Jim and Gillian Britt, partners in business and life, own gBritt, an 18-year-old public relations firm that specializes in restaurants, hotels and cultural organizations and events.

At times, they’ve had as many as eight employees and an office. These days, it’s just the two of them, married since 1994 and working out of their home in Cape Elizabeth. About 60 percent of their business is food-related.

The couple founded – and still run – Maine Restaurant Week every March, while Gillian Britt’s newest professional venture (with business partner Kevin Phelan, also of Cape Elizabeth) is Eat, Drink, Lucky, a daily emailed newsletter in 10 cities nationally, including Portland, with short and snappy suggestions about what to eat and do.

We spoke with the Britts about how they met, how to handle a bad review and why they don’t want me as a client. (No hard feelings.) The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Imagine I am opening a new restaurant. I think the whole “eat local” thing has run its course. My restaurant is going to be the anti-Vinland. I’m calling it From Away, and the food will be 100 percent from more than 100 miles away. Why do I have to hire you? Can’t I just cook good food, and they will come?

JIM BRITT: The new trend is can-to-table. I read that somewhere. It made me laugh out loud. What we would begin to do is talk about the experience of opening a restaurant in a very crowded marketplace. Typically folks are talking with us because they want their name, their business name, their chef’s name, to be part of the conversation, to be included in Portland Press Herald articles, in magazines and blogs and on television segments talking about the food scene.


That’s the role we play – connecting restaurants with people just like you who report on this amazing restaurant food scene day in and day out.

Q:Still, it’s 2016. Why can’t I tweet/Instagram/website and market my restaurant myself?

JB: Our clients tend to be chef-driven restaurants. There is no marketing person in place. They are trying to do payroll, meet the delivery truck out back, fix that ice maker that stopped working.

Then in the very back of their mind, they are thinking, “We haven’t posted on Instagram in a week,” or “We haven’t updated our Facebook.” Then there is the storytelling. They might have a great story to tell, but they just don’t have the contacts with professional media or the time.

The competition is fierce among restaurants, and breaking through to customers, well, the harder you work to get your name in front of restaurant eaters and drinkers, the better off you are going to be.

GILLIAN BRITT: But I think (our conversation with you) would be more advice, that this might not be the right market for that particular product. We have to be realistic about what can be accomplished. I would be very worried about somebody opening something like that here.


This is a community that is very focused on where does the food come from? There might be some buzz initially and a lot of curiosity, but I think there would be a lot of negativity, and it would not be treated with open arms.

Q: But that’s okay, right? I thought there is no such thing as bad publicity?

GB: There certainly is publicity that clients don’t like and that we don’t like and that doesn’t generate good business, so yeah, there is such a thing as bad publicity.

Q: If one of your clients gets a bad review, what is your advice?

JB: Breathe. Relax. It’s not going to kill your business. Gillian is much better at this aspect than me, but really helping the customer honestly just pause and understand if there are corrections to be made they can be made, whether there are communication issues or marketing issues or kitchen issues.

We do get involved in those conversations, and those can be really tough conversations. But our clients are great people, and they get it. It’s a tough business, and sometimes you don’t hear what you want to hear.


GB: The most important thing that I always remind people is, don’t lash out on social media. Ignore those comments online. We get very nervous when a client calls us and says a photographer was just assigned to take our photo and we’re going to be reviewed.

JB: The rule should be 100 percent consistency 100 percent of the time. That’s what makes great restaurants great. But even the best restaurants have a bad night sometimes, and that makes reviews really nerve-wracking. Certainly it makes for a sleepless night for the chef.

Q: Okay, so say you’ve persuaded me. I’ve hired you. What are you going to do for me?

JB: First an audit. What’s in place? From social media channels and a website presence …

GB: Who is the chef? What is the decor if it’s a brand-new restaurant? We’d compile a fact sheet. Then we’d want to start talking about a launch. What does the soft launch look like and how is that going to roll out?

JB: We’ve always work with our clients on building very strong community, inviting customers to share their emails, a newsletter, events, finding a place in the community. Whether your restaurant is called From Away …


GB: I’m still stuck on that. I’m not sure we’d want to take on that particular client.

JB: We have said no many times. This scenario exactly. A concept we don’t believe in.

GB: We always ask a client about their goals. Let’s say with your restaurant, you want to have a New York Times piece within the first quarter of our relationship, and you want to have a Best New Chef in Food + Wine magazine, we would certainly not take on that client, because the goals are just too unrealistic.

If we found there was just something that didn’t feel right to us, or we were not sensing it would be easy to communicate with that client, that would be a reason to pass. It is all about relationships. We care a lot for the people we work with. It’s very hard for me to imagine promoting something that I didn’t truly care about.

Q: Um, what is this going to cost me?

JB: It could be $2,500 a month. It can go up from there.


GB: If it’s a short-term project, there could be a three-month fee for that, but otherwise it’s a monthly retainer.

Q: Once I’ve opened my restaurant and got some media attention, can I fire my public relations firm?

GB: In the beginning, customers often do (just come in) because there is a buzz about a newly opened restaurant. But to maintain that and to build that loyalty is an ongoing task. It does not end right after you open. In fact, that is when it begins.

Q: You also do PR for many cultural groups. How is that different from food PR?

GB: In my mind, art and food have always gone together. There is a lot of crossover. I am the one who handles the arts organization clients that we have. I think the artists, the musicians, the dancers and the chefs all carry a lot of similar characteristics.

JB: The bankers, the lawyers and the technology people share the same qualities, too. Creativity is creativity.


Q: Jim, you mentioned it’s a crowded restaurant field here. Is there a point where Portland has too many restaurants?

GB: I know a lot of chefs feel that there is. But I think any time a restaurant opens, the restaurant nearby also gets more people. There are extra people on your block. And then the fact that all this activity has created national interest. People are coming here to Portland to eat.

Q: What made you focus your public relations business on restaurants in the first place?

GB: Jim and I met in a restaurant. I was the hostess. Jim was a waiter. It was a really good Italian restaurant. God I loved that job. The adrenaline rush. The diversity of the people coming through the doors. The hospitality. It was certainly something we enjoyed together. And later when we traveled and we got married, food was something that we shared, a passion of ours. Food has always been a part of who we are. I once told Sam Hayward (of Fore Street) how much I loved that job as hostess, and he told me, “Anytime you want to return to it …” You probably can’t print that. I don’t want his hostess to get scared.

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