How can restaurateurs utilise social media?

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Taking picture of donut on iPhone

In Kamila Sitwell’s recently published ‘Bespoke. How to radically grow your bar and restaurant business through personalisation’ she discusses how restaurateurs can utilise marketing techniques and social media.

Even if you’re not particularly media savvy yourself, you can be sure that many of your customers will be, especially the younger generations. The ability to harness the technology tools at your disposal will be an invaluable asset in connecting with customers beyond your premises.

When your doors are closed, the internet remains open, and customers may well still be talking about you. There is no such thing as dead time anymore, so the more you can do to make your story and offering available at all times, the better. Your customers are part of the ongoing conversations online, so these need to be part of your campaign. Whatever level you decide to invest in it, digital marketing is essential. It doesn’t need to be expensive, just dedicate some time to it.

Social media and mobile technologies are playing an increasingly important role in attracting customers through your door as the more traditional methods are losing their traction. Where once printed vouchers in newspapers and magazines were popular, times have moved on. Customers prefer offers and incentives, delivered via their tablets or smartphones, that can be presented at a venue on screen for a seamless, convenient experience.

By involving customers at the centre of your story and offering bespoke experiences, you and your business will become personal to them, and you’ll likely be rewarded with their custom. I don’t pretend that this will be easy, because customers are critics too, and they’re not afraid to share their opinions online. However, they can also offer you useful insights into what they would like to eat or drink, and their comments on anything from the décor to the bathrooms represent valuable feedback.

If you already have a presence on social media, are you really taking full advantage of the benefits it can deliver?

social media calander

At a very basic level, social media is a platform where you can try out and tailor your offers through direct (and fun) engagement with customers using entertaining content, rewards and incentives. Half-hearted efforts won’t do you any favours, though, so if you’re not confident in managing your social media accounts yourself, recruit a local expert or a member of your team who can either teach you or manage it for you. It’s worth doing and doing properly.

It’s also a good idea to stay on top of it. Too many restaurant owners turn their social media over to whoever wants to manage it, often resulting in neglected pages, rushed posts, mediocre images and slow follower growth. Stay in control of the content and promotions, even if a third party is administering your account, and make sure that whatever your potential customers are clicking on is up-to-date and relevant.

If you’re entering the digital world for the first time, with so many social media platforms to choose from, where do you start? My advice to restaurant and bar owners is that Instagram is king, Facebook is queen, and the rest are pawns. The key to going social and making a profit is to post top-notch food pictures and video clips. Refresh these on a regular basis, and don’t allow your site/page to stagnate with offers that have expired. You’ll need someone who understands the subtleties and mechanics of social media and has the time to do it properly, so it could be in your interest to hire a restaurant marketing agency.

Many restaurant owners are yet to embrace any form of online marketing at all. When TripAdvisor published its ‘Restaurant Marketing Strategy’ study in 2017, it revealed that over half of UK restaurant owners spend less than 10% of their time on marketing, and only 12% have appointed a dedicated marketing person or agency. I found this to be a startling statistic, given that the survey was carried out by one of the world’s largest online sites where customers generate content through their reviews platform. Of the restaurant owners that responded positively to the survey, a majority reported that their social media activity was their most effective marketing channel.

Even more surprising was the discovery that traditional print advertising didn’t merit a mention in the top three effective marketing channels preferred by restaurant owners, yet most still spend more marketing money on print than social media. In my mind, there’s a mismatch between spend and effectiveness which needs to be addressed and rebalanced. Clearly, the way forward is to devote funds to social media/online marketing, given its effectiveness over print.

The beauty of social media is that it offers your venue instant flexibility and measurability. Scheduling your posts at the right times to capture your target market’s attention is one of its more brilliant tools. If you own a restaurant and want to attract customers towards the end of the week, then posting content on a Monday morning is probably not going to be as effective as doing so on a Thursday. Planning and scheduling your content, therefore, is crucial.

Some brands, both national and local, have seized the opportunity to cash in on the benefits of social media. For example, Nando’s, with over 4 million Facebook fans and 1.5 million Twitter followers, uses its fully integrated social media to engage with its customers actively on a regular basis, matching its fun content and promotions to its casual dining brand identity. By encouraging its customers to share ‘finger selfies’ on Twitter, Nando’s generated an incentive tied into a gift card campaign that helped spread the word through customer-generated content.

Zizzi, on the other hand, carried out its own research in October 2016 and discovered that images of its food posted by customers on Instagram could have a major influence on diners’ decisions whether to eat at its restaurant or not. The numbers were thought provoking: within the eighteen to thirty-five age bracket, 30% would avoid a restaurant if its Instagram presence was weak and the food images looked unappealing.

This poses a real dilemma for restaurants, especially when customers upload their own, often poor quality, images. Zizzi’s inspired response was to launch a training programme for its staff so they could show customers how to take the best photo of the food on their plate – the composition, light, filters etc – so that it looked as good as it could when a happy diner uploaded their snap on to social media.

The above is an extract from Kamila Sitwell’s book “Bespoke. How to radically grow your bar and restaurant business through personalisation”.  For more analysis and insights on how to respond in the competitive, changing world of hospitality by creating experiences,  Bespoke will help raise the restaurateur’s  game providing fresh insights needed to steer a course to customer delight, loyalty and ultimately business success.