(Updated January 2018) Ok, so you’re a novice restaurant owner and trying to get your fledgling business off the ground. And you know it’s a challenge right? Estimates are that 50% of restaurants fail in their first three years and you don’t want to be in that statistic! And what about this social media stuff? How can I use it to market my restaurant and build my business? And how do I manage some of these online wacko’s who are out of control?! Well my friend, I know it’s not easy but here are some thoughts from somebody who’s online a lot when it comes to social media and food-restaurants. I’ve been in Marketing as a professional for over ten years and doing the online food blogging and reviews for much longer than that. Here are some tips and tricks that might help you out along the way…
Your key online asset is of course your website! It’s the virtual and online introduction to your food, your service and your brand, don’t skimp here. Take a look at your competition because there’s a huge variety and diversity of websites and it’s worth your while to get it done right. Without the right branding and online presence you’re just creating an uphill battle. Shockingly, there are still restaurant owners who DON’T put up a website or give it to an amateur and it shows. Not a bright idea, given it may only cost $5 – $15/month for the hosting fees and platform, invest in all the content! Two very popular platforms for hosting your website are Squarespace and WordPress. Try them out to see which one fits your needs more effectively.
Now that you’ve got a website, let’s work on the content for your restaurant! Well-edited copy, a sharp logo, well-chosen fonts and high-res photos will make all the difference for any business. Make sure up front you’ve got the address, hours and contact information front and center. A sub-page on the origins, story and people behind the business, a gallery of food and interior photos, a menu page and maybe a specials/events page, that’s it! And make sure the menu comes in an online format as well as .pdf for downloading and printing. It may take a bit more effort if your menu is changing but it’s worthwhile.
If you’re in a busy location, add a Google or Bing map that’s been pinned with your EXACT location. A map is extremely important for businesses located in strip plazas and also for food trucks which move around. Be careful with your business names and oddball spelling, the trickier and less clearly your name is spelled, the more difficult it will be to show up reliably in online search. For example, Fugheddaboudit Pizza is way too complicated and challenging a word for most search engines.
Once you’re online, you’ve got a presence that’s good for broadcasting what you’re about. Now it’s time for some social media to create a real-time, authentic presence. What I mean by authentic is that your website is polished and professional. It’s a first impression that’s meant to do just that, impress. I feel that social media is now about creating an emotional and personal connection to a business or person. It allows for back and forth, for real-time exchange of information along with more of an individual’s personality. Social media allows your updates and information to be shared out amongst your audience and ideally it drives them back to the mother-ship, your primary website.
And it’s easy since creating a business profile on Facebook is pretty simple. Share pics of the staff, daily specials, events at your restaurant along with the basic business information. It’s about having a bit of fun and personality now! While Facebook has a much stronger audience, be aware that your Google presence is getting increasingly tied to search engine results. And of course an instagram and twitter profile for short, pithy statements and pics, you can even integrate social media updates (re-use on multiple sites) but I’d try to keep the content fairly unique based on the channel. Instagram a great way to reach out to food and local bloggers. I’d also consider leveraging Pinterest and your images since it’s so easy to pin photos from a multitude of resources, simply and easily.
And finally, online review sites! If you’re a new business, make sure you’ve got an entry on Yelp, Google and Facebook. Claim your business (or create your business entry) so you can keep up with incoming reviews and manage responses. Seed a handful of initial pictures but don’t try to over-influence the business entry, just get it started. And be careful with having friends and family write reviews. The social media savvy audience will pick up on seeded reviews and become suspicious. There are people (including myself) who spend a lot of time on these review websites and we don’t miss much. But word of mouth is a crucial piece of marketing for your restaurant.
Let your product and service speak for itself and encourage your favorite patrons to write a review for you. Ideally they are active and prolific review writers, you may want to send an invite out inviting power reviewers to visit your place but don’t offer compensation. That’s against the rules most times. Check out the community guidelines if you have questions. If you’re a food truck, put down an address for a home-base. Even though you may move around it’ll be a lot harder to find your business entry and reviews without a “physical location”
Now that you’ve got all your websites and social media running, you’ve got to manage it all. Fresh and timely content that shows off your business and your personality. Leverage all these online assets to broadcast your business but also get feedback and develop your offering. While not all opinions will be constructive or helpful you need to accept it all. There will be unreasonable and angry people online but even take their “feedback” with a grain of salt. Your goal is to develop a thriving business and while the feedback and criticism may be hard at times and maybe even a bit personal, for a business on the edge it may make all the difference in the world between succeeding and failure.
Monitor your incoming stream of social media and reviews for any ways you can improve your business. Provide disgruntled customers a reasonable and timely response and no matter what you do, don’t lose your temper online! What you write often gets captured and re-tweeted forever. Don’t become the poster-child for an online media disaster and embarrassment. Some examples of local businesses that did not handle their social media properly would be Crumb Bakery and Downtown Sports Bar and Grill, just google them. Or the most infamous meltdown of all: Amy’s Baking Company in AZ. A perfect example of personalities gone wild and very difficult to recover from.
So there you go, a short list of guidelines and best practices to help build your restaurant and your business from the customer perspective. Over the past six years or so of reading and writing reviews I’ve seen it all. Most people get it right but not everybody! And while most of the above advertising and marketing is mostly free, getting it wrong can be very costly. Don’t miss out when it comes to your online and social media presence because even the best food, service and restaurant can use a business boost online!
List of Best Online Practices and Marketing for your Restaurant
- Create a professional online presence with basic business info right up front and an online and downloadable, printable menu
- Develop an eye for a strong visual presence with a professional logo, fonts and photos
- Leverage social media pages to spread your business information out with multi-media and real-time postings
- Engage with online review websites to monitor your online presence and extract constructive customer feedback
- Use your overall online presence to cultivate your brand, tell your story and have some fun!