When you go to a Mexican restaurant, the first thing that you expect to be treated to is a bowl of chips and salsa. It’s become such an expectation that it becomes a strange experience when the restaurant doesn’t serve it, or they charge for the experience. Regardless of whether they charge or give it away, you can be pretty sure that there is a Carter-Hoffmann Bulk chip warmer somewhere in the back.
Busy restaurants don’t play around with a single bag. They make gallons of chips and salsa for their patrons, pushing it out the door like it was nothing – in fact, there are restaurants that will stake their reputations on the chips and salsa, it’s such a serious business. That’s one of the reasons to get the Carter-Hoffman chip warmer.
It’s a convection heater, which means that the chips are being warmed all the way around, rather than only near the heater. The air is circulated, and that translates into less energy usage for the whole thing. Lower power bills make restaurant owners very happy.
What restaurant managers are really concerned about is the ability to keep their equipment clean. That’s one place where the chip warmer excels. The crumb pan is removable, allowing anyone to get into all of those vital nooks and crannies that the warmer has.
What is the most important piece of equipment in your Mexican restaurant?
There are plenty of ways that you can purify the water that goes into your patron’s drinks. For commercial purposes, you want to use one of the water filter systems which attaches right onto the pipes. In fact, this is probably required by your local health code! Dirty water leads to dirty ice. While tap water might be clean, if your water isn't purified you'll end up with cloudy cubes.
For home use, you can get clean water by using a point of use water filter. Think about this like a filter that’s attached right to the tap. The reduction of contaminants is impressive, with many of them reducing 99.99% of all pathogens, volatile organic compounds, and other items. No more chlorine!
You can even filter the water that you get while you’re on the road. There are bottles which are designed to make sure that the drinker gets exactly the water that they need – something clean, pure, and tasty.
Water purification is a big problem around the world. There are several organizations and individuals who are pushing towards new and cheaper purification methods. Maybe we'll see some of these new technologies filter their way into the ice machine space over the next few years. Ceramic filters anyone?
We all love the feeling of having a new ice machine at our facilities. Seeing the machine, whether it’s a Scotsman ice machine or a Hoshizaki ice machine, perform at its best is a sight to behold. To keep it running, the biggest priority is to make sure that it’s well maintained and cleaned – as has been proven again and again that contaminated ice can cause problems for everyone, from schoolchildren to the elderly.
Anyone who consumes ice from a contaminated machine runs the risk of getting sick. It's a serious problem. More than 100 people recently got sick in the Caymans from food poisoning and one of the possible causes is the ice machine.
There has been an ongoing investigation into the cause of this outbreak, and it was found that the ice machine itself was in poor condition. There was also a small refrigeration leak. If liquid water can collect in an ice bin that is a sure route for a fast infection in there. Others say that there were possible food infections and other environmental concerns. The ice machine, needless to say, has been taken offline and put out of use.
Cleaning and maintenance of ice machines becomes ever more important. The bacteria and slime which can form on the inside of the machines are nothing to be trifled with.
Recently, we went to Ted’s Montana Grill to have a couple of their Caesar salads. We didn’t get a good look at their ice machines to find out whether they’re Ice-O-Matic, Hoshizaki, or Scotsman ice machines, but we did get a sampling of their ice. My friend ordered water, and I ordered a soda. And, something fascinating happened.
Each of us got different types of ice for our drink. One of us got the nice finely crushed ice, the other got the standard half-cube that you’ll see everywhere. It was wonderful, because the ice itself was tailored to the drink. That’s the primary reason that there are so many different Scotsman ice machines out there.
In fact, the folks at Ted's Montana grill have something that bartenders all over the country already know: ice makes the drink. The right ice cube can make or break the drink. Melt too fast, and you have a drink that gets watered down way before its time. Melt too slow and you have patrons who believe that they’re not getting the most for their money.
So, should there be many ice makers on hand for those establishments that want to make an impression with their ice? That’s just one of the things that Ted’s did and it’s the little things that make the drink.
If you own a bar, you already know you need ice. You also need a blender and only the best will do. If you have a very busy bar, you may have had to placate a customer while the blender is occupied, or juggle multiple blender jars. Wouldn’t it be great to just mix up those 10 daiquiris all at once?
Now you can! Today we’re talking about the Vitamix 5201. Vitamix is a well-known commercial blender brand. These blenders can chew through ice like its nothing with its 4.2 HP peak output motor. This is an extra-large model that can blend 1.5 gallons, yes gallons, at a single shot! That’s 192 ounces! It also comes with a 64 oz. blender jar for smaller jobs.
The Vitamix 5201 has a variable speed dial so bartenders can blend their drinks and smoothies to the consistency they prefer. The blender comes with an accelerator tool to help with dense ingredients, and a removable lid plug to add additional ingredients during blending. The blades are made out of stainless steel and clean easily.
With this blender, you can handle all the drink orders your customers throw at you. Visit our web page to learn more about this blender and the rest of our Vitamix lineup.
Ice-O-Matic ice machines are at the top of their game for being the ice machine for health care, grocery stores, and churches, but they’ve also got a product line especially suited for the quick serve restaurant industry. This is the ‘ground and pound’ part of restaurant service, where ice is paramount to customer satisfaction. For larger locations, it’s not unheard of to have two or three machines on the floor because of their quiet-running brutal efficiency.
