A local food show in Chicago supporting restaurants during the pandemic has turned into a success for WCIU in Chicago. “It’s just fun and everybody can always get behind food,” says Molly Kelly, Weigel Broadcasting’s media strategy director.
According to a Market Share column from April 2020, a local food show in Chicago started out modestly as a social media initiative to support local restaurants and their take-out business during the pandemic.
But since then, Chicago Food To Go has turned into a successful, local half-hour TV program for WCIU, Weigel Broadcasting’s CW affiliate in Chicago.
Chicago Food To Go airs Sunday mornings at 11, (On Sept. 18, it’s moving to Saturday mornings at 10:30), and also airs multiple times over the weekends on WCIU’s sister station, WMEU, branded The U.
It’s the only half-hour local food show on the air in Chicago, says Molly Kelly, Weigel Broadcasting’s media strategy director.
Chicago Food To Go has featured 464 restaurants since it started in April 2020, an average of about 30 restaurants a month.
“We feel it’s important we support our local restaurant community,” Kelly says. ”Chicago is such a huge restaurant town, particularly during the pandemic.”
The program began using videos from real people talking about their take-out experience, then as pandemic restrictions eased, they followed viewers’ submissions of places they like to go, which is still the source for most of the restaurants featured.
But a couple times a year, Chicago Food To Go asks viewers to vote for their top choices, their favorite spots throughout the city and suburbs.
When WCIU asked viewers to vote for their favorite restaurants back in February, more than 13,000 votes poured in. “We were pleasantly surprised,” Kelly says.
To launch Chicago Food To Go: Top Choice in September, the station is again asking viewers to pick which restaurants they think are the best in the pizza, hotdogs, burgers, barbecue and ice cream categories.
So far in September, “we are seeing greater engagement with the restaurants,” Kelly says. Voting started on Saturday, Sept. 4, and 2,500 people have voted so far. Winners will be announced on Chicago Food To Go: Top Choice on Saturday, Sept. 25.
Part of the reason for the uptick in engagement is the support WCIU is giving to the restaurants with display advertising provided by WCIU to encourage voting.
“We produced counter cards with QR codes for all the restaurants to put at their checkout or in a high traffic place at a host stand,” Kelly says. “It makes their customers aware of what’s going on.
The station also provides a social media toolkit complete with guidelines and graphics.
Kelly says the eateries featured in the shows run the gamut from high-end restaurants to hot dog, burger and pizza joints.
“A lot of these restaurants are small and family-owned, places that don’t have large advertising budgets,” she says.
Chicago Food To Go, which is strictly ad supported, has been very successful, Kelly says.
“We look at the number of votes, the engagement we’re getting on social, and we look at the ratings,” Kelly says. “We measure our success with hard metrics.”
Kelly says the show has not only found its niche with the restaurant community, but also with the viewers who stop the host, John Hansen, in the street wanting to know what place is featured this week so they have a restaurant to go to that night, Kelly says.
Chicago Food To Go provides an outlet, a kind of escapism from all the worries of the world today, she says.
“It’s just fun and everybody can always get behind food.”
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