The restaurant business can be tough, but those at the top definitely pull in a significant amount of cash! Hard work, persistence, star power, and of course, a passion for excellence is one thing that all three top earners have in common. With multiple restaurants and cookbook endorsements, as well as TV shows and licensed food ware, the sky the limit in terms of earnings for these chefs who made their name their brand and then drove that brand to great success:
1. Wolfgang Puck's estimated net worth is $400 million. An Australian native, Wolfgang worked as an apprentice in Paris before emigrating to the United States. His first restaurant was Ma Maison in Los Angeles.
2. Jamie Oliver is worth around $150 million total. He started out at Antonio Carlucci's Neal's Yard Restaurant, where he was mentored by Gennaro Contaldo. He was spotted by the BBC several years later, which launched his show, "The Naked Chef," a well as his status as a celebrity.
3. Gordon Ramsay got an accidental start to the culinary world. He opened Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in 1998. In 2001, the restaurant was the first owned by a person of Scottish descent to earn three Michelin stars. He is estimate to be worth $118 million.
How is your restaurant tech? Chances are, you might need an update. The National Restaurant Association reports that up to 30% of restaurants are in serious need of a tech upgrade, but have held off doing so. The main reason? Cost of course. But consider the benefits of keeping updated tech. When your tech is updated, your labor costs go down. With labor being the largest - by far - cost for most restaurants, anything you can do to improve efficiency will also improve your bottom line - long term at least. With that in mind, here are the areas that can certainly be helped by top of the line technology:
Supply Chain - this is especially important if you have multiple locations. The Darden Restaurant Family is currently rolling out updated Supply Chain Software across all of their locations. How can this help your bottom line? By standardizing the experience at all of your restaurants, making smarter decisions when ordering product, and increasing efficiency for your Operations Manager. Overall, investing in good Supply Chain software will improve the flow of your restaurant in vital, physical areas.
Point of Sale - your front of the house will thank you - over and over again - for an updated, customized POS System. Not only will they benefit from something which is easy to use and intuitive, but your customers will appreciate the faster service and higher attentiveness they receive when your servers aren't wrestling with outdated equipment vs. taking their dinner orders. Your cooks and line chefs will also benefit from clear, easy to read tickets which will cut down on errors and ensure, overall, happier customers!
Email Marketing - a strong email system will go far towards retaining existing customers as well as increasing your marketing reach with them! Your own email marketing will allow you to capture addresses from your core customer base and market to them directly with specials, particularly for the holidays and special occasions. Choosing the right hosting software is very crucial - you'll want something which allows you to upload customer's email addresses easily and also design attractive email templates. Shop around and choose one that you know will be efficient so that you don't waste time working maintenance of it when you could be doing - well - everything else that needs to be done every day in a busy restaurant!
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.