Restaurant Marketing White Paper

Table of Contents

Introduction. 3

The Fake Online Review.. 4

The dangers of false reviews. 5

Types of fake reviews. 5

How to recognize fake reviews. 6

Dealing with fake reviews. 6

Can I sue fake reviewers?. 7

How to Handle Legit Criticism.. 7

The 3 types of complaints. 7

The full-fledged online PR crisis. 8

Your Website. 11

Local Search Engine Optimization (SEO) 12

How to Leverage Social Media in the Restaurant Biz. 15

About Absolute Marketing Solutions. 20

About the authors. 20

Alfred Goldberg. 20

Sources. 21

 


 

Introduction

 

Digital marketing is a subject so vast that we often find our clients have misunderstandings of what it is, and what it can do for their business. Digital marketing, at its core, is a discipline comprised of dozens of online activities that can be leveraged to achieve specific, measurable business results. Whether it is increasing brand awareness, gaining media attention, or getting more people in the door, digital marketing is an invaluable tool that has given more control to business owners than they might think.

In this white paper, we set out to uncover the challenges faced by the restaurant owner or operator who finds themselves subjected to the opinions, reviews, and comments in a digital realm. It may seem difficult to overcome, but businesses must take advantage of the tools of the digital stage, and leverage their efforts to take back control of their business’ online reputation. We’ve seen and personally experienced well known and respected restaurant establishments crash and burn in the flames in the midst of a PR crisis – whether from failing public food inspections, to personal issues with staff, legal issues, and more. But, we’ve also guided businesses back to reclaim control of their image through digital means. Much like a phoenix being reborn from the ashes that consumed it, digital marketing can harness your audience, and through a comprehensive strategy, take back your business’ story.

We’re going to explore the history of digital marketing for restaurants and the hospitality industry, reveal some of the fundamental challenges and issues they face, and provide a number of digital solutions to overcome those difficulties. In short, give you some food for thought!

 

Part One –  The Starter

A Brief History of the Restaurant

Just like its name would suggest, the concept of the modern restaurant was born during the French Revolution, when independent chefs began to open establishments where visitors could enter whenever they were hungry, choosing from a menu. Prior to this, food in exchange of money dated back as far as a medieval practice, where travelers could get simple foods in markets, roadside inns, and other public houses. Options were limited, and dependent on the skills of the cook and the materials available to them.

Fast forward to the 21st century, where industrialization, globalization, then technological advancements created the modern-day restaurant. Now owners can purchase produce and ingredients from all over the world, and are not restricted to what’s only locally available. With the population explosion, there are more consumers, and more restaurants as well. Supply and demand have both increased, and so has the competition between restaurants. High-tech online ordering platforms, digital communities, and online review sites now surround the visitor, informing them of what to eat, what’s good, and where. The consumer has gone past only relying on a professional food critic’s opinion, or a Michelin rating. Technology arms the consumer with information, and gives them the ability to broadcast information back to the digital community about their experiences.

For the restaurant owner or operator, being tuned into the online conversation about your brand is absolutely essential. You can no longer afford to neglect what’s being said about you in digital communities. If anything, restaurants should be using technology in their favor to take control of their story, brand voice, and reputation.

 

Part Two – The Main Course

Unique Challenges Faced by Restaurants in the Digital World

In this section, we will uncover one of the biggest challenges faced by the restaurant industry – the advent of the online critic. Gone are the days when a restauranteur would simply get feedback in person, or from a comment card, and could respond to it in kind. In some ways, the professional critic is almost an ancient relic, with only a handful of opinions highly regarded. With the emergence of online review sites, social media platforms, and digital communities, restaurant owners and operators must take into account how to deal with online criticism in a way that recognizes the public nature of its interactions with its customers online.

 

SIDE QUOTE: “Rather than basing their purchase decision on a single influencer’s review, consumers prefer to read a number of reviews before forming and opinion as to whether or not they want to dine at your establishment.”

The Fake Online Review

 

While all businesses must concern themselves with the impact of online reviews, restaurants have to be particularly concerned. Food criticism isn’t a new trend as it has been going strong since the 1803 publication of the “L’Almanach des gourmands.” Today, technology has democratized the reviewing of restaurant’s making true the old quip “everyone’s a critic.”  