The Ice-O-Matic ICE0500HA, is a half cube ice machine that crunches and tastes just a little better than the full cubes. It fits neatly on top of its bin which can accommodate almost a full day’s worth of production. These two pieces of equipment fit together extremely well, like they were the peanut butter and jelly of ice machines and ice machine bins.
It comes with plenty of the same features as many of the Ice-O-Matic ice machines, as well. It’s made from corrosion resistant stainless steel, which means that it’s incredibly easy to clean. The plastic covering the door to the ice is fingerprint-proof, so there won’t be any errant smudges.
The opening to the ice bin is large enough so that it doesn’t require a step stool to get down to the very bottom of it. You can just bend down and get ice easily. The material itself is coated with antimicrobial protection, as well. These machines are tough!
This Ice-O-Matic is the perfect ice maker for quick serve restaurants. It’s got enough production to really make an impression on the users.
Here at Ice Machines Plus, we’re always looking for ways to help out our fellow ice-loving entrepreneurs. We talked a little bit about developing your own revenue stream using your already existing ice machine, but then it came to our attention that there might be some of you who want to set up an ice selling business from scratch. We wanted to offer some ideas.
Ice is a seasonal business, but there are always businesses who want to purchase ice year-round. These include, according to Saad Abbo, a second generation ice-man (quoted in the Detroit Free Press), retail stores, party stores, supermarkets, and gas stations.
According to Abbo, the ice business thrives between Memorial Day to Labor Day. They make a LOT of ice during the busy times and lay off people during the wintertime. Abbo’s operation can make up to 400 tons of ice a day if necessary.
We’re not saying that you should start with that kind of capacity to start. It’s a lot easier to start with a simple ice merchandiser and medium volume ice machine to test out the market. Then, there’s always the possibility to branch out into full cubes and nuggets.
For those who would rather pay attention to specialty ice there’s always the possibility of going into gourmet ice, where you can sell clear ice at a premium. One Hollywood company is doing this and selling bags of 50 hand-cut clear ice cubes for $325.
Like all businesses, however, the name of the game is planning. If you’re able to develop a solid business and marketing plan for your ice making business, you will be far and away better than many of your competitors.
Remember that any business, be it an ice business or an electronics business, takes time, passion, and energy to make it flourish.
One of the qualities of any successful restaurant owner is that they are constantly researching and learning new ways to make their restaurants better and more efficient. To that end, we’ve gathered together some of the top resources for restaurant owners to gain inspiration, purchase products, have a few laughs, and more. Following are the top 20 blogs for restaurant owners.
MyGrubShop talks about restaurant ordering portals from the restaurant’s side. There are also plenty of ideas about how you can maximize the profits from using these portals, as well as an interesting take about GrubHub. The information and advice here is priceless. (NOTE: Since this posting, mygrubshop.com has discontinued publishing content.)
Learn about recipes, cocktails, wine, travel, and restaurants all on one website. The site provides readers with an array of different articles on many different topics. It doesn’t stop there the site also mentions new events that are coming up, videos, and even a section on home design.
Encouraging chefs to join the fight in committing to a more sustainable way of food production, the Chef’s Collaborative teaches both old and new chefs about ways to source, cook, and serve their food. Sustainability is the main focus of this blog filled with podcasts, interviews, and advice.
Restaurant Business Online hones in on the nuts and bolts of running a restaurant, whether you’re talking about menu development, boosting sales, or business trends. The writing on this blog is as much curation as creation, as they bring you stories from some of the most highly regarded sources in the industry.
Starting at $4.99 a month, Running Restaurants gives you access to some of the most brilliant minds in the industry. Thousands of articles and hundreds of videos that cover all aspects of running a restaurant can be found here. There are also checklists, strategies, and resources to supercharge your restaurant-running adventure.
Buzztime is a social mobile entertainment platform designed to keep people in their seats, playing games, and spending money at restaurants and bars. Focusing a lot of its attention on technology and social media, the Buzztime blog has an ‘isn’t this cool?’ sort of vibe going for it. Learn about business trends and increasing your numbers from experts in the industry.
Keeping up with food trends, breaking healthy international news, and delving deeper into the modern foodie’s closet are what make The Salt enjoyable. The entertaining and informative blog post on this National Public Radio food blog are proof positive that there are great food writers out there, ones who are not afraid of the harder-hitting stories.
Evan Kleiman highlights the trends, social phenomena, culture, and history of our world through the eyes of food. This radio show with a blog highlights food historians, social commentators, chefs, and journalists who have devoted their lives to eating and great food. Reading through some of the entries is like peeking into a chef’s secret diaries.
Family Hospitality focuses on offering kid-centric and kid-focused custom marketing solutions to the restaurant industry. The blog focuses on family restaurants and their ability to remain profitable with kid-oriented promotions. There are also several articles devoted to digital marketing and trends within that industry.
David Scott Peters and other writers offer advice, tips, and tricks to independent restaurant owners who are fighting against the deluge of chains and franchises. Seminars, workshops, and other resources are on tap here, all designed to give the small restaurant owner the tools they need to not only survive, but thrive.
