Ten years ago social media was a business novelty, and today it is a corporate standard. This is particularly true of the restaurant industry, as the majority of cafes and eateries currently use online networking platforms to promote their business and reach out to potential customers. As a result, it is more important than ever for restaurateurs to learn how to utilize these tools in order to remain competitive. Luckily there are a number of ways to do so, such as enrolling in distance learning programs like the ones found on this site for online MBA schools or taking classes at a local university. No matter what option restaurateurs pursue they will quickly discover that social media is the best and most effective way to market their business.
In a March 2011 article for Huffington Post Business, columnist Wiley Cerilli referred to the Internet as “the great equalizer,” since all restaurants, from franchise chains to singular establishments, are given unlimited ad space and airtime. The key to successfully promoting a restaurant online, he writes, is following the proper procedures. “It’s one thing to have a social media presence,” Cerilli noted,” but it’s another to manage it correctly.”
Cerilli’s article lists five restaurants that effectively market themselves with social media, and he claims a key component of their success is user-friendliness. One restaurant allows customers to make online reservations and read up-to-date menus on its Facebook page. Another uses Foursquare to provide discounts for customers who use the site to “check-in.” Some restaurants market themselves using alternative platforms, such as San Francisco’s Nombe. This Japanese Eatery reaches out to clientele with Foodspotting, a mobile app that allows restaurant owners to upload dish recommendations, pairing tips and other food-related media. “Ranging from top sake flights to the best brunch spots, Nombe has done a great job branding themselves as experts within the Northern California restaurant space,” Cerilli writes.
In terms of various platforms, Facebook continues to be the most popular resource with both restaurant owners and patrons. More than 70 percent of American restaurants have a corresponding Facebook page, and the number grows significantly every week. The social networking juggernaut still has plenty of nay-sayers, but restaurateurs often find that Facebook provides a direct connection with customers. “From a franchising point of view, I love it. When a potential partner calls me, I tell them go to the Facebook page and listen to what guests are saying about us. What could have more credibility?” Gary Occhiogrosso, chief development officer of Trufoods LLC, told Nation’s Restaurant News in January 2012, adding that web users access his company’s Facebook page more often than its official website.
In the last year, Livingsocial and Groupon proved immensely popular with consumers, and restaurant owners can enjoy their benefits as well. A recent report from the National Federation of Small Businesses (NFSB) indicates that the deals offered by these sites (e.g., a $20 food voucher that costs $10) often introduce the public to new dining locales—which can be a boon for any small, privately owned restaurant. Ostensibly, these initial discounts bring in a large number of customers in a short period of time. Additionally neither Livingsocial nor Groupon will bill the restaurant owner up front; instead, the sites claim a share of the overall profit—so they will not make money until the business does.
However, these seemingly win-win deals have caveats. For example, establishments with limited dining space and service staff are warned that the customer overload may be too much to effectively handle. Owners should also not expect immediate profits—in fact, most restaurants will merely break even from discount offerings. “The main purpose [of a Livingsocial or Groupon deal] is to bring in new customers,” the NFSB report says, “and encourage them to come back.”
As app technology becomes more and more prevalent, restaurants offering delivery service are encouraged to adapt to the times. By offering a free, downloadable app that allows a user to order food with his or her mobile device, restaurateurs elevate their establishment above the competition. Owners can take this concept one step further by installing smart phone and tablet tags that enable device users to simply scan a code in order to download the app.
Social media essentially bridges the cap between business owners and consumers—and successful restaurateurs worldwide have benefited from this simplified connection. A classic adage of advertising has always been, “go where the customers are.” In the age of Facebook and Foursquare, restaurant owners are staging the most lucrative marketing campaign in history.
Bio: Kate Manning didn't expect to find herself at the intersection of business, marketing, and the Internet, but with sound writing and editing skills, she makes the most of it. She's worked under others' supervision and on her own for herself.