A Chef Serves Up a Master Media Moment

The Araki

The Araki, an acclaimed sushi restaurant in London, may have taken a hit with Michelin’s decision to strip the restaurant’s three-star rating. But, we find it hard to fault its chef’s pitch-perfect media response.

Opened by sushi master Mitsuhiro Araki in 2014, the restaurant has consistently drawn guests to its small dining area (10 seats at the chef’s counter) and six-person private dining room. Guests plunk down nearly $400 for its tasting menu.

Earlier this year, Araki’s protégé Marty Lau took over from Araki. It’s Lau who this week masterfully weathered the removal of the restaurant from the 2020 guide. In an interview with CNN, he said:

“We take it as a fair judgment and a fresh start following the departure of our master Mitsuhiro Araki …. Lots of chefs are devastated when they lose stars, but you’ll get nowhere with that attitude. You have to dust yourself off and try again.”

Effective Media Messaging

Lau also strikes a perfect note several other ways. He manages to:

  • Express respect and empathy. He points out that the shift in leadership undoubtedly made it difficult for Michelin to establish a score. He is particularly deft here. He evokes generosity, while subtly indicating that perhaps the shift in leadership, not just the food, also brought about the drop in the ratings. This is what he says:

“We believed it placed Michelin in a difficult position to make a decision on how to score The Araki, as the master was here during half of the inspection period for 2020’s guide.”

  • Compliment and thank his regular customers. He straddles the fine line between basically saying that his guests’ opinions are more important than Michelin and remaining deferential to the long-standing ratings guide. This is what he says:

“As important as Michelin is, we will always put the guests who come to The Araki above all else. At the end of the day, they will be the ones to judge us and decide our fate.”

  • Offer a whole new story line. Lau refashions the restaurant as an underdog, rather than an ivory-tower institution that has been knocked off from up high. Masterful. Who doesn’t want to see an underdog succeed? This is what he says:

“What we hope the public understands that Master Araki has left the sushi-ya to the team that has followed him since the beginning. He is resolute in taking this situation as a great opportunity for us to earn our own accolades in our own light and not in his shadow.”

A case for humility

Ultimately, Lau goes against what is the more common posture when someone finds themselves having to answer questions that suggest they are operating in a sub-par or less-than-ideal fashion. They take whatever media real estate that is afforded to them and go on the defensive. They address shortcomings with excuses and elaborate explanations, which is the route French restaurateur Marc Veyrat took earlier this year. These techniques typically fail to elicit the sympathy and respect Lau managed to elicit with his.

There is no guarantee the restaurant will reclaim its storied stars by the next guide. However, Lau has managed to nearly all but ensure that his regular customers and new guests will continue to come through his doors and support his climb back to the top.