As you might expect, Marketing 4 Restaurants focuses its attention on restaurant marketing, online reservations, and taking full advantage of the email lists that your restaurant has cultivated. The site takes it one step further by offering a one-stop-shop system to manage all aspects of creating a digital presence for your establishment.
The Eateria blog drives customer business through its tips, tricks, and advice on how to navigate the digital landscape. Specifically, it offers potent marketing ideas while also bringing a software solution that creates, tracks, and validates your marketing materials. The advice here is driven by some pretty smart folks.
Customer and people driven, the When to Manage blog looks at both the technological and people advances that restaurant owners can make within their establishments to increase the bottom line. When to Manage supports an open-platform app that encourages owners to innovate and break boundaries rather than be trapped by technology.
Mark Pascal and Francis Schott are the Restaurant Guys. Their refreshing approach to food and wine makes them a delicious read for all. These guys have a radio show, run a restaurant, and have a wine shop - they do it al. So, get a glass of spirits and settle right in.
Cheftalk is a set of forums and message boards focused on chefs talking with chefs. Here, you’ll find discussions about what types of ovens to use, how to make the most out of your cleavers, and the best way to choose a culinary school. There are no-holds-barred in this ultra-frank, ultra-informative forum.
The FobeSoft website was created to help managers and owners better supervise the bottom line. FobeSoft software will make managing a restaurant much easier for both management and workers. The FobeSoft blog helps in similar ways as the software, but in a different way. The FobeSoft blog provides quality information that managers and owners will find useful when it comes to piloting a restaurant.
Focused a bit more on the science and industry behind running restaurants, the TRG Restaurant Consulting blog is great resource to get the scoop on what’s happening in the restaurant industry. The TRG Consulting blog was founded in January 2014, making it newer than a lot of blogs, but no less important in the restaurant industry.
Open Table holds the distinction of being one of the most widely used reservation systems in the country. The Open Table collates opinions from the major review sites and puts them all in one place. Their blog delves into popular restaurants, Michelin stars, and the best of the best in US.
Grub Street brings you news and events from the world of food, including information about new apps and experiments with food. The articles on here are well researched and well written, perfect for any foodie, chef, or restauranteur. The curation of articles is spot-on, blending just the right mixture of humor and information.
Digital reporting is essential for restaurant managers, and Squadle has an app that takes all of the numbers and presents them in an easy-to-read form. Their blog focuses on the ups and downs of digital marketing, paying special attention to restaurant managers, district managers, and regional managers within the franchise setting.
When looking to buy a new ice machine, you must treat the experience like an investment more than anything else. This ice machine will be expected to produce ice for your home or business for the next five to ten years or beyond, with proper care. Choosing the wrong ice machine can be an expensive misstep. There are steps and measures that should be taken before, during, and after buying a new ice machine. These steps will help you find the perfect, new ice machine for you or your business, and assure you that the buying process runs smoothly. If you need a new ice machine, read this article carefully.
Before You Buy a New Ice Machine
-Read and Research: There are hundreds of different ice machines available at Ice Machines Plus. They all measure in different sizes, make different styles of ice, and use varying amounts of water and electricity. Be sure to check the specifications and any ice machine literature and advice provided throughout our site.
-Measure Twice, Buy Once: You may be aware that your ice machine measures 22 inches wide and 30 inches tall, but do you know if it require eight inches of clearance on the side for air discharge? Most ice machines operate best with six to eight inches of clearance. Other ice machines require no side or rear clearance. Make sure you prepare for the extra space, should your ice machine require it.
-Learn about the Condenser: Air cooled, water cooled, and remote air cooled condensers all allow your ice machine to operate differently. If the temperature increases, an ice machine with an air cooled condenser will make less ice per day than the same ice machine with a water cooled condenser. Different condensers also affect utility consumption differently. Air cooled ice machines for example, use a lot of electricity, while water cooled ice machines may use and waste hundreds to thousands of gallons of water every day.
-Consider Energy Star: ENERGY STAR qualified ice machines use water and electricity more efficiently, and tend to conserve resources. This helps keep the cost of operating your new ice machine low. The use of ENERGY STAR ice machines in some areas also allows your business to qualify for rebates.
-Choose Your Cubes: Do you need standard, square ice cubes, or flake ice for seafood displays? Will you opt for the nation’s favorite ice- nugget ice, or choose the crystal clear, elegant gourmet ice cubes that best complements drinks served "on the rocks"? The ice you choose will say a lot about your business and also perform differently depending their desired function. Read more about Scotsman's famous nugget ice here, and find out how it can help your business
-Check the Electric: Smaller ice machines require a simple 110V or 115V hookup and a water line, but larger ice machines may require 220V electrical hookup or require special electrical modifications. In some cases, single phase or three phase units are available.
-Compare Prices: This may seem obvious, but the same ice machine may sell for hundreds of dollars more or less on other sites. We pride ourselves on the ability to offer our products at the lowest possible rates, and our “Price Match Guarantee” allows you to shop with confidence, knowing that if you find a lower price, we will match or beat it.
-Quality and Warranty: You may be buying an ice machine for a residential area, but be sure you consider an ice machine designed for commercial use. Do you enjoy hosting large parties? A small, residential ice machine with a one year warranty won’t hold up the way a commercial undercounter with a five year warranty will. Commercial undercounter ice machines may be used for the home and are designed to last for years, while reliably producing ice when you need it.