 

Many of the restaurants we have worked with developed a process for responding to online reviews. Some approach them as an opportunity to build customer loyalty and ensure they are delivering on their brand promises. Others recognize the reviews as a necessary part of modern business. There are even a few who detest online reviews altogether and believe that they do more harm than good. 

 

One thing that everyone seems to agree on is the frustration of dealing with ‘fake reviews.’ Much like the increasing conversation around ‘fake news,’ ‘fake reviews’ is a topic popularly unpopular amongst restauranteurs. ‘Fake reviews’ can cause real damage to a restaurant’s reputation and cannot be avoided.

 

The dangers of false reviews 

In today’s world, online reviews are an important factor for any restaurant as ratings can directly impact their bottom line. A study conducted by the Harvard Business School discovered that every incremental rating star earned on Yelp translated to a 5% to 9% effect on revenue. Restaurant owners, especially in smaller cities, can attest that one or two bad reviews on Yelp can “kill their business.”  

 

Despite the fact that fake reviews violate the posting guidelines of most all review websites, combating them is a continuing struggle for both the operators of the review websites and the restaurants subjected to them. Here is an excerpt from Google’s Review Posting Guidelines that deals with “off-topic reviews.” 

 

“Off-topic reviews: Don’t post reviews based on someone else’s experience, or that are not about the specific place you’re reviewing. Reviews aren’t meant to be a forum for general political or social commentary or personal rants. Wrong location or the place is closed? Use the Report a problem link to report that information instead of writing a review.” 

 

Types of fake reviews 

Although it may not be apparent, fake reviews are created for different reasons. Understanding the source of a fake review can help determine the best way to deal with it.

 

  1. The Competitor: The competitive reviewer is motivated to support a competitor. These can be the result of a competitor or their employees seeking to harm your business or could simply be a disgruntled former customer attempting to drive business to a competitor. The goals are the same, to take business from you and drive it to a competitor.
  2. The Activist: The activist reviewer is motivated by an experience other than dining in your restaurant. These reviewers often react to an event publicized in traditional or social media that simply strikes them as wrong. You don’t have to think hard to find some well-known examples of this phenomena whether it was a bakery attacked for refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding, or Starbucks being attacked for their pledge to hire 10,000 migrants.
  3. The Entertainer: The entertainment reviewer enjoys crafting an entertaining review that elicits social sharing and discussion. These reviewers often compete amongst themselves as to who can craft the most entertaining review. A good example would be the reviews left for a Banana Slicer product on Amazon.com.
  4. The Confused: The confused reviewer may have had a poor experience, just not at your restaurant. This reviewer may be leaving a review for a similar name restaurant, sometimes in another part of the country.
  5. The Third Party: The third-party reviewer leaves a review on behalf of someone else’s experience. Think of the reviewer who leaves a review because their friend claimed to have had a bad experience. 
  6. The Professional: The professional reviewer is paid to leave either positive or negative review. These reviews are often purchased from sites such as fivr.com, or other sites that recruit people to amass reviews for restaurants and other establishments.
  7. The Malicious: The malicious reviewer is motivated by the desire to wreak havoc and ruin someone’s day.  To quote Alfred from the Batman movie, “Some people just like to watch the world burn.”
  8. The Bot: The robotic review is not left by a person at all, but by a piece of software. Forbes recently published an article describing how the University of Chicago taught a neural network to write reviews that were indiscernible from a human review. As these technologies improve, they may further complicate the process of authenticating reviews.

 

How to recognize fake reviews 

Some fake reviews are hard to spot because they contain no information other than a star rating. Since you have little information about the reason for the review, there is little you or the review sites can do to determine if it is fake. In these cases, we recommend responding to the review with a request for more information. Be both polite and professional. Even if they do not respond, others will see your genuine attempt to uncover the issue behind the review. 

 

Setting up a social monitoring service can also help you find fake reviews. This is especially useful when the fake reviews are the result of a smear campaign initiated on social media such as those left by activist reviewers. We have seen restaurants receive hundreds of one-star reviews after voicing an unpopular political opinion. By monitoring mentions of your restaurant, you may uncover that your restaurant is the victim of such a campaign. If you find this to be the case, we suggest that you document everything and share it with the review site.

