(Illustration: Emily Morrow/Source: Shutterstock)
Let’s be blunt: If a restaurant does not utilize every available form of social media, it risks losing a competitive edge. And just having a website doesn’t count anymore, especially a website that doesn’t do anything for the customer and isn’t up-to-date. A restaurant must maintain an active and reactive website, Facebook page and Twitter account, and it doesn’t hurt to post videos frequently to YouTube.
“Why should I do that?” asks the restaurateur or chef/owner. “I have a loyal customer base. They love me and my restaurant whether we post to Facebook or not.”
Listen to Chris Leo, writing recently on Foh Boh – The Restaurant Network (fohboh.com):
“Social media sites like Twitter (and) Facebook … give you exposure to the world. They also give you access to people that hours of television spots and thousands of dollars of newspaper ads can't do. Social media is the perfect platform to demonstrate your restaurant's uniqueness, your exquisite cuisine and the fantastic atmosphere a diner can expect, when coming to dine at your establishment.”
Or, closer to home, Kerri Guyton, an account manager with Obsidian Public Relations in Memphis, says, “Social media is a fantastic (and free) tool for restaurants and bars to use in communicating to their audiences on a regular basis. It takes a little more work on the restaurant’s side to maintain that communication. It’s not just a one-time ad or flyer with the weekly specials. It’s a conversation between the restaurant and its audience about what’s going on at the restaurant, what the chef is cooking in the kitchen, what he’s buying at the farmers market and so on.”
I spent a morning looking at 20 websites for well-known local restaurants, ranging in style from gastropubs and neighborhood bistros to fine dining, including old-line establishments and new places. The results were surprising and a little shocking.
Of those 20 websites, four provided no links to Facebook or Twitter. Only two offered links to videos on YouTube. Only one of the websites included descriptions of daily specials. Several did not provide an online reservations function. One website – this is the shocker – didn’t even offer menus, or anything else for that matter, just a picture, an address and phone number. Friends, it’s not 2002 anymore, and a 2002 mentality or arrogance won’t work.
“Wait,” you say, “I post daily specials on Twitter and Facebook, why should I do it on the website too?”
Because if people Google your restaurant, they don’t get your Facebook page or Twitter account, they get your website, so all the information – all the friendly and helpful and current information – should be right there. The more you make people search your website for pertinent information, the less useful and more annoying it is.
Many of these local dining websites provide notices of newspaper reviews and awards their restaurants received, but it doesn’t impress potential customers to read a review from five years ago or to be told that the establishment was voted “Best New Restaurant of 2004.” That’s ancient history.
I’m not an expert in marketing – if I were I’d be a household name and pulling down the Big Bucks, right? – but I’ll offer here a summary, gleaned from some Google research and talking to a few people, of a few steps that restaurants can make to maximize their use of social media.
Know yourself; know your audience; keep on message. Few are the independent restaurants that can be all things to all people. Your menu, your location, building and interior, the atmosphere, the style of service, all determine what your restaurant is, the audience it attracts and the image you want to convey. Let all your social media outlets reflect that image consistently.
Make sure that your website exploits every strategy of search engine optimization (SEO). Say, for example, that your menu is on your website in PDF form; if someone types “best veal chop Memphis” into Google, your lauded veal chop won’t show up because Google doesn’t recognize PDF documents. That’s not good SEO.
Embrace online review sites and provide links to reviews of your restaurant on Google, Yelp, Open Table and Urbanspoon on your website and Facebook page. Don’t sweat the negative reviews; they may contain seeds for needed change and improvement. Reacting online with anger to a negative review makes you look like a small-minded sore loser.
Be creative, not generic. Nobody wants to read “Come in tonight for a glass of wine.” Use your website, Twitter and Facebook page to post interesting entries about the creation of new dishes and cocktails, special events, celebrity sightings (with photos), videos of trips to the local farmers markets or farms and other suppliers. Put videos on YouTube.
Use social media to build loyalty. Guyton again: “Social media can be utilized to build familiarity, and hopefully, loyalty. Audiences kind of expect that now, especially those under 35. They expect to ‘get to know the brand’ in order to award their loyalty, and with those audiences ‘watching’ on social media, it’s a perfect venue for restaurants and bars to communicate and to become relevant to those audiences.”