While Your New Ice Machine is Being Delivered
-Shipping: Your ice machine may arrive anywhere from one day, to four weeks in the future. (Usually they do not take more than a week to arrive, but some ice machines are assembled as ordered, or are not immediately available). Others are in stock, ready to ship as soon as they are ordered. Ice-O-Matic and Manitowoc offer a Quick Ship option on some machines, which guarantees they will be delivered in 48 hours or less. After ordering your machine, one of our order trackers will be happy to assist you with tracking information as soon as it becomes available, and provide you with all the details regarding when to expect your new ice machine.
-Plan on Being Without Ice: If your ice machine is down, you’re going to have to find an alternate way to survive without ice while your machine is en route. This may mean buying ice, or borrowing it from a neighboring restaurant. Make these plans ahead of time so business does not suffer.
-Prepare to Receive Your Ice Machine: This means having someone at your home or business the day the ice machine arrives. You should always have someone present for the delivery, to sign and accept it. You should also have people (friends, employees) on hand that can help move the ice machine and unload it from the delivery truck if required. We DO provide a truck with a lift gate for an additional cost that can be added at the time of check out. Otherwise, you will be responsible for transporting the machine from the truck to your business. You should also be sure you have space available, along with the proper water and electric hookups for your new unit.
When Your Ice Machine Arrives
DO NOT SIGN ANYTHING! Inspect the Box and Ice Machine.
This should be the first thing you do when your product arrives at your home or business. DO NOT SIGN ANYTHING! If you sign for your ice machine, YOU are acknowledging that your (it is YOUR ice machine now) ice machine is in proper working condition, and you are accepting it as is. If you find any damage after the ice machine is signed for, getting it repaired or having it replaced will be far more difficult.
Let’s assume you inspected the box, and it was intact, with no visible signs of internal damage, but when you inspected the ice machine, you found that it was not in proper working order, or it even had cosmetic damage. This is what we call "Concealed Damage" and it is dealt with in the following way:
First, you must contact the freight carrier as soon as possible and inform them in writing about the damage found. You should order a replacement product and call us to see if we can provide better assistance related to the non-functioning piece of equipment. In order for Ice Machines Plus to assist you, all damage must be reported within two days of the delivery for it to be acknowledged.
If an error was made on the part of Ice Machines Plus (item lost in transit; wrong item shipped etc.), a full reimbursement or replacement of the product will be made, and the customer will not be charged for returning the incorrect item or a restocking fee. A refused shipment for any other reason will however result in the customer being charged shipping and delivery fees both ways and the customer will also be subject to a restocking fee at a minimum of 25%. A redelivery fee will apply if a customer controlled issue arises and no one is present at the time of delivery.
To put it as simply as possible, you should inspect every piece of equipment you receive carefully BEFORE you sign for the product and the freight driver leaves. You must inspect everything if you want to ensure that you receive a cosmetically appealing and properly functioning product. You should thoroughly search for any dings, dents, abrasions, cracks, or punctures that the product may have incurred during shipping. Check the product internally and externally to the very best of your abilities to assure you are not signing to receive anything less than what you ordered. If you own a business and one of your employees will be accepting the shipment, it is imperative that you teach them how to correctly inspect the ice machine and packaging for problems and imperfections.
If you are not present at the time of delivery, this does not waive your responsibility for the inspection and the signing for the order in acceptable working condition. Whoever is receiving the ordered items is acting as your authorized agent. They are thus responsible for conducting the delivery inspection. Their signature acts the same as yours and accepts the product as is.
The return process is not an enjoyable one, but it is in place to acknowledge the fact that accidents inevitably can and do happen, and in those instances, we try to resolve them in the fastest, simplest way possible. You deserve to know that you have the right to refuse a product that does not arrive as advertised or that will not work properly. Be sure you do not sign for a product unless you are willing to accept it in its present condition, is completely free of faults, and measures up to your standards.
This article was meant to shed a bit of light on your rights as a customer and to highlight what can be considered the “fine print” that may go overlooked when purchasing a new ice machine. At IceMachinesPlus.com, we are not satisfied until you are, when you receive the correct, fully functioning product that you had expected to receive in the first place.
But first, this- If you're wondering, "Why am I about to read a blog post from an ice machine company regarding social media and the restaurant business?", let us explain. Most of us here have worked the majority of our lives in the bar and restaurant industry. With the development of our content and social media department at Ice Machines Plus, we are now able to share firsthand knowledge of the industry, and regarding the way we've seen social media grow not only in the foodservice industry, but in ours as well. (Many of the mistakes we note in this article were learned first hand.) Now, we hope to pass on a few of these lessons so your social campaigns can be more successful. Whether you need new restaurant equipment, or tips for a bit of added exposure in the social media world, we hope our site will be of some assistance.
Social Media: Reshaping the Restaurant Landscape
The days of water cooler gossip are all but over. Gone are the 15 minute phone call where friends discuss their most recent dinner outing with each other. No longer is the food critic your biggest nemesis in terms of a low quality review. No, nowadays the water cooler is a little blue bird. A 15 minute phone call has been replaced with 1,500 Facebook friends. And the number of "food critics" visiting your restaurant each year has multiplied by the thousands- each with a personal analysis and critique of your restaurants’ meals, appearance, style, and service. While your customers undoubtedly made judgments and criticisms about your establishment in the past, they now have something which they lacked before- a platform by which to express themselves (and potentially most damning- hundreds or thousands of people who will listen).
