We live in a digital world. Your customers will be posting their pictures and opinions of you on Instagram, Google, Yelp, Facebook, and more! While we hope that everyone is a fan, it's easy to have issues (or unhappy customers) who can hurt your reputation and influence whether future customers frequent you - or your competition.
Even though it's time consuming and sometimes no fun at all, it's very important to protect your online reputation. Here are some tips to help you stay on top of your game:
1/ DON'T offer free items to make the problem go away. It's easy to respond to a negative review with an offer for a free beverage, meal, heck, anything to make the customer happy. But it's a much better idea to find out WHAT the problem was and try to fix the issue and apologize (if warranted). That way, you are improving the success of your business and guarding against future (false) negative reviews from folks looking for a freebie.
2/ DON'T ignore negative commentary. Even though it's no fun, it's very important to respond to unhappy customers online. There may be an easy fix to the problem, and even if someone really 'dropped the ball' on food or service, at least by responding you are showing your dedication to the customer and that it's important for them to have a good visit. Avoid long, drawn out public conversations and provide a phone number or email for follow up, and make sure to get to the bottom of their issues whenever possible.
3/ DO respond to positive commentary. A 5 star review is a wonderful thing to have. Make sure to take a moment to say thank you when someone goes out of their way to say something nice about your business! I simple 'thank you' goes a long way and helps to reinforce the positive relationship.
4/ DO Know your rights and manage your online presence. If someone is being unnecessarily vulgar, abusive, or even works for your competition and is writing false reviews, you have every right to flag and remove them . Get to know the terms of service for Yelp, Google, and Open Table so that you can flag anything that doesn't belong or is dishonest. It's also important to find out where your customers are talking about you - stay on top of social media trends and monitor your restaurant pages across as many sites as your customers do to ensure that you don't miss the conversation.
5/ DO encourage people to talk about you! Most of your customers are biggest fans - that's why they are in your restaurant! Engage these people by letting them know your Instagram handle and other social media presences, as well as asking them to review you. By asking for reviews, you'll ensure that the happy people take some time to write about you: unhappy people are more likely to take to the internet if they feel the need to report an issue. And of course, encourage your front of the house staff to ask for feedback often so that any problems can be fixed (hopefully) before they make their way online.
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.
Like you, we’ve been watching the ALS ice bucket challenge spread like wildfire around the Internet. People have been challenging their friends, neighbors, celebrities, and even orange traffic cones to take the challenge. They’re complying, too (well, we haven’t seen the orange cone video yet). Judging by the number of Youtube videos, over 1 million people have taken up the challenge.
This is incredibly encouraging news, because not only does it draw attention to a degenerative disease, it also means that more than one countertop ice maker out there is working a little more to make perfect cubes of ice. Yes, there are some people out there who are putting ice in their ice buckets to make it extra cold! We wondered just how much ice has been used in all those buckets?
For the sake of discussion, we’re going to say that each bucket holds 5 gallons of water. Let’s also say that 25% of those ice buckets contain 2 gallons of crushed ice (weighing around 16.68 pounds) and 3 gallons of water. The rest were just wimps using cold water. Let’s do the math…
25% of 1 million recorded videos of water dumping is 250,000 buckets.
250,000 buckets containing 2 gallons of ice is 500,000 gallons of ice
500,000 gallons of ice in pounds is 8.34 MILLION pounds of ice!
Think about that for a moment as you look at your average countertop ice maker. That countertop ice maker most likely produces between 400-600 pounds of ice per day.
One Scotsman ice machine (the HID525A-1) that produces 500 pounds of delicious nugget ice per day would have to be in constant operation for 16680 days or over 45 years (45.69) to produce that volume of ice. Wow!
Even if you’re talking about one of the largest ice machines, the Scotsman C1448MA-BH1600BB which makes 1553 pounds of ice every day, it’s still going to take many years to make all of the ice for a short challenge on one machine.
Fortunately, for individual challenges, it take a bit less than an hour to make 2 gallons worth of ice to fill the ice buckets for the ALS ice bucket challenge. Just let your countertop ice maker run while you’re watching ice bucket challenge videos, and before you know it, you’ve got your own.
Participating in the ice bucket challenge is up to you. Because of the challenge, the ALS Association has already raised $80 million and encourages others to keep pouring buckets of ice water on their heads. And, if you need ice, you know where to turn.
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.