 

Dealing with fake reviews 

So, what is the best way for handling fake online reviews? The correct answer will be based on the nature of the complaint itself.  

 

Remain calm and ensure that neither you nor your employees make the situation worse by attacking the reviewer and getting embroiled in a “flame war.” Identify how severe the situation is. Are you receiving one or two negative reviews, or are you the subject of a smear campaign in which you are receiving hundreds of negative reviews in a small time frame?  

 

Next, seek more information. Demonstrate that you care about your customers by asking each reviewer to contact you (on an offline channel) and provide more details so that you can better serve them. This step often helps separate fake reviewers from real ones, as someone who has not visited your restaurant is less likely to reply with any details. 

 

If you believe that you are the subject of a smear campaign, alert the review websites. In our experience, this doesn’t often lead to any resolution, but it doesn’t hurt.  

 

Here is Google’s statement on flagging reviews: 

 

“Google doesn’t get involved when merchants and customers disagree about facts since there’s no reliable way to discern who’s right about a particular customer experience. Read the policy before flagging a review.” 

 

If your situation calls for it, some public relations could help. By acknowledging the situation for what it is and sticking to the facts, you force detractors to either dispute the facts or ignore them. Your website’s blog is a good place to tell your side of the story, and it allows you to control your message. 

 

SIDEBAR: Although all review websites provide a means to report a review, our experience is that nothing will be done unless the review itself violates the sites usage guidelines (i.e., contains threatening language.)  

However, if you wish to try and have a review site consider your case you can use the following links. 

 

  • Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/help/439579999521224
  • Google: https://support.google.com/business/answer/4596773?hl=en
  • TripAdvisor: https://www.tripadvisor.com/vpages/review_mod_fraud_detect.html
  • Yelp: https://www.yelp-support.com/article/How-do-I-report-a-review?l=en_US

 

Can I sue fake reviewers? 

Although you are within your rights to call in your attorney, the anonymity of the internet makes it difficult to pursue legal action. However, if the reviewer is a former employee, you may be able to have them remove their posts by threatening legal action. 

 

In conclusion, owners need to ensure that their restaurant is represented fairly and accurately online. You owe it to your employees, yourself, and your customers.

 

 How to Handle Legit Criticism

If you walk into any office, school, or place of business, it’s likely that many of the people there have had some amount of experience working in a restaurant, café, bar, or other hospitality venue. In fact, a lot of the content in this eBook is fueled by our own personal experiences working in restaurants, so we know first-hand how busy and complex the environment can be. We understand how easily mistakes are made, and how customers can respond. By both working with restaurants and for restaurants, we’ve identified 3 main forms of customer complaints, and how they can best be handled by digital means.

The 3 types of complaints

Today, people tend to respond in one of three different ways when they believe they have had a poor experience. Most people simply do not bring the issue to anyone’s attention. However, these customers may or may not ever return to your restaurant. Those who do raise the issue either may do so in two very different ways. One group may complain through private one-to-one conversations, emails, or phone calls. Others will complain publicly through social media channels.

These three different responses are important to understand because they need to be handled differently, and handling them incorrectly could be as harmful as not handling them at all.

Those Who Don’t Complain, but are Dissatisfied

The first group, those who don’t raise an issue at all, can be the costliest. These customers may not raise an issue to you, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care. They may never return to your restaurant. Most restaurants have a lot of competition, so it is quite reasonable to expect that some of this group will simply take their business elsewhere. Many restaurants do not appreciate the real cost of losing customers and may not even be aware that they are losing them. Studies have shown that a 5 percent increase in customer retention can boost profits by 25 to 85 percent.

Make it easy for these customers to raise concerns by providing multiple channels of communication and publicizing them at various touch points such as in-store advertising, on menus, and on receipts.

The Traditional Complainers

The second group, which we call traditionalists, raise the issue in personal one-to-one communications. This group tends to complain less frequently and usually are looking for their complaint to be resolved on-the-spot or have their check refunded. Think of the patron who sends his steak back to the kitchen because he believes it was either over or undercooked.

Restaurants have long dealt with the traditional complainers, and most have processes in place to deal with them. We recommend the following solutions:

  • Always ensure that someone onsite is empowered and trained to deal with customer complaints.
  • Ensure that your restaurant has a defined policy around refunds or other forms of compensation to dissatisfied customers.
  • Keep track of all incidents so you can recognize any root causes that you may need to address.