On the surface, social media may appear to be a way that customers can level the playing field, assuring that, since restaurants will be under constant scrutiny, they will provide the highest quality food and service. An unsatisfactory meal or unpleasant incident can cause your guests – however biased their experience may be – to leave a scathing review of your establishment on one of many social outlets. Where Zagat and Yelp once reigned, they have been set aside for Facebook and Twitter, among countless other social networks. Typically, “average” to “good” service will warrant little social response. Poor, very poor, and excellent service tend to move the social needle more than anything else. Because of this, social mentions of your business may be skewed in a negative way, as customers visit your establishment and expect a certain level of professionalism and quality with their visit, and if these needs are simply met, they will leave content, but feeling “content” does not usually equate to social publicity or shares.
GREAT Service Moves the Social Needle
We did a small case study searching the terms “good service restaurant”, “terrible service restaurant”, and “excellent service restaurant” using Twitter's search capabilities, and we found that, of the tweets including the words “terrible service restaurant”, 19 of 20 were negative – people upset with the service they received at the restaurant they had just visited. Of the tweets containing the terms “good service restaurant”, results were mixed with only 11 of 20 actually complimenting a restaurant’s service. The rest contained complaints like, “A restaurant with good food is nothing without good service”. When we searched for “excellent restaurant service”, the results were skewed in a far more positive way. 19 of the first 20 tweets featured extremely satisfied customers who were happy with their recent restaurant experiences. "Good" service did not necessarily cause a social outpouring of love and publicity. Excellent and terrible service (service that triggered a strong emotional response) got people onto Twitter, willing to publicize their experiences – whether these restaurants wanted the publicity or not.
A great way to get your restaurant on the positive side of the social scene is to grab the reins and promote it yourself. Take the lead by creating displays reading, “If you’re enjoying your meal, tag it on Instagram or Twitter with the hash tag ‘LetsEat’ or ‘HeresToTonight’”. A catchy phrase or saying will encourage your customers to join you socially, and they will more than likely take you up on the offer, and continue to engage with you, assuming that you interact with them in return. A re-tweet by a patron’s favorite restaurant may mean the world to someone with only a few friends or followers, and can build on and foster a greater loyalty to your location and your brand. The benefits are reciprocal, as this person will also be more likely to promote your restaurant, return in the future, and tell his or her friends about their experiences with your company firsthand. Creating your own hash tags and catch phrases will let you monitor your mentions and gauge customer reactions and experiences with your establishment in real time. Be prepared however – the social world can be brutally honest, so it is always important to gauge the potential positive outcome against the potential negative publicity that may arise from a new social campaign. Look what happened here with McDonald’s McD Stories campaign (via BuzzFeed) when a few disgruntled customers came across the new campaign.
Don't Be Socially Antisocial
Nowadays, hiring a professional to manage your social media accounts is akin to hiring a public relations manager for your business. This person should be able to relate to and communicate with a variety of diverse people- people from many backgrounds, income levels, and education levels. The social media manager of your restaurant should be articulate, with the ability to create concise, smart, hip, relevant, and personable posts. They should be up to date with current events, social issues, pop culture, and sporting events which can all be intertwined with specials, promotions, and events. They should also be able to handle social criticism, and think before they post or reply. Here are some examples of bad crisis management via social media (Rally Engine), and more examples on “what not to do” in certain online social situations. The person running your social media accounts should seek and create interactions and conversations, and not be like the mysterious Miss Prisci who has thousands of followers, but has never sent a single tweet to her fans and followers. It’s called social media for a reason. Be social. (*Note - This is undoubtedly a fake/spam profile, but it illustrates our point. It should be noted as well that, when you buy followers, this is predominantly what you get. A face or an egg, and either nonsense tweets, or none at all. They really don't help your cause all that much.) Bars, restaurants, and even celebrities that do not seek to engage with customers and fans socially are missing out on major promotional opportunities to expand their brand and increase publicity and revenue.
Social Media and Damage Control
One of the prime purposes of the manager of your restaurant’s social media accounts will be interacting with your customers on a direct basis. They can field inquiries and provide information, but one of their most important roles will be in the “damage control” department. By now, a few company-harming images have been well-circulated around the internet, especially the Twitter-verse. McDonald’s had to deal with the pink slime controversy. Taco Bell coped with the infamous shell-licking incident, and Wendy’s faced problems when a photo surfaced of one of their employees eating ice cream directly from the dispenser of one of their machines. Social media is akin to the front lines of battle in these instances, as angry customers lined up to take their shots at these quick-serve restaurants. Wendy’s was able to somewhat deflect early criticism, taking to Twitter quickly and addressing the issue directly, tweeting: “Unacceptable. The person in this photo is no longer at this Wendy’s. We will be reinforcing proper procedures.” While this undoubtedly caused harm to Wendy’s image, their social media manager was able to acknowledge the incident, and help begin the process to resolve it. There is a bit of a silver lining - in all of these cases, restaurant owners were also able to receive information they may not have gotten about their business through social media, and were able to take action against a problematic employee. That’s a positive for both restaurant owners and patrons.
