How Being on a Reality Show Impacts a Business


Last week saw the TruTV premiere of a fly-on-the-wall reality show set in The Wiener's Circle -- that infamously ribald sausage-slinging restaurant in Wrigleyville. If you're easily offended, I'm sorry for you, and also suggest not following this link to check out more on the show.

Regardless of where your sensibilities and constitution lay, though, there's plenty to learn about the restaurant's move to be featured in this light. I gave Inc. Well's own Suzy Singh -- a chef who's been on MasterChef -- a call to discuss the show and what this means for other restaurant owners in town.

How does being on a reality show impact a business?

Suzy Singh: When you look at different reality shows that are based off a business, whether it's a salon and you end up going to that salon afterwards, it creates a lot of exposure. So, the business usually ends up increasing due to the exposure, and it really depends on the kind of exposure that you're getting. If it's bad exposure, like Gordon Ramsey on Kitchen Nightmares and it's still bad afterwards? More people aren't going to go it. [Laughs.] It all depends how they're portrayed in the editing.

Why do you think there are so many reality shows that focus on restaurants?

Suzy Singh: I think it's because there are so many options for going out to eat in the city.

What do you think is more advantageous for a restaurant: Being on something like Check Please where customers have the final word on your establishment or being on a reality show where editors have the final say?

Suzy Singh: I guess the real question is what the reality show is based on and how it's presented.

Getting back to the Wiener's Circle show, what impact do you think it really can have in this city? I can't imagine it will make people go check it out who aren't already inclined to do so.

Suzy Singh: I think everyone's done it. [Laughs.] It's interest. I think, from a Chicago perspective, we're actually supporting one of our own and also getting an inside look at it. How are they able to get a reality TV show out of any other restaurant in the city? There's a lot of crazy restaurants that are interesting and in the city. Why Wiener's Circle of all places? I think it will be an interesting behind-the-scenes look, and from a business perspective seeing how their business has changed because they're doing this TV show.

Do you have any thoughts about why them of everyone in the city, like you just mentioned?

Suzy Singh: They must know someone. There's gotta be something.

What do you think is the most advantageous "buzz period" of the whole process? When the show is announced, when it's being taped, or when it's airing and directly after that?

Suzy Singh: I think it's a combination of those. There's always lead-up to a reality TV show. People are going to be in there and they're going to see video cameras and be like, "What is this? What's going on?" More people eventually will want to be on TV anyway because I think that's just the way our society is. Everybody just wants their five minutes of fame. But, yeah, I think it's going to create a buzz and once the show hits it's gonna be pretty hard for people to get into that place.

As a restaurant owner, how do you seize that buzz effectively?

Suzy Singh: People will naturally reach out to you and your personality as well. It really depends on the restaurant, but they can now start doing more events and actually start branding. They can have a ton of Wiener's Circles instead of just one. There are so many different things they can do and it will give them the opportunity.

One really interesting thing that happened out of Cupcake Wars. A lot of those restaurant owners, some of them were even just working in commercial kitchens and they ended up starting a really successful restaurant afterwards or their second or third restaurant after that. It's the amount of exposure from that that can let a business completely grow. I call it the Oprah effect.

How can restaurant owners get noticed by production companies if they want to be on a reality show?

Suzy Singh: They have to get their own production crew. 20 West is the No. 1 production house, I think, in Chicago. They've done stuff for the Discovery Channel, Food Network, DIY. So, if you don't have any connections in the industry, I think anyone can find one. If you have zero connections whatsoever and you're just submitting a video it's going to be a much longer process. If you have one or two connections it will help speed up the process.  

David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a columnist for EGM. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.

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