 

The “On-stage” Haters

The third group is what Jay Baer calls On-stage haters in his book “Hug Your Haters.” This group tends to complain first in public using social media and mobile technology to leave complaints, often before even raising the issue to staff or management. This group is growing as the adoption of smartphones and use of social media changes consumer behavior forever. I emphasize the word forever because whether or not you are ready, this trend will continue to grow.

It is vitally important that you have the knowledge and resources to respond to this group. Since everything is done in a social setting, everything is seen by others who are as interested in your response as the original complainer. Failing to respond at all sends a message that you don’t care. Responding poorly can have an even bigger impact as your response can be shared and discussed across social media.

The full-fledged online PR crisis

Businesses that have faced a public relation crisis often find reputations that may have taken years or even decades to build can be destroyed in just moments. In some cases, a single event or incident can completely alter the public’s perception of a brand. Taking steps to remedy and minify the damage is crucial to maintaining a company’s position in the eyes of the public.

 

We believe that every restaurant should develop a Crisis Management Plan so that your team is prepared for this eventuality. However, if you are faced with a PR crisis and do not currently have a plan in place; here are the steps you should take.

 

Put someone in charge and build your team 

 

If a crisis is identified, someone should be designated as the crisis manager. This person should be responsible for preparing the crisis fact sheet. If a crisis communications team does not exist, the crisis manager should form one. The crisis communications team should include all resources you may need to call upon in the case of a crisis.

 

Understand the situation 

 

It is important to gather all the facts and to document them in a crisis fact sheet that can be shared with stakeholders. The crisis fact sheet should include a summary of all pertinent facts including the people involved, the scope and nature of the crisis, and the damage or potential damage caused by the crisis.

 

How to respond before you have a prepared response 

 

You may find yourself in a situation where you are being asked for a response before you have all of the facts. Although it may seem appropriate not to respond without all the information, it is important that you handle such situations carefully. While gathering information, never issue a statement saying “No Comment” as it may come off as evasive. Rather, be honest and state that your organization is still in the process of assessing the situation and that you will be issuing a response as soon as you have all of the information.

 

Take Responsibility, don’t attempt to “cover-up.” 

 

Once you have identified all of the key facts, assume responsibility for the situation and develop an action plan. Never try to “cover-up” anything. Attempts to conceal facts or hide the extent of a problem will typically lead to a much bigger problem, as the public’s trust will entirely be lost if the attempts ever came to light. The most important thing is to take responsibility and be accountable, transparent, and proactive.

 

Your action plan will depend on the nature of the crisis involved but addresses all of the steps you will take to correct the problem, who will be responsible, and a timeframe for execution.

 

For example, if your company suffered a crisis where a high-level employee was involved in something morally questionable or even illegal, you may take action such as firing that individual to distance the company from the offending party.

 

However, if you are a restaurant that has just failed a state health inspection, you will need to ensure that controls are in place to prevent any repeat occurrences and if necessary, bring in new management.

 

Apologize 

 

Don’t argue with the public, and don’t be defensive. Always acknowledge the concerns of the public in a caring, heartfelt, and honest way. Writing and distributing a press release, posting on your website, and posting on social media can help control the situation and show the public that you have acknowledged the problem and are correcting it.

 

Don’t just react – Act 

 

Nothing will hurt your company’s reputation more than promising a plan to change and then not executing it. If the public sees you holding up your pledge, your company’s image can already begin to repair itself. If they do not, then your attempts at correcting the situation will not appear to be genuine, and the public will be skeptical of any further statements.

 

If possible, get ahead of the story 

 

Sometimes you might be aware that something is wrong with your company or organization, and you may have some time to get ahead of the story by being proactive and taking action right away. Make sure you have all the details of the incident(s) and list all the activities performed to rectify the problem. It looks good to the public if you can demonstrate that a problem has been corrected before they were even made aware of it.

 

Be prepared for social media and online backlash 

 

You can expect a backlash on social media. We recommend that you temporarily limit social media communications to a member of the crisis management team. Seemingly innocuous posts become targets for both a concerned public who want answers and online trolls who may want to cause further problems.

