A Social Media Strategy for Restaurants

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The financial crisis is likely to hit the fine dining industry very hard. Already there have been reports of exclusive London restaurants slashing their prices in order to maintain a steady flow of clientele and therefore subsequent cashflow. Competing on price, however, is never a wise, or usually profitable, strategy, so dining establishments need to look for alternate ways to bring in the customers. One easy way is to develop a social media strategy to connect with your customers and create a community of regular diners.

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While every restaurant should develop their own strategy in order to connect with their key demographic the ideas I put forward here should offer you an insight into how to go about it. The tools I’ll be using to implement the strategy are easy to learn and use. In fact you may already be using them, but not necessarily in the most advantageous way. Also the tools are either free or cheap so you should see a good return on your investment (ROI) in a relatively short period of time.

The core of the strategy is to open the lines of communication both from you to the customer and from them to you. This allows you to inform them about what you offer as well as allowing them to offer feedback about what you’re doing well and what you can improve upon. This later part essentially allows you to use your customers as a free, perpetual, up-to-the-moment focus group. Once you’ve opened up the lines of communication there’s then an opportunity there to create a community, which brings benefits like brand loyalty, reliable and trusted feedback and word-of-mouth marketing.

The Corporate Web

If your restaurant doesn’t already have its own website get one. Now! Just as it was once a necessity to advertise in the Yellow Pages it is now a necessity to have a website. Your website is the most likely second point of contact with a new customer. Whether it be as a result of a review, a recommendation or even a click-thru from a restaurant aggregator. Without a web site you’re missing out on a valuable marketing tool that requires little set-up and maintenance cost.

Even if you already have a website established you may be underutilising it as a marketing resource. Too many websites are like advertising billboards strewn along the information superhighway. Once you’ve seen them they’re quickly forgotten and there’s really no reason to return. Your website needs to move beyond being a static billboard to become a dynamic portal for you to provide updates and to generate feedback. I won’t go into any the technical details but you need to be using a good content management system (CMS). A CMS allows you to easily add or remove information to/from your website without needing to know how to code. Talk to your web professional about which one is the best for you.
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In order to encourage visitors to return you need to offer good content that is regularly updated. For restaurants one way is to have your chefs develop a recipe of the week and then post that on your website. This can be part of their experimentation and development process. Then by adding the recipe to your weekly specials you can encourage visitors to try it at home and then compare it to your version at the restaurant. By allowing visitors to leave comments on the recipes you also open up a dialogue and get immediate feedback about what works and what needs further work.

Something else you might care to try is establishing a regular event – maybe once per month – in which you offer a range of different foods from your ordinary fare or a special theme. You can then post details of the event up on your website beforehand. restaurant3Afterwards you can post an event report including what happened, how many people were there and possibly any interesting – but tasteful – anecdotes. Allow users to comment on the report and you not only get immediate feedback about the event, but you also begin generating a sense of community especially if they’re featured in the anecdote or the photos. I do urge you to err on the side of caution with anecdotes and photos though. What may be fun on the night may be embarrassing in the cold light of morning. Manage the risk and cater to your own particular clientele.

All a Twitter

You can also use social media networks to perpetuate your new community . You could for instance establish a Facebook group or a MySpace page. Of course if your particular clientele are unlikely to be using those services then it would be a waste of time doing so, so you need to find out where your demographic ‘hangs out in cyberspace’ and target that.

One social networking tool that has explosive growth in the 18-49 age range is Twitter. Twitter is a microblogging tool that offers you another way to connect with potential customers and further establish your community. And all you have to do is have conversations. For further details on what Twitter is check out our previous article. There are already several restaurants using Twitter to engage diners online so you’ll be in good company.

There are good ways and bad ways to use Twitter. The good ways will get you a thriving community of friends and loyal followers. The bad ways will get you ostracised and ridiculed. Here are some guidelines to using Twitter for the best ROI:

  • Be real. Be yourself. Establish your restaurant’s Twitter account as a person not a faceless organisation. By all means use your restaurant’s name in your Twitter name, but make sure that the people that read your bio know that you’re the owner, the chef etc.
  • Twitter is global. Restaurants are local. You’ll see a better return if you follow people using twitter in your local area. Services like Twitter Grader allow you to find who the top Twitter users are in your area. Check them out. Start by following 20 or so and over time build from there. TwellowHood also allows you to find Twitter users in your area but is only currently available in the US and Canada. You can also find interesting people by checking out who others follow. Include your Twitter on your website and encourage visitors to follow you.
  • Don’t broadcast. There’s a temptation to boldly tell everyone in Twitter who you are, what you do and what a great place your restaurant is. Don’t. The best way to engage people is to listen to them. Where you can answer other people’s questions, make light and friendly conversation and maybe solve a problem or two. Only once you’ve established a relationship with your followers – because inevitably if you’re friendly people will want to follow you too – then you can mention that you’re having an event and link to that event on your website. If people ask for more details then indulge their curiosity. After the event post pics – remember be tasteful and always professional – using a service like Twitpic.
  • Be an expert. Seek an expert. Look out for opportunities where you can use your expertise to help someone. If you’re a chef you can offer cooking advice. If you’re an owner then maybe help another small business owner with a thorny issue. Don’t be afraid to ask your own questions or seek your own help either. Twitter is full of people from a wide range of backgrounds and they generally love to help others.
  • Keep an eye on your brand and your industry. Twitter allows searches to be converted to rss feeds which can then be piped, filtered and ready to be read in your rss reader. For instance set up a search for your restaurant’s name and every time someone mentions it that tweet will show up in your reader. That way you can respond. You can also set up searches for keywords in your industry or keep on the look-out for catering opportunities in your area.

restaurant5And all this is just the tip of the iceberg. Once you’re established you can find other ways to engage your customers and establish long-lasting relationships with them. Tools like YouTube and Flickr, as well as other feedback facilities like Google Alerts and social calendars like Upcoming offer you a wide number of options to expand and focus your social media marketing activities. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new techniques and tools as they become available. While you should always ensure that the technology works for you it’s important to remember that it’s people that really count.

About the Author: skribe

Based in Perth, Australia, Antonio Barimen (aka skribe) is a writer, digital media consultant and social media producer.

He is available to help you develop social marketing and digital media strategies, improving communication between staff, partners and suppliers or just increasing the number of fans on Facebook. He has developed successful digital and social media projects for clients including CBS, Evian, Procter & Gamble, Discovery Networks, Pernod Ricard and American Express.

Connect with him on Twitter or Google Plus.
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Post Under Advice, CheckingOut, Marketing, Social Media February 17, 2009