Your restaurant’s online presence can have just as much power as its in-person presence — particularly if guests check out your restaurant via your website, social media or online reviews before their first meal with you. To ensure you’re managing your online presence effectively, Restaurant Insider recommends you monitor and measure it like you would any advertising initiative. For example, by controlling your Google listing (companies like Menufy can help you make certain links more prominent), you can steer people in search of takeout food toward the provider that serves you best instead of spreading business across several of them. Second, use your reviews to build business. While a good review is always welcome, your professional and calm response to a bad review can send a positive message about the service you deliver and your dedication to improving upon the experience you provide. Finally, your most loyal patrons (not so much the ones finding fault with a meal) should take priority when it comes to being offered free drinks or other special deals on menu items. Use your online loyalty program to take care of the people who already support you and are much more likely to continue to give you their business. While sometimes it’s necessary to offer a freebie to a guest who has had a bad experience with you, it’s just as important to make sure the person feels you have heard their feedback and are committed to making their next experience with you more positive.
Everyone loves a game — and concocting some simple ones can help you drive traffic and interest in your restaurant. Have a new menu for 2019? Next Restaurants suggests creating Instagram polls, quizzes, word plays or crosswords to encourage people to guess what new items you’ll be adding. Offer points or discounts to the first x number of people who guess correctly. If you need some contest ideas to incentivize people to engage, challenge people to suggest a new appetizer or creative burger topping, put it to a vote on Instagram and feature it for a limited time on your menu. Or, offer an experience that would make for a fun night out with a group: A cooking class with your chef, a food photography workshop with a professional, or an evening of food/wine tastings with a sommelier.
It’s easy to look at your restaurant’s social media account as a conduit for connecting with your guests and your community, but if you’re not applying a marketing approach to it, you could be missing opportunities to turn online traffic into sales. To ensure your social media strategy is designed to bring in business, Upserve suggests you first calculate your customer acquisition cost. Divide the money you spend on social media by the number of new customers you acquire during the period in which the money was spent. It will tell you how you have benefited from the marketing dollars you have invested — and if you need to tweak your campaigns. Next, understand who (or what) is behind the “likes” you receive. You might pay a social media marketer to promote your post, resulting in hundreds of new likes and followers, but if those followers are bots, other social media managers, or people thousands of miles away from your restaurant, their support won’t translate into sales. Finally, get support from the right person but know enough about social media and what you want it to help you achieve. Hiring a social media manager can help you set a strategy to promote your restaurant but for the sake of building and sustaining a genuine connection with your community, you don’t want to outsource it all. You might use a social media manager for larger projects — videos, advertisements and games, for example, or for help in identifying local social media influencers who can boost your brand in the community — but handle all customer inquiries and reviews yourself.
Nowadays, maintaining your restaurant’s online presence is as important as your in-person presence. The new Google My Business app (available for Android and iOS) is a useful tool to help you manage your business profile. Using the app, you can communicate with guests, respond to reviews, edit your business profile and monitor how guests interact with it, post photos and event updates, and manage these items across multiple locations.
Does your restaurant have a business profile account on Instagram or a personal one? If it’s still a personal account, consider making a switch. You’ll be able to collect better data on how your followers are interacting with your content. A business profile account allows you to track the number of impressions, likes, comments and saves your content gets, as well as monitor the number of different accounts that see and interact with what you post. While some features carry a fee, they are likely to pay off as they make it easier for you to run ad campaigns and for followers to get in touch with you via a “contact” button (instead of having to scan your page for your web address).