 

After the storm 

 

After the crisis has passed, put together a post-crisis summary report. It should include the cause of the crisis, extent, and tone of media coverage, suggested improvements in the crisis response process, ways to implement those changes, and possible alterations to company policy and procedures.

 

 

 

Part Three – Dessert

Digital Marketing Solutions that can help you rise up above your competitors

Please don’t be dissuaded by the previous course – dealing with your business’ reputation online is a big undertaking, but is well worthwhile. Just think of how much time, effort, and money you spent putting together your physical restaurant or franchise. You hired a team to help support you and get you through the heavy lifting. Consider your restaurant’s digital presence to simply be a digital extension of the restaurant or brand itself. If you start seeing it like that, you’ll realize how digital marketing for your restaurant is an ongoing occurrence that needs to be strategized, executed, and monitored, just the way your daily operations are.

In view of this, we’ve curated an overview for some digital solutions you can implement immediately to boost your digital presence.

 

Your Website

Hospitality is founded on principles of excellent customer service, providing a special environment for visitors to enjoy time with their friends, family, and create meaningful memories. While so much time and energy may be devoted to ensuring that the physical restaurant is pleasant and inviting, it’s ironic that many restaurant websites are some of the most offensive in the web design world!

 

Consider your website to be your hardest working employee. It never takes time off, it works for you 24/7, 365 days a year. It is a permanent brand ambassador offering your services, giving a platform to tell your story, and offers information to the users on how to get to you.

 

If you are a restaurant owner or operate one, you may not realize that your outdated website is hurting your business. Here are five essential features your website must have to maximize leads, build customer loyalty, and elevate your brand. 

 

Contact Information 

Nothing is more important than making sure your site’s visitors know how to reach you. Prominently list your NAP (name, address, phone number) on your homepage, footer, and contact pages. As a rule of thumb, offer as many points of contact as possible so that if they search for you, they know exactly how to make a reservation, order online, or ask a question.  

 

If you have a customer looking for your restaurant, don’t frustrate them with poor information layout so that they go somewhere else! If you have a newsletter, you can also offer an opt-in for your customers where they can sign up and collect information on future promotions. (We’ll get into email marketing soon!) In short, make it easy for your customers to get what they’re looking for. 

Menu 

Ideally, your menu should be displayed in HTML format so that search engines can index your content, and users can easily read your page on various devices. However, if you are updating your menu often, it can be time-consuming to make the changes. Therefore, we see that many restaurants opt for a PDF version of their menu for the sake of simplicity. 

 

We recommend having both. PDF’s can make the page load more slowly and may be difficult to view on smaller screens. We suggest including your menu as a PDF in case a user wants to download and print your menu for future reference. Always make sure your menu is updated to reflect price changes, the addition or removal of menu items, or any other modifications. 

 

Be Responsive 

Always consider that a significant portion of your audience may be looking for you, or viewing your website, from a mobile or tablet device. In 2015, mobile search exceeded desktop search, so if your website isn’t responsive, it will likely give a poor user experience. Not only can it negatively impact the user’s opinion of your business, but can result in penalization from Google, which gives preferences to mobile-friendly, responsive websites in search results. A study recently found that 60% of consumers will go to a competitor’s site after a bad mobile experience, so don’t give your potential customers a reason to visit your competitor. 

 

Appealing Visuals  

While videos can be a powerful promotional tool for your brand, having a slow loading video start up on autoplay isn’t a best practice. The same goes for background music. Nothing is more annoying than a slow page loading, followed by background music that you can’t turn off or control. 

 

The aesthetics of websites have changed over the years, and while splash pages once created an allure of exclusivity, they won’t provide your user with any other benefit than having to click once more to enter your site.  

 

Instead, use appealing visuals including photographs of your food, restaurant interior, seating arrangements, and visitors to entice future customers into your establishment. Your homepage is the prime opportunity to showcase the ambiance and atmosphere of your restaurant and give the user an impression of your eatery in a few fleeting moments. 

 

(SIDEBAR?) Be sure to highlight special offerings, favorite menu items, chef specials, and other pictures to represent your establishment and add tremendous visual flair to your website. 

