Could your Instagram presence carry more weight than your Yelp reviews? Instagram influencers are surpassing Yelp Elite — the review site’s subgroup of users that Yelp has recognized for their quality recommendations and reviews, among other qualities — according to a recent Eater report. Considering a Fundera poll that found that 69 percent of millennial diners photograph their food before eating it, Instagram’s power makes sense. It is an ideal platform for you to benefit from user-generated content if you create the right conditions for it. To help boost your Instagram presence, Next Restaurants suggests you add some eye candy — have one distinctive visual element in your restaurant that belongs in photos. That could be accomplished with eye-catching flowers or plants, unusual art or wallpaper that serves as a memorable backdrop, seasonal décor, or unique signage. Add photo-friendly lighting, attractive plates and food presentations, and you have the components you need for compelling photos. Then entice guests with a freebie or discount in exchange for posting a photo with your hashtag and geotag, along with tagging your account. When you have a special event or a new menu to promote, up the ante by running a contest that awards a gift certificate as a prize for the best post. When your guests post content, be sure to do your part and like, comment and share their posts (with credit) to build on your connection. If you know of some Instagram influencers who resonate with your target market, it may be worth your while to invite them in for a free dinner when you want to make a big splash for a grand opening or a rebrand.
If you offer your guests free wifi, you could be collecting valuable data as a result. Are you? As NextRestaurants reports, your wifi marketing can take off if you ask guests connecting to your wifi to log in using their email address or social media account information as opposed to a universal password. While it may feel Big Brotherish to some, this system can help you forge stronger connections with visitors who log in. (Upon signing on, visitors are taken to a landing page where you can offer them a discount on food or drink, or introduce them to your loyalty program.) This system can give you a much deeper understanding of who your guests are, how often they come and how long they stay, and what your most popular days and times are — particularly if you are able to integrate this data with your POS and build targeted marketing campaigns from it. (Need a wifi solution? Team Four can help with that, contact us anytime).
The images of menu items you share online need to sing — or at least motivate people to pay you a visit. While it can help to have a professional photographer do it, a couple of pros recently shared some food styling tips with Edible Manhattan that are easy for amateur photographers to implement. When setting up a shoot, try having an ice bath on hand to keep vegetables and herb stems looking fresh. A brush of olive oil can help food glisten. Use natural light when available and, to minimize shadows, a piece of white cardboard, or even a white cutting board or plate can serve as a makeshift reflector. While the colors in your dish are a focal point, you can accent them with table linens or glassware in similar (or complementary) colors. If there is a memorable spice or other seasoning used in the dish, accentuate it by adding seeds, sprigs or other natural elements to your photo setup.
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.
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.