Could 2019 be the year of automation? If John Miller, the CEO of CaliGroup has anything to say about it, it could be. As he told attendees at the recent National Restaurant Association Innovation Summit, “I think that in the next six months, we will deploy robots to customers in ways that will shock people.” CaliGroup may be ahead of the curve (its CaliBurger restaurant launched the burger-making robot Flippy last year) but the technology it has in the works is worth bearing in mind, since it is likely going to have impacts on guest experience, food safety and employees’ perception of restaurant work. For instance, the restaurant is piloting a facial recognition payment system in partnership with NEC Corp. (facial recognition is already in use in the restaurant’s loyalty program). Its kiosks are also being enhanced to provide a one-on-one experience with the customer. While robots are replacing the jobs at hot grills and fryers, Miller said other kitchen jobs are being rebranded — instead of a “grill cook,” kitchen workers are called “chef techs”. He said the change to a tech focus is providing workers with gateways to higher-level jobs. At the same time, it is helping his restaurant manage kitchens more efficiently and protect the safety of food on the production line. The change could, helpfully, shift the more mundane or less safe jobs to technology. But the challenge for restaurants adapting to these changes, according to Darrell West, founding director of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution and author of “The Future of Work,” will be to determine how to retrain employees for more sophisticated jobs in the industry.
If your restaurant does not have a blog — or could stand to improve its existing one — now is a good time to work on it. A solid blog presence will make your website more of a destination for consumers at a time when they are eager to interact with restaurants online. (A Technomic survey found that 42 percent of consumers said they would choose one restaurant over another if it offered the ability to order online.) A strong blog can be a hub for your other content, referencing your social media accounts and featuring the kinds of images and personality that infuse your website with your restaurant’s atmosphere. To build engagement via your blog, Next Restaurants suggests you first set it within the right URL structure — i.e. host it on your website via a subdomain or subdirectory. Next, think about the kinds of terms people would use when searching for your restaurant online so that your blog content meshes with what terms people are using to search for restaurants like yours. A search term such as “restaurants with creative cocktails” might spark an idea for a blog about how you weave local, seasonal ingredients into your beverage menu — or a recipe for how guests might make their own version at home. There are some blog post-building tools available online if you need more help in triggering ideas. Finally, don’t be a stranger. While you don’t have to post content daily, you should post at least once a week. Each year or each season, you can take a look at what’s happening on your menu or with events you have planned and then write (or outsource the writing of) a large chunk of related blog content at once. When business is busy and you don’t have time for pulling together a post, you will have a ready supply of content to choose from throughout the year.
Customers who engage with businesses on social media spend 20 to 40 percent more money on those businesses than on others, according to research from Bain & Company. In your efforts to reel in those customers, remember to focus on the relationship instead of the sale. To avoid turning followers off by being too promotional, focus on making 80 percent of your content about topics that will spark conversation and just 20 percent on promoting new offers (though keep your content focused on topics related to your business). It helps if your brand has a distinct voice so that anyone on your team can post content and come across consistently. While it can be tempting to automate responses or use a selection of canned responses, use this approach sparingly — it can backfire if followers see through it.
Your guests may already be showcasing your creatively plated entrees on Instagram, but are you using Instagram Stories to your full advantage yet? They can help you tell a broader story about your business and your team. Via video, take guests behind the scenes in the kitchen, on a trip to a supplier or a farm, or show them how you prepare a healthy dish they can make at home. Modern Restaurant Management suggests operators use the forum as a test or experiment to see what engages your guests and drives awareness of your brand. And since posts drop off after 24 hours, it’s not a major problem if one of them flops.
Gone are the days when a guest’s harrowing experience at a restaurant — or even a mildly disappointing one — stayed within the establishment. As online reviews have made it easy for guests to share every detail of their meal, negative (and highly public) feedback has become one more thing for restaurant operators to manage. Upserve suggests you bear some tips in mind when responding to guest reviews online: Apologize and offer a solution if one is needed, and if possible, clarify policies you have in place without getting defensive. Provide your phone number or email address and encourage the guest to contact you to resolve the problem to her satisfaction, whether with a discount, reimbursement or other offer — it may even result in the guest adjusting her review. In your quest for glowing feedback, however, don’t pay for an online reputation management service to scrub your negative reviews. A restaurant with a sea of five-star reviews comes across as less credible than one that has mostly great reviews, with a handful of mediocre ones in the mix.