 

Social Media, Reviews, and Testimonials 

Nothing adds more credibility to your restaurant’s website than reviews from real people who have visited your establishment. Indicate your social media channels so that users can follow you, or read more about other people’s experiences. According to Brightlocal, nearly 90% of visitors trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. While there are so many channels, you may wish to choose the ones that work best for your brand. Social media can increase customer retention and advocacy, so don’t neglect to monitor those online properties and ensure that they are consistent with your website and restaurant.  

 

Local Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Unless you are a destination restaurant, your target customer likely will not travel very far to visit you. According to Brightlocal, the average time a consumer is willing to spend traveling to get to a restaurant near them is 17 minutes. Depending on your geography, that could vary regarding a mile or geographic radius, but regardless, the general trend is that they won’t wander far.

 

That means that not only are you competing with other restaurants who may have a similar aesthetic, cuisine, or prices to you, but you’re competing with neighboring restaurants on your street or plaza.

 

Luckily, the digital realm opens up lots of opportunities for restaurants and other business owners to increase their local visibility beyond their physical signage. Here’s where the value of local SEO (search engine optimization) steps up to the plate.

 

Restaurant owners not only need to understand the importance of having accurate reviews and maintaining excellent customer service online but need to know that local SEO can affect their business in a big way too.

 

Directories and Citations 

Local businesses, to improve local visibility, must be listed on as many local and industry directories as possible. There are two main ways to do this, either manually, or by enlisting a third party to submit your business’ information on your behalf. In any case, citation building is a time-consuming commitment that will benefit your business the more you invest in it. Here is a list of just some of the directories for restaurants to be listed in:

  • Google My Business
  • Facebook
  • Yelp
  • TripAdvisor
  • Yellow Pages
  • Allmenus
  • Urbanspoon/ Zomato
  • Manta
  • BBB
  • Bing Places

 

Always be sure to maintain consistency with every citation, and optimize each listing with business hours, contact information, photographs, and other useful pieces of information to the user. Remember to update the listings frequently, and have a system or process in place should you need to change them.

 

Reviews, Reviews, Reviews 

Did you know that Google will serve restaurant results with the highest reviews and closest proximity in a local search? According to a collection of online review stats by Vendasta, star rating is the number one factor used by consumers to judge a business.

 

While that may be specifically tied to your rating on your Google My Business page, the more positive reviews across a various number of review websites, the better. Consumers are extremely influenced by online reviews and for a good reason. Quality, frequency, and variation are what customers are looking for. Here are a few stats from Vendasta’s series that are of particular interest to restaurant owners.

  • 92 % of consumers read online reviews 
  • 88% trust reviews as much as personal recommendations 
  • 95% of consumers suspect censorship or faked reviews when they don’t see bad scores 

As you can imagine, it’s of fundamental importance to have a system and policy in place for handling customer reviews (as we discussed earlier this meal). For the positive ones, always make sure to thank the reviewer for their input. For negative reviews, always acknowledge them so that your audience can see that you care and are responsive. Next, try to take the conversation offline by directing them to a survey form, email, or phone call, depending on the nature of the complaint.

 

For Yelp’ing out loud

Founded in 2004, Yelp was one of the very first user experience websites, and now is one of the biggest communities of user-published reviews. We cannot stress the importance of Yelp enough. It’s a heavy hitter. It’s a big player. If you care about your business, you’ll care about what’s listed on your Yelp page, because it directly affects your bottom line.

 

A study conducted by the Harvard Business Review concluded that each start added to a Yelp review translated to anywhere from a 5 percent to a 9 per cent effect on revenues.

 

If that isn’t motivating enough, here are some other stats about the online forum that should help you get its importance into perspective:

 

  • 145 million monthly unique visitors
  • 120 million+ reviews of all time
  • 8 million claimed local businesses
  • 90% of Yelp users say positive reviews impact their purchase decisions
  • 70% of page views come from mobile (so make sure your site is mobile friendly, and your local SEO is on point!)

Source: https://www.statista.com/statistics/385440/unique-mobile-visitors-yelp/

 

If you’re a newer restaurant, here are a few things you can do to get more ratings.

  • Place a Yelp sign in your window
  • Place a Yelp badge on your website
  • Add a Yelp link in your email signature

 

Share your reviews on your website, social media. It’s ok to have some bad reviews too, it adds credibility. In fact, 95% of users disbelieve a review if they only find positive or 5 stars and no negative reviews. If they only see positive reviews, they suspect paid reviews, or those from the company’s stakeholders, not actual customer-based reviews.