While social media can alert you of potential problems or issues at your foodservice establishment, it can harm your business just as easily. One of the biggest issues with the new social scene lies with the fact that opinions can go viral, which can be harmful even though oftentimes they are not completely factually accurate. This can result in unfair and biased reviews of your establishment. Negative emotions and overreactions tend to motivate people to criticize, whereas quality service and a good meal have come to be brushed aside and expected by patrons. If a server performed well throughout the evening, they did their job. If mistakes are made, there can be a backlash in the social world. Here’s an example featuring McDonald’s and their ice cream machine: If you went by what was said in the Twitter world, you would wonder if McDonald’s ice cream machine was ever in operation. What we can glean from these posts are three things: People really love McDonald’s ice cream. The ice cream machine at their chosen McDonald’s is out of service (perhaps frequently), and these people are quite unhappy about it. There are far fewer posts from customers enjoying their ice cream however, and tweeting about it (we checked). We searched the terms “McDonald’s Ice Cream” and the negative tweets outnumbered the positive by two to one overall, and three to one on some days. Being content does not breed publicity. But, if McDonald’s were to create a special that gave away free ice cream every day the temperature broke 90 degrees, or offered 99 cent cones for example, the negative trends and tweets would undoubtedly be reversed. Twitter has provided an exceptional way for people to have their voices heard, especially when they are voicing complaints and criticisms. It is up to you to ensure that your business remains in a positive light as often as possible.
While the previous ice cream tweets may seem predominantly negative, they offer a bit of insight into specific restaurant locations. Owners or managers who monitor social mentions will be able to check on these problems, and be notified as to whether or not their ice cream machine is broken, requires service, or to find out if your employees are simply not making ice cream. In the past, some businesses found that employees were lying to customers to avoid the task of serving certain items at certain restaurants- and look: This guy has no problem admitting it! (Sorry McDonald’s ice cream lovers!) You can easily keep tabs on these issues by monitoring your business’s mentions on Twitter, and may be able to find out a bit about the daily operations of your business this way as well. Following your employees social accounts may help you learn something about the ongoing daily activities too.
Trial and Error, Success and failure
As mentioned earlier, negative emotions tend to be acted upon more frequently than positive ones, but there are ways to take control of your social presence from the start. By providing your guests with free giveaways, perks, or bonuses for social interactions or Facebook “likes”, you can start momentum rolling in a positive direction immediately, as soon as guests arrive at your restaurant. This way, your business holds the upper hand from the start. You can help steer customer actions and reactions with social promotions. By persuading your customers to like your Facebook page, follow, or circle you, you will earn a consistent spot in their news feeds, and all of your future specials, deals, and promotions will show up there as well. This past spring, at Ice Machines Plus, we ran a seasonal “Twitter2” discount for our social followers which created a buzz about our company on social media, earned us a few new followers, and caused an uptick in internet sales. Dunkin' Donuts celebrated National Coffee Day on September 29th with perks across the United States. Among them, they offered free coffee at all participating locations. (Customers simply had to download Dunkin' Donuts smartphone app to enjoy the deals.) Even while competing with trends from the National Football League on Sunday, National Coffee Day and Dunkin’ Donuts were still among the top Twitter trends on the 29th. By showing your customers that you are socially available, you are inviting them into a more personal world, and allowing them to share in a more relaxed, social environment. This allows your customers to feel more like friends or confidants rather than simply dollar signs. Your customers are people, and when they feel they have been slighted, cheated, or wronged, the backlash and consequences can be dire. Check out these “Social Media Fails” from Arielle Calderon (Twitter @ArielleCalderon) from BuzzFeed and avoid the mistakes these companies (which include some big names) have made in the past. And if you take nothing away from this list, here's a summary: If you ever think manipulating cancer, mass tragedies, and acts of terrorism into your marketing ploys is a good idea, take a step back, and just start over.
It's a Tweetmocracy!
Social media – especially Twitter – has become nothing short of a social search engine that – in certain instances – is faster, more accurate, and more useful than Google. Google’s dominant, monarchical control of the internet consists of rules, guidelines, a complex algorithm, and much more. Twitter is more like a democracy, where the people decide what is important, the people decide the trends, and the people control their tweets. While Google must individually crawl and index web pages, then judge, decide, penalize, or promote individual pages, Twitter happens at the speed of life, with constant, free-flowing information. If I’m looking for happy hour specials in New York City, I may be required to search through numerous web pages until I am satisfied with the results. With Twitter, I can have up to the second results, and promotions that are happening right now. With followers, I can get localized, personal recommendations from people I trust who have experience with a brand, restaurant, or products. I can also send out a Tweet, even with zero followers, and tag it “#NYC, #NewYork, #HappyHour, #Bar, #Drinks, #Alcohol”, and all but guarantee I find an answer, or get a response from a person or bar in my area within minutes. Utilizing tools like HootSuite and Google Alerts can help your restaurant keep tabs on multiple search terms at the same time. If your bar or restaurant is monitoring key phrases related to your industry, you can provide information to potential customers faster than anyone else. According to Social Media Restaurant, “[i]t is now estimated that 30% of all restaurant website traffic is mobile generated – and that number is not only growing, but also skews [towards a] younger demographic with a relatively large discretionary income.” (Full article here). This is the same generation that can be found entrenched in multiple different social media outlets, has money to spend, and has the power to positively or negatively affect your business with a few quick keystrokes.
