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Social Media and the Independent Restaurant

Social Media and the Independent Restaurant

Andrew Garrison

The restaurant industry and social media platforms have always had a tenuous relationship. With the advent of the message board and blog, suddenly the phrase “everyone’s a (restaurant) critic” became excruciatingly true. Next time you’re going to go out to eat, hop on your computer and Google the restaurant you’ve chosen. No matter where you’re going, – a rural truck stop diner or Jean-Georges, I guarantee there will at least be a couple dozen (if not hundreds) reviews.

I’ve heard a number of friends and peers in the industry lament the fact that “any hack with a blog” can smear a restaurant (deservedly or not) and damage its credibility, but fail to acknowledge or fully understand the enormous potential that free web-based platforms offer the restaurant industry – especially the independent operation.

The gleaming boxes of corporate kitsch in your local suburban mega-mall have the budget to pull off equally ostentatious websites (see The Cheesecake Factory’s website), buy endless ad space in popular magazines, and afford the rent in spaces that are prime for a constant flow of diners. Smaller restaurants – from your mom & pop diner, to your farm-to-table fine dining establishment – have to be much more resourceful and reliant on media reviews or word-of-mouth.

For help with the questions I had about independent restaurants (and indie business in general) maximizing their exposure on a minimal budget, I turned to three of my friends – Tyler Hayes, Andy Santamaria, and Jonny Thompson – who also happen to be involved in social media consulting, web design, entrepreneurship, and are just generally good, tech-savvy guys.

1. Twitter is a great way to reach the masses, and a lot of chefs and restaurants are using it, but are there any particular strategies to capitalize on that potential level of exposure?

Tyler: They are? Nice. The fact that they’re using it is probably the best strategy. Those who choose to do something of their own will, rather than because an “expert” told them to, will be more successful. But you did ask a legit question, and it’s a foregone conclusion at this point that the best specific strategy on Twitter is authenticity.

People are unbelievably good bullshit-detectors, so being true to who you actually are – not some alternate version of yourself – will bring you the most success long-term. It may not be sexy, but it’s smart, kind of like saving money by paying your credit card bill on time.

Jonny: Yes, you can do a lot with Twitter but not all the principles and strategies for Twitter would apply to a restaurant. In the restaurant industry reputation can make or break you. As the social web landscape continues to grow, Twitter continues to play a stronger role in “word of mouth” marketing. There’s definitely tactics to focus on and tactics to avoid.

Restaurant Twitter Strategy: Dos and Don’ts of using Twitter

Seek:

  • Do: start following users who are located near or around the restaurant. Do this gradually.


  • Do: follow restaurant industry leaders.


  • Do: follow local media outlets and restaurant related critics.


  • Don’t: massively follow as many people as you can. Your account will look spammy when the number of “Following” vastly outnumbers your “Followers”.


  • Engage:

  • Do: send out event notifications, specials, and creative restaurant updates. Think about what’s important to your day-to-day customers. Tweet a photo of a really colorful drink right before happy hour on a Friday afternoon. Make sure your tweets are useful.


  • Do: If a customer mentions something positive about your restaurant, retweet it. If a customer says something negative, reach out to them and ask how you can help. Attempt to diffuse or address the issue.


  • Don’t: send out irrelevant commentary or unrelated updates. Your followers are following you because they expect your messages to be about the restaurant. Don’t dilute your messages. If followers want news, they will follow CNN. If they want sports, they will follow Sports Illustrated. If they want an obnoxious commentary, they will follow Glenn Beck some