 

How to Leverage Social Media in the Restaurant Biz

When social media first emerged in the mid 2000’s, it was initially met with skepticism. Early platforms such as MySpace and Hi5 seemed like popularity contests for emo kids, who took vanity photos and tried to collect as many “friends” as possible. At the time, the opportunity for businesses to capitalize on social media wasn’t evident yet.

 

Social media can be a useful tool for gaining real-world business results, but to do so, you must understand how, when, and which tool to wield.

 

Highly targeted, highly measurable ads 

 

Social media has come a long way since its early days. Facebook is now the largest digital community in the world, with over 2 billion users. For advertisers and marketers, social media is a gold mine for connecting audiences to businesses, services, and products. For a restaurant owner, you can run an ad on Facebook targeting specific age groups, geographic locations, interests, and other demographics. Restaurants can promote specials, launch new menu items, and promote their offerings in a meaningful and effective way to the audience who would be the most receptive to their messaging at the time.

 

Organic Brand Building 

While ads have the benefit of generating return immediately, developing a social media presence through organic efforts can have a lasting effect for your restaurant. By creating a consistent voice through posts, a defined tone, unique imagery, photography style, and messaging, your brand’s social media channel can become an extension of the guests’ experience. Like how Gary Vaynerchuk famously coined in his book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook, “all companies are media companies,” emphasizing that brand storytelling is at the heart of social media. By providing a consistent experience, whether it’s in the restaurant, or online, your efforts over time will help build brand loyalty.

 

Social Media is an extension of customer service 

While many people might commend, or give a negative review of a restaurant in person and on-site, these days, it’s prevalent for a customer to express their pleasure or displeasure online. They may take to social media to give a rundown of their experience, making their comments visible to everyone else. Doesn’t sound very nice, right? Actually, it’s your opportunity to provide excellent customer service, show them you care, and hopefully turn a hater into a brand advocate! According to Brightlocal, 95% of unhappy customers return to your business if you can resolve their issue quickly and efficiently. Not only will it demonstrate your concerns regarding the customer’s experience, but your response will also be visible to other people who follow the page. In other words, the public will have the ability to listen to the conversation and see that you made your best efforts to remedy the situation.

 

Brand interaction with your audience 

The restaurant and foodie industry is quite fortunate because, on social media, they’ve become swept up in a phenomenon known as “food porn.” What started as some food-enthusiasts on Instagram taking photographs of their food at various restaurants, has now become one of the most popular types of user-generated content. In fact, it’s the 55th most used hashtag on Instagram, according to ShortStack. From a business owner’s perspective, what’s better than having your guests and customers create content based on your products and services, and sharing them with their audience? Here is where restaurant operators can share, engage with customers who produce content, and cross-pollinate with their own social media networks. In this way, you can create brand ambassadors – for free.

 

(SIDEBAR: #FoodPorn is Instagram’s 55th most popular hashtag of all time)

 

Provide value to your audience 

Social media is an opportunity for your restaurant to host contests, showcase employees, highlight company news, your involvement with charities and community events, and bring the human element to your brand. Make sure your profiles are up to date, that you answer questions and provide value to your customers. Developing your social media profiles will over time, give your restaurant creditability and will be a powerful extension of your business.

Always Have a Content Marketing Strategy

 

When we say content, we don’t just mean plain information on your website. We mean high-quality, relevant, and interesting related information on your site, social media, that would engage and retain customer loyalty.

 

If you go to McDonald’s website, you won’t just find information about their menu. Their homepage features different promotions, pages full of engaging content about education and tuition support programs that their company supports, profiles on management, a nutrition calculator, and more. There are also several powerful calls to action, including entering sweepstakes, and following their channels on social media. The key to providing content is to understand what your customer would find relevant and engaging. McDonald’s does this incredibly well, by investing the time and effort to craft content that is meaningful for not only their customers, but their employees as well.

 

Every restaurant is different, so every content marketing strategy will be different. There is no universal content marketing strategy that exists that would achieve the business goals of every restaurant out there. The fundamental concept to remember, is to be authentic, and always tell the truth. Content marketing is storytelling, so use social, visual, and multimedia elements in a way that tells your business’ story in a compelling way that engages audiences, present and future.