Here’s an example of Twitter trumping Google in terms of quality of information from a customer’s point of view: About a year ago, I found a happy hour special on a restaurant’s website, only to arrive to find that the restaurant no longer offered the special anymore. Google brought me to a page with outdated information. While this is not Google’s fault that the page contained misinformation (blame the restaurant and their website), issues like this rarely arise on Twitter. Tweets are constant, up to date, and provide information by the second. If you desire information about a certain bar or restaurant, you can directly tweet them and receive immediate feedback. You will never see a special tweeted out to run all day long, and arrive at the restaurant and hear, “we no longer offer that”. Of course, Google can provide a greater amount of in-depth information and details with their search engine, but Twitter is almost always more current, with the most up to date information available. Twitter trends reflect what is popular as well, as voted on (based on tweets) by the people. Twitter’s simultaneously biggest asset and drawback is that many tweets are opinions, and can be factually misleading. For consumers, tweets must be taken with a grain of salt. It can be useful however, to find say, a restaurant that has a favorite beer on tap, or has a renowned happy hour in the user's area. As a restaurant owner, you can follow tweets, mentions, and posts and be the first to answer questions and inquiries to drive more traffic into your physical establishment.
Egg: Follows You!
With Twitter, opinions and loyalty cannot be bought. Followers can be bought, but they usually offer few benefits, and are largely inconsequential- Social media should not be seen as a popularity contest. It should be used as a resource to obtain and convey information. If your restaurant is terrible, and consistently upsets customers, the public will be alerted via Twitter and Facebook. People do not need to (nor do many have the attention spans these days) to read a three page write-up of an “official visit” to a restaurant by a food critic, whose judgments and opinions usually differ greatly from the general public (the majority of your customers) anyways. Scrolling through numerous posts of 140 characters takes less than a few minutes, and can often provide more than enough information to gauge the quality of a bar or restaurant from a variety of different sources. The use of hash tags also allows consumers and businesses to get their message out to a much larger audience, beyond immediate circles, friends, or followers. This will place any commentary on your restaurant in an area with much higher visibility and viewership.
Google’s algorithm is incredibly sophisticated, and no one (aside from Matt Cutts and Google’s higher-ups) knows exactly what it takes into account when ranking websites. Twitter works in a similar way, but instead uses information to rank trends in the social world. In the Twitterverse, Page Rank and Domain Authority are replaced by followers and social clout. If someone with 50 followers tweets about the bad time they had at your restaurant, the repercussions are less likely to impact your business negatively. If Justin Bieber tweets a message to his 45 million followers regarding a sub-par cheeseburger from your restaurant, watch out- that’s 45 million angry “Beliebers” who will likely respond with an emotionally charged reaction, retweets, and real world action, and may be prone to boycott your restaurant based on their idol’s message. While Justin Bieber may not be a cheeseburger aficionado, his clout dominates the social scene, and young, impressionable teens are the ones who are likely to listen. (I would also be sure to provide world class food and service for Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, and President Obama too, as they round out the top four Twitter accounts with the most followers). Just as a link from a PR8 or PR9 website can drastically impact the status and reputation of your company’s website, those with a greater social influence can harm or help improve your social status in the same way. It is possible that, in the future, Google may place a greater amount of value on social cues, posts, and tweets to gain a better understanding regarding the quality of your physical establishment and your website via social cues.
Incorporating Social Media into Your Business
So, how should your bar or restaurant take control of its social scene? Get active! Get your social accounts out in the public eye, and promote specials, discounts, and upcoming events. Use Google Plus Hangouts to interact and converse. Retweet followers and follow new people. Follow businesses, bars, and restaurants - people in your industry - to stay up to date on the latest trends, and to scout competitors. Make use of Instagram to easily take and post beautiful images and share them with your followers. Choose the best photographer who uses a hash tag you crated to win something unique (and desirable), the way this Chicago restaurant featured on CBS News is to promote their business. If you offer something cheap (free chips and salsa!) or something no one wants, your contest will be a dud- it will probably also fuel negative responses and repercussions. The more creative the contest, the more likely it will receive notice and attention. Use FourSquare to offer deals or freebies to the “mayor” of your location, and discounts to those who check in at your restaurant's location frequently via Foursquare. If you are completely socially handicapped, even an email campaign can help deliver news of upcoming events and specials. Whatever you choose to do, don’t be overbearing or spam your followers and patrons with messages like, “LIKE OUR PAGE NOW!” or “BUY THIS PRODUCT TODAY!” (Firsthand failure on our part- Sorry, early Twitter followers). Commands like this can put off your most loyal customers. Offer incentives, good information, unique deals, and always provide something of value that people can find and share with others in their social circle. Check out this infographic from Digital Dining regarding the ways social media can be effectively used in restaurants.
Even at Ice Machines Plus, our Twitter, Google Plus, and Facebook accounts have become invaluable assets. Social media has led directly to sales in some cases, and we have made many acquaintances in our industry. We have been able to distribute our content (probably how you came across this article) to a much wider audience than ever before. Prior to combining our social media and content departments, our blog received anywhere from zero to ten clicks per post. (When your subject matter is ice machines, it can be tough to pique interest.) Now, we range from 50 to 500 clicks per post! We have received exposure, made acquaintances, solved problems, and helped customers locate products all via various social media outlets. Our web traffic and impressions have also increased exponentially.
