other silly names like “Broco Sifredi” or “Tell me the truffle” raise a smile.
Ingredient n°4: Forge a bond with the audience, share personal news, and interact with followers on every post
The tone adopted on social media is warm and playful, as if every customer or follower was part of the Big Mamma team. To that end, the squadra talks to its “beach boys,” “friends,” or “Bee Gees” to announce a new menu, a new opening, or a contest:
With that approach, Big Mamma has managed to gather an audience of almost 20,000 on Facebook, 56,000 on Instagram, and it increases by 9 percent every month, strong evidence that people’s infatuation with the group hasn’t died down.
A classic but useful device: followers are often invited to tag “a good buddy” with whom they would share a Big Mamma feast. Keep in mind: they’re not contests, only regular posts encouraging people to leave comments.
The group’s owners also take the time to reply to most negative reviews on TripAdvisor, TheFork, and Yelp. Incidentally, the majority of negative comments come from people who were let down by the long waiting line and weren’t able to try the Big Mamma experience, proof, if any were required, that the concept works.
Ingredient n°5: Quality content created by customers and shared on social media
The restaurant’s decor, the tables, the tableware, the famous copper pans filled with pasta—all things stamped with the Big Mamma identity. A photo taken in one of the trattorias is immediately recognizable.
The difficulty of getting a table, which is partly due to the restaurants not taking reservations, increases the bandwagon effect and incites people to take pictures of themselves and their food once they get inside one of the trattorias and share them on social media. Instagram counts over 50,000 mentions of any of the Big Mamma restaurants—double the amount of #BigFernand mentions.
Ingredient n°6: Highly publicized openings and a public interest sustained thanks to influencers
Food and lifestyle influencers keep flocking to Big Mamma’s restaurants and sharing their pictures tailor-made for Instagram (thank you visual identity, pretty tableware, and appetizing food). The most high-profile influencers get invited to share their experience on social media. The lesser-known ones can get a table reservation (which the restaurants usually don’t accept), but have to pay the bill. The power of the Big Mamma brand is such that it’s capable of attracting influencers almost naturally.
But Big Mamma still needs influencers: indeed, the group’s most recent creation, La Felicità, officially opened to the public on May 26, but the 24th and 25th were entirely dedicated to welcoming journalists and influencers so they could talk about the opening in all its details on social media.
Tigrane Seydoux and Victor Lugger, founders of Big Mamma, have succeeded in replicating an effective model by giving each restaurant its specificity and talking about it with the right tone, an appetizing image, a funny video, at the right time, and on the right channel. As a result, each restaurant generates close to 4 million euros in revenue, and continues to arouse interest outside its doors and on social media. Brava la squadra! After seven trattorias, the biggest food court in Europe, and a hidden bar, what’s next for the two entrepreneurs?