 

 

Wifi-Marketing: Use Technology to your Advantage

 

If you offer wi-fi at your establishment, adding a login page to collect visitor information is one of the easiest and more convenient ways of building a relevant customer contact list. If you pursue email marketing, SMS marketing, or other direct marketing approaches, you will have a qualified list of customers who have already visited your establishment to send your messaging to. Whether you want to send them coupons, promos, or other communications, building your own list while offering your customers the added value of free wi-fi is mutually beneficial.

 

eMail and SMS Marketing

We couldn’t have written this overview of digital marketing for the restaurant industry without mentioning the value of email and SMS marketing.

 

Whether you love it or hate it, email is still one of the most prevalently used forms of electronic communication there is. According to Constant Contact, 205 billion emails are sent every day, and is expected to grow to 246 billion at the end of 2019. While search ads and social media shouldn’t be ignored, email has a higher conversion rate than both of these channels combined. Not only that, email marketing has the highest marketing ROI to boot, at 122%, four times greater than any other digital marketing tactic!

 

And if you’re worried about bombarding your customers, don’t. A study by Marketing Sherpa determined that the vast majority of consumers like getting promotional emails regularly.

 

Despite the fact that the number of people with a smartphone is increasing every year, SMS and mobile marketing is often neglected as part of business’ digital marketing strategies.

 

According to report conducted by SalesForce, The top five reasons why consumers opt in to a brand’s text messages are:

 

  • Coupons or Deals (77%)
  • Personal Alerts (50%)
  • Being in the loop (48%)
  • More meaningful content (33%)
  • No need to visit a physical location/website/app for information (31%).

(source: https://www.marketingcloud.com/sites/exacttarget/files/deliverables/etmc-2014mobilebehaviorreport.pdf)

 

In other words, customers want to hear from you, via SMS messaging and email, to learn about the benefits and values that your restaurant offers. Don’t be afraid to reach out and leverage these profitable tools as part of your overall marketing strategy.

 

Conclusion

Restaurants need to consider themselves as a lot more than brick and mortal establishments, and look to technology as a means to furthering their bottom line.

New technology continues to change consumer behavior, and the restaurant industry is not immune to these changes. These changes cannot be ignored, and restaurant owners and managers most quickly come to grips with these changes and learn how to best respond on digital channels and mediums to amplify their brand messaging.

We hope that this eBook has satisfied your hunger for digital marketing knowledge, and has armed with you information that will allow you to make more informed, strategic decisions for your business. The goal to every marketing activity should always have objectives, st

 

About Absolute Marketing Solutions

Headquartered in Tampa Bay, Absolute Marketing Solutions is an award-winning, full-service digital agency established in 1999. Our mission is simple, we strive to help small and medium-sized enterprises achieve their business objectives using a combination of the latest technologies and innovative marketing strategies. When you’re a digital agency, you can never become comfortable with what you knew yesterday, as it might not be relevant today. We strongly believe that the only constant is change. Technology and the way in which consumers engage with brands are both in a constant state of change. Absolute Marketing Solutions has a passion for delving into the minds of consumers and crafting a strategy to help our clients achieve the results they seek.

www.absolutemobilesolutions.com

About the authors

Alfred Goldberg

Alfred Goldberg is the President of Absolute Marketing Solutions, a multi-award winning agency specializing in digital marketing, responsive website design, and application development.

He is a preeminent voice on the topics of entrepreneurship, web design, mobile strategy, and digital marketing. His passion is helping visionary companies effectively develop successful digital strategies to accelerate their growth.

Alfred is a dynamic and highly-sought after speaker who has presented at more than 100 industry events, including iSummit, TieCon FL, Gasparilla Interactive Festival, and the International Business Summit.

He devotes a great deal of his time giving back to his community and has held leadership roles in a number of organizations that support technology entrepreneurship and the creative industries.

 

Sources

Reviews, Reputation, and Revenue: The Case of Yelp.com by Michael Luca: http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Pages/item.aspx?num=41233

https://www.statista.com/statistics/385440/unique-mobile-visitors-yelp/

http://www.webpresencesolutions.net/email-marketing-statistics-2017/

https://blogs.constantcontact.com/email-marketing-stats/

http://marketingsherpa.com/article/chart/how-customers-want-promo-emails

 

 

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