During the course of the pandemic, so many restaurants had to reinvent themselves in order to survive – perhaps opening in-store bodegas, offering takeout and delivery where none existed before, or otherwise operating in ways that might have been considered off-brand before the pandemic. Now that life is returning to normal, it’s time to refine your approach so you can glean the most success from your marketing efforts. In particular, it’s important to fine-tune your online marketing efforts, now that we have seen how important it is to have a strong web presence. The Rail suggests that once a restaurant has solidified its brand, it should approach online marketing from several directions. First, look to online media publications that cater to your audience and offer opportunities to collaborate with restaurant critics or pay for advertorial content. Your website should allow a user to easily and quickly place an order, find your hours and location, and leave a review (and also prompt you when that happens so you can respond right away). If your restaurant is looking to attract more traffic from people visiting the area who haven’t heard about you yet, consider crowd marketing, which allows you to promote your restaurant in themed forums on social networks. When it comes to advertising, think about whether it makes sense to pay for contextual advertising – perhaps if you’re a sports bar, you might want to have your ads appear online next to content about your city’s baseball team – or through influential bloggers in your area who have an engaged following of guests in your demographic and would take payment (or perhaps just a free meal) in exchange for an honest review.
“More reviews equal more success.” That’s what restaurant consultant and coach Ryan Gromfin told FSR Magazine recently, adding that operators need some kind of well thought-out system for generating reviews – whether it’s a simple reminder on a guest check, or better yet, a text or email reminder that is automatically sent after a visit. What kind of structure do you have in place? At a time when consumers are heavily researching their dining options online, ironing out any weak spots in your feedback loop can give your business a much-needed boost. First, make sure your business has an updated profile on the main review sites including Yelp, Google and OpenTable. Next, ask and you shall receive: Post a request for reviews on your website, social media channels and on table cards if you have a dining room. If you can, use an automated system for requesting reviews electronically – if a guest receives a prompt on their phone that includes a link to where they can post a review, you make it easy and quick for them to help. (If you offer them loyalty points or another incentive for taking the time to share their thoughts about you, all the better.) If you get a less-than-positive review, make sure you respond professionally and helpfully – a quality response to a negative review can neutralize it. Promote your positive reviews as testimonials on your website and social media.
It’s not the eye-catching ambience on display through your front windows that is drawing people to your restaurant right now – your website is more likely the place responsible for making a good first impression and enticing people to support your restaurant. Are you making it as easy as possible for people to find you, be assured of the hours you will be open, access your menu and place an order? First, review and update your information on GoogleMyBusiness to manage your presence across both search and map functions. Beyond that, make sure your hours, phone number, webpage link and physical location are up to date, and that your website (with minimal clicks) allows people to access your menu and new safety and hygiene practices. On your website, consider a pop-up invitation to join your email list – and preview the benefits of joining it. Your online information – including what is viewable on a search engine or your site itself – should be just as easy to read on a phone as on a computer or tablet screen.
In the COVID-10 era, restaurant reviews are changing – and for better or worse, so are operators’ responses. At a time when consumers are placing elevated importance on restaurant cleanliness and may be more selective about the occasions when they eat out, a negative review can have extra power – and many professional restaurant critics are suspending their critiques right now to avoid adding to operators’ challenges. A recent Eater report detailed how Yelp is imploring reviewers to consider the challenges of the current environment before leaving a review – and some operators are shelving their “customer is always right” approach to review responses by actively challenging negative feedback. But focusing on generating positive reviews is generally the best approach – if restaurants routinely make the request. BrightLocal research found that more than 85 percent of customers are willing to leave a review. Can you ensure your staff knows to ask customers to provide feedback – and also make it easy and fast for them to respond? The Rail suggests including review link on your newsletter and email marketing campaigns, as well as using online reputation management tools to solicit views via email or text. Further, urge guests to come to you first when they have a complaint or concern. Make sure they know you want the opportunity to address a problem when it happens. It can also give you a chance to explain how the current climate has changed the experience customers are used to having with you – before they unload about it over Yelp.
Retooling your marketing strategy for 2020? Try thinking less like your competition and more like your ideal guests. That’s a key piece of advice from Erik Shellenberger, hospitality marketing expert and author of the book Restaurant & Bar Marketing. Shellenberger, who was interviewed recently on the Restaurant Rockstars podcast, says in his consulting work with restaurants it’s common for even large, established businesses to conduct marketing efforts based on what competitors are doing, whether that’s posting a video series on Facebook, a contest on Instagram, or even just feeling the need to make some kind of social media post every day. But he said that’s akin to copying off of someone else’s test when you aren’t sure they have the right answer – or being a sheep following the herd. A successful strategy should be based on measurable conversions and social media often falls shorter than other marketing channels in this area, he said – particularly for restaurants that generate business from tourists. Before pouring time and money into your social media, make sure you’re getting some basics right: Imagine you’re a consumer in need of a good meal and you’re scrolling through Google, Yelp or Tripadvisor, looking for well-reviewed restaurants. If your restaurant makes that first cut, does it follow through with an up-to-date address and phone number? Are your operating hours listed correctly? If potential guests click on a link to your website, will it bring them to a page that includes information consistent with what they saw on Google? From there, tracking clicks on the “get directions” link can give you measurable data on the web visitors you are converting to customers. Once you have a strong foundation in that area, you can then fine tune your overall profile – by enhancing your images, creating memorable food and drink presentations and conceiving of clever promotions suited to your specific brand.
There is a new way for Google to help you connect with your guests. The company just announced some enhancements to Google Lens, its image recognition software, that may change the consumer experience of eating at restaurants, according to a report from The Verge. Consumers who either have Google Pixel phones or a Google Lens app can point their phone’s camera at your menu, and the Lens will highlight your most popular dishes and be able to call up photos and reviews of individual dishes via Google Maps.
Conventional wisdom says that people who want a harmonious relationship shouldn’t go to bed angry, right? Toast is now applying that logic to negative restaurant reviews. The company commissioned a study that found that 65 percent of one-star reviews on Yelp were posted within one day of a dining experience. To use that one-day window as an opportunity for customer retention, Toast created Toast Guest Feedback, a new guest feedback platform that sends a text to a manager whenever their restaurant gets a one-star review. Often times this will allow the restaurant to correct problems in real time, deescalate customer concerns and avoid losing those customers permanently.
Consumers tend to focus on negative reviews. As the New York Times article “You Can’t Really Trust Negative Reviews” points out, such reviews may help us better “understand risk and reduce our losses.” But on the flip side, such reviews may include inaccurate or vague recollections, represent a small cross section of guests, or be downright fraudulent. They also make it more difficult for restaurant operators to make amends. Hospitality Tech advises operators to use their own technology to quiet the noise of large online review sites. Prompt guests for feedback immediately after the meal, then share that feedback immediately with the pertinent people involved. Soon you’ll have hundreds of reviews at your fingertips (not just a handful of extreme reviews on Yelp). Connect those reviews with a server, product, and time of day and you will quickly be able to see patterns — and get a more accurate idea of what needs attention. You’ll be able to update menu items more confidently, adjust staff training, better reward great service and potentially resolve guest complaints before a guest even leaves your restaurant, salvaging your relationship with that person.