Bar and restaurant owners will find that they can use social media to attract new customers, promote specials, poll customers, and be able to accurately find out what’s “hot” or “trending”. You can also tailor trends to your area, so if something is trending specifically in your geographic region, you can be alerted to it, and capitalize on it. The Seattle Sounders for example, an MLS soccer team, draw over 40,000 people to an average home game (Attendance source: Wikipedia). This is almost double the second highest attendance in the league, so a restaurant or bar in the Seattle area could benefit from a social special during home matches. The same soccer special may not be as effective in New England, whose team draws around 13,000 fans per game, and must compete with the Patriots and Red Sox for publicity and loyalty as the MLS season runs from March to late October, which -in New England - is largely dominated by baseball, beaches, and the beginning of football season. Tailored trends are a great way to find out what is going on and what’s hot or popular in your area. Be examining trends, you no longer have to “fish” for leads or ideas as you would to in the past. You can now go directly to your customer base to find what they want, and act accordingly.
You're Doing it RIGHT!
For an exceptional example of a restaurants making great use of social media in their daily procedures, check out Plan B Burger Bar on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. This restaurant’s social accounts are run by Rachel Hurvitz (@RHurv), who can aptly be described as a social media aficionado. Follow Plan B on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and you are guaranteed to be up to date with every special, promotion, beer rotation, burger of the week, and new menu item that makes an appearance. (Just don’t follow on an empty stomach- trust me.) Not only does Plan B provide up to the minute information regarding the restaurant, but more importantly, they interact with their customers and provide insight and information that would be almost entirely unavailable just a few years ago. Rachel has helped create more hype and buzz for Plan B than could ever be expected in the past. When contacted, Rachel had this to say about Plan B in regards to their social media endeavors:
We are constantly working to contribute to our community. Social media helps us to stay connected to customers through the sharing of information and ideas. Through social media we are able to make real connections with real people. Our patrons contribute their own experiences to our online brand and in turn grow our community with our support. We are constantly working to keep an open dialogue with customers and we always have our eyes and ears open. Through social media we are able to learn what our customers want, what they like, and even what they dislike. We read all of our Yelp reviews and if someone is dissatisfied we reach out to them to see how we can make amends. Social media has been the leading way in which we connect to our customers and has helped us grow our brand over the years.
If you need to “how to” blueprint regarding social media for your restaurant, consider Plan B a perfect “Plan A”.
Elsewhere, we came across J. Timothy’s Taverne, which calls itself one of the “finest casual theme restaurants”, and is situated in Plainville- almost the geographical center of Connecticut. While this restaurant resides in a building that was constructed over 220 years ago, their social accounts are more than up to speed with the social scene than many others. Following J. Timothy’s Twitter account will keep you abreast regarding specials, rotating local craft beers, community news and events, and naturally, new wing flavors as they are introduced. Both Plan B and J. Timothy’s, while smaller in size, make use of social media to its full potential and do a great job engaging with customers as well, keeping up with current trends, and promoting themselves in an increasingly competitive market.
Embrace the Social World
Social media has helped blur the boundaries between company and consumer. If a customer has a gripe, an issue, or a need, they can contact you or be contacted quickly and directly. By simply typing a keyword or phrase into the Twitter search bar, restaurant owners can place themselves among all the latest tweets involving that keyword. At Ice Machines Plus, we frequently keep tabs on the key terms in our business which include “ice machine”, “ice maker”, and “sonic ice”, and interact when we can provide information, even if it may not lead directly to a sale or conversion. In any case, we gain exposure and leave an impression on potential future customers. We do not however, use an auto reply program to respond to these keywords with generic messages. Each response is personal, and dedicated to the person, account, and experience. Auto reply programs will make you look like a robot, and will get be ignored, blocked, or shut down if reported for spam often enough. Auto reply programs work well in other instances - say when your social media manager is out of the office or on vacation.
Social media can be used to gain information about your customers, their issues, and complaints. It gives you insight where you may not have had it in the past. When properly utilized and managed, you can find a way to help and interact with people, eventually turning them into friends and customers. Doing so will help you gain a competitive edge over the rest of your industry and allow you to offer products and promotions based exactly on your customers wants and needs. Technology is moving exponentially faster and faster every day. If your bar or restaurant isn't already taking advantage of social media, there is no time better to start than right now. The only thing worse than being spoken about negatively in the social media world may be not being spoken about at all.
TL;DR: Hiring a professional to operate your social media accounts is now a MUST in the foodservice industry, and for just about any business. It can and should be used to monitor complaints, promote your establishment, and to locate and interact with new, existing, and potential customers. Your social account is a direct representation of your bar or restaurant as a whole. Bad, very bad, and excellent service gets people talking via social media. Don’t use terrorism, tragedies, or cancer as marketing campaigns. A person or establishment’s online “Clout” is now the social equivalent to a website’s Domain Authority when it comes to influence, respect, and authority through social media. Follow Plan B and J. Timothy’s Taverne for excellent examples of how smaller-town, non-chain restaurants are using social media to their advantage in the bar and restaurant industry.