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FY20/21 Culinary Strategy

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Visit California’s approach to culinary programming will strike a balance between farm and table with a fresh focus on what’s in season and up and coming, while supporting an industry and workforce embattled by new and evolving challenges. Key components of Visit California's 2021 Culinary Plan include:

Core Objectives for FY20/21

  • Reframe California’s culinary positioning and programming for current and future conditions
  • Realign restaurant-focused programs to address current challenges and support the industry
  • Incorporate businesses and themes across the culinary spectrum Develop programs that are flexible and scalable to support current, short-term needs and long-term vision.

Reframing California Tasteblazers
Before the pandemic, California Tasteblazers was introduced as a new and distinct culinary positioning platform to guide Visit California’s culinary programming and elevate California’s food culture as a destination differentiator.

The positioning centers on the California brand tenets of abundance and attitude and the idea that California is a place where an unrivaled natural bounty meets unmatched creative experimentation.

The entire culinary landscape has changed since California Tasteblazers was introduced – from industry challenges to consumer sentiment and behavior – though the positioning can still stand with some of-the-moment considerations to guide the organization through the pandemic period and galvanize the industry’s position for the future.

These themes will shape California’s overall culinary messaging – for now. In the immediate term, the restaurants still operating seven months into the pandemic are barely hanging on. An estimated 8,000 California restaurants have closed permanently, and 1 million restaurant workers have lost their jobs. A critical segment of the state’s tourism ecosystem is pleading for relief at the national, state and local levels – and so far, no meaningful help has been extended.

Even with these incredible challenges confronting them, California’s restaurants continue to innovate and serve their guests with the hospitality, warmth and world-class food that Californians are so fortunate to experience every day.

The landscape will continue to evolve through 2021, and possibly beyond. These timeframes can be used as checkpoints to discuss where each tenet stands, and how messaging should evolve to meet the moment.

Realign Restaurant Programming
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically affected restaurants with closures, capacity mandates, safety restrictions and more. Nationally, one in six restaurants have “closed either permanently or long-term,” according to a survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association.

The importance of supporting this industry segment, including restaurants, bars, breweries, and wineries, as well as its workers at all levels, has never been more needed.

Visit California’s focus on an in-state audience provides a strong opportunity to promote restaurant patronage – whether it’s dining out in limited-capacity dining rooms or on patios and makeshift outdoor spaces, picking up takeout or ordering delivery. As the audience grows to include western feeder markets, the broader United States and eventually international markets, the focus will shift to the most likely ways visitors will dine – namely dining out and takeout.

Just as the focus must shift, how Visit California talks about the dining experience will need to shift too. Destination Analysts research notes takeout has a strong appeal as a safer dining option for most consumers, so the combination of more takeout options and the proliferation of new places to eat outdoors presents an opportunity to capitalize on in the short term.

As California communities are able to resume indoor dining, restaurants will be communicating health and safety protocols for the foreseeable future. Destination Analysts concluded “among those not dining in a restaurant, health and safety protocols and lack of trust of others are the primary reasons for not going … Restaurants clearly need to keep focused on their safety protocols first and foremost. Al fresco dining options alone will not likely offset health/safety concerns.”

With the continued rollercoaster of openings and closings, when the time for recovery comes, Visit California can best support the restaurant industry’s recovery by reminding people of the joy of restaurants.

Incorporate the Entire Culinary Spectrum
As Visit California steps away from the focused effort around California Restaurant Month, there is an opportunity to create more inclusive year-round programming and a steady flow of culinary promotion.

A survey of DMO partners that actively participated in California Restaurant Month provides insight on how Visit California can best provide support:

  • Year-round programming: approximately one-third of partners surveyed offer multiple culinary programs throughout the year, not just in January
  • Expanded offerings: more than 60 percent of partners surveyed offered some sort of non-restaurant programming during January as part of California Restaurant Month, even more outside of January
  • Social media support: 89 percent of respondents said they would be most interested in a social media content program highlighting local culinary destinations and events
  • Economic impact: support for tools to measure economic impact were cited as a way to justify the value of culinary programming

Rather than creating a standalone program to replace California Restaurant Month, Visit California can use existing culinary infrastructure across the state, such as food festivals, specialty crops, culinary trails and existing themed months, as the base for ongoing programming.

For more on Visit California's culinary marketing approach, download the Culinary White Paper

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