In our new resource series of writing tips, Tiffany Mayer helps you polish your skills and strengthen your confidence and impact as a writer. This week she shares tips on how to overcome your discomfort about asking someone for an interview.
You’ve eaten at that new restaurant in your neighbourhood more times than you can count. You gush on Twitter about every dish that arrives at your table and your Instagram feed is peppered with shots of them. But there’s more to this restaurant’s story than incredible food, and you want to tell people.
That would mean interviewing the chef, though, and the prospect leaves that bespoke flammkuchen a little unsettled in your belly. If you’re new to interviewing, it can seem daunting at best; downright scary at worst. How do you make the ask? What if the chef says no? What if they say yes?
I get it. The first interview I ever did was with a nun. I chose her because I knew she wouldn’t say no and she wouldn’t judge me (too harshly) for any flubs along the way. Trust me when I say it gets easier the more you do. But first things first. Let’s land you that inaugural sit-down so you can get comfy in the proverbial interview saddle.
It’s all about who you know
If the scenario described above rings true, you’re in luck. As a regular at a restaurant, you already have an in. Perhaps you already met the chef when they stepped out of the kitchen one day to take stock of the dining room. That recognition as someone familiar with the restaurant will bode well in landing a sit-down conversation.
Haven’t had the opportunity to make the chef’s acquaintance? Maybe the same server always takes your order. Chat them up and get the scoop on the person behind the burner. Are they amenable to interviews? What’s the best way to get in touch? Use the opportunity as a recon mission and then ask for an interview accordingly.
Perhaps the server can be the conduit to that interview. Maybe they can plant a bug in the chef’s ear, ask on your behalf, or introduce you both during a lull in service.
Maybe the chef or restaurant is represented by a PR firm. The key to getting access may be through a public relations rep, who can co-ordinate an interview for you. You can typically find this information, including contact details, on a restaurant’s website.
PR reps can also be an incredible resource, providing additional background information to help you prepare for your interview. They also may have stock photos of the chef or their food that you can use in your post.
Also remember that anything grown in a field, orchard, barn, greenhouse or vineyard is typically represented by a provincial or national commodity group that will have people dedicated to connecting their members with media. Find them and let them do the nerve-wracking job of asking a farmer for an interview with you.
If you go this route, be prepared for them to ask for your questions beforehand or to see your story before it’s published. It’s your prerogative whether you say yes to this. (If it’s for a publication other than your blog, be sure to find out the policy before agreeing to anything.)
As for providing your questions, you can always offer something more general, like the angle of your story, rather than specific questions. When it comes to seeing your story, suggest fact-checking by asking a series of yes/no questions to confirm what you’ve written.
If you do show your story before publication, be clear that it’s to ensure factual accuracy only. You don’t have to accept any writing style changes, if someone decides to take such liberties with your work. Remember: It’s your story so you always reserve the right to edit as you see fit.
For the shy guys
It’s easy to ask for anything by way of a keyboard. Email or direct messaging through social media is a great way to reach out if you’re feeling too shy to ask for an interview in person or on the phone. Start by introducing yourself and who you write for, why you want to do the interview, if you have a deadline, and your availability (offer lots of options and be flexible).
Emailing or messaging also ensures you won’t ask for an interview at a bad time, like in the middle of busy lunch or dinner service. The person on the receiving end can respond when it’s good for them.
What if the answer is no?
Don’t take it personally. Maybe it’s a bad time for the person. They’re bogged down in catering requests or it’s harvest season. If so, you can always try again at a less busy time.
"No" also forces us as writers to become good problem solvers. Is there someone else we can interview instead? Probably, especially for those posts about a particular topic, like whether El Nino will cancel this year’s icewine harvest. There are plenty of grape growers out there with opinions on the issue.
If it’s the chef at your favourite restaurant who says no, remember there will be another chef — say, the one at your regular sandwich spot — who will gladly take the time with you.
I’ll bet you’ll hear "yes" more than you will "no." Chefs and farmers are business people who want customers to come through their restaurant door or to their farm stand. A post about them spreads the word about what they’re doing. For you, interviewing is good blogging practice; for them, it’s good marketing.
Be sure to check out the rest of Tiffany's Writing Workshop Series!
- Narrative Know-How: Using Creative Non-Fiction In Blog Posts
- Have I Got A Story For You: How To Pitch An Editor
- Going On A Word Diet: Tips For Tightening Your Writing
Tiffany Mayer is a freelance journalist and author of Niagara Food: A Flavourful History of the Peninsula’s Bounty (History Press, 2014). She blogs about food and farming at eatingniagara.com.