Digital restaurant orders continue to be high, making your restaurant’s online presence especially important. That extends to what people are saying about you online, but when restaurants are strapped for staff, responding to every review with a professional, sensitive, well-thought-out answer can feel like one task too many. If that’s the case for you, artificial intelligence may be able to provide some relief. In a recent report from Pymnts.com, Paytronix CEO Andrew Robbins said smart use of AI can help expedite and automate the process of responding to reviews. Much like an extension of how AI is used in drive-thrus and customer service call centers, AI may be able to process the words used in a review and craft an appropriate response – with minimal time and involvement from you.
As Covid-19 variants continue to add uncertainty to the in-restaurant dining experience, your online presence – and specifically your efforts to present your restaurant on social media – will be important to keeping your brand front-of-mind for existing and new customers. According to a new study from GlobalWebIndex, nearly half of all internet users discover new brands via social media, whether through ads, recommendations and comments from contacts, or through updates on brands’ social media pages. Your consistency in posting engaging and valuable content will help boost your restaurant’s visibility, so it’s a good time to fine-tune your social media content schedule for the year ahead. Aim to post a range of types of content so you’re providing a full picture of your brand and values – not simply a string of photos or ads. Here are some ideas to consider as you plan content: Go behind the scenes and feature a video of your chef preparing a signature dish or talking about the history of the restaurant. Release a poll to find out which dishes your guests enjoy the most (or would like to see on future menus). Advertise a limited-time offer. Ask for guests’ help in sending you job applicants (and reward them for any hires you make as a result). Profile a favorite supplier or complementary business – they may return the favor and introduce you to new potential customers. Share a positive online review. Promote a discount to entice people to order directly from your app or website. Post a fun fact about your city or neighborhood. Share what you’re doing to protect people’s safety, minimize waste and run a more sustainable business.
You’ve probably had the experience of using your phone to access a website, only to get frustrated at the amount of scrolling and clicking required. According to new research from Paytronix Systems Inc. and PYMNTS, 67 percent of average restaurant sales are generated by orders placed digitally or by phone for off-premises dining. With more restaurants relying on QR codes for the placement of orders, there has even been an increase in on-site orders being placed on restaurant websites via mobile phones. Unless your website is already easier to navigate on a mobile phone than a third-party delivery app might be, that’s a lot of scrolling your guests would like to avoid. That’s all the more reason to streamline your site. A landing page with a few simple links to key information may be all you need. When you update your website, make it a priority to check how it works on a mobile phone. Your guests should be able to find what they need with a minimum of scrolling and clicking.
Consumers are significantly more apt to read a text than an email. In fact, according to the Mobile Consumer Engagement Study 2020, 40 percent of consumers say they have at least 50 unread emails. Ten percent say they have more than 1,000 such emails. On the flip side, only 4 percent of consumers say they have 50 or more unread mobile text messages. Knowing this, how can you use texts to drive guest engagement? Could you use them to send a location-specific promotion of your popular mozzarella sticks before a big game? Ping a request for an online review immediately following a dine-in meal? What key guest actions could you best encourage with a brief message that gets immediate attention?
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.
As people return to restaurants in greater numbers, we’ll continue to need the digital tools we have been using to maintain safety and distance. Since it may take some time to rebuild the sense of hospitality and community restaurants had before the pandemic, it’s more important than ever for operators to use their social media channels to keep communication flowing to and from guests – and to use that to generate more traffic. Create a content calendar that allows you to plan social media posts in advance and on a regular (if not daily) basis. Think about sharing behind-the-scenes videos and blog posts, asking open-ended questions to start online conversations, hosting virtual trivia contests and scheduling a lineup of other promotions that encourage guests to share photos of their food online and talk up their experience with you.
When a consumer starts a Google search for something nearby, chances are they are looking for food. Modern Restaurant Management reports that “restaurants near me” is by far the most popular “near me” search, generating more than 6 million searches monthly. In fact, food searches comprise four of the top five positions in “near me” queries – with such searches as “pizza near me” and “delivery near me” appearing in the group. In the past we have used this space to talk about the benefits of local search engine optimization for restaurants – ensuring that your restaurant appears in those important “near me” searches when consumers get a craving. But you can be more proactive about attracting the interest of consumers near you too. Are you capitalizing on your local advertising opportunities to your greatest advantage? As the Rail reports, location-based advertising via search engines and social networks has become an increasingly precise means for businesses to target hungry customers who happen to be nearby. This form of advertising combines mobile advertising with location-based services, which enables a business to pinpoint a customer’s specific location and then direct advertisements toward their mobile devices. So on the afternoon before a big football game, a promotion about your chicken wing sampler could appear on smartphones of consumers shopping for game-time snacks in a supermarket nearby. Location-based advertising may help you win new customers who didn’t even know they wanted your food.
A number of recent reports are calling 2021 the year of local digital marketing for restaurants. It makes sense: Travel could still take some time to return to pre-pandemic levels and consumers will continue to rely on local businesses – and their smartphone searches – to connect with businesses they like in their neighborhood. Making sure you’re as visible as possible online to people in your area can have significant benefits: According to data from Hubspot, 97 percent of consumers searched online to find a local business and 64 percent of those searching for restaurants online followed through with a purchase within an hour. If you’re just ramping up your local digital marketing efforts, claim and optimize all local pages (via Google My Business local packs), respond to online reviews in a timely and professional way, and then optimize your ranking factors (these tips (http://bit.ly/3rosIMV) may help you improve your local search engine optimization if you need help). If you’re curious to know what restaurant brands are generating the best sales growth as a result of their local digital marketing efforts (and what they’re doing to stand out), check out this recent report from the marketing technology firm SOCi (http://bit.ly/3aGuW4w ).
In these takeout-heavy times, your menu is often viewed on a smartphone and needs to be readable and understandable on one – with minimal scrolling and waiting. To accomplish that, keep your menu in a format that is easy to navigate vertically and uses short lists or clickable boxes to differentiate categories. Use contrasting colors and standard fonts to enhance readability. Finally, help people see your food – but don’t let images of it drag down your site: Low-resolution images (around 96dpi) will have the same effect as higher-resolution images without slowing down your site.
This year is all about stepping outside of your comfort zone, right? If you haven’t harnessed TikTok to promote your brand yet, it may be worth your while. Restaurant Business says TikTok is among the most downloaded mobile apps in the world, with about 800 million active users around the world. It can be especially effective at targeting Gen Z consumers and the simple, quirky videos it allows users to make can help a brand create the kind of content that goes viral. Case in point: Chipotle’s recent TikTok video showing a montage of people mispronouncing the brand’s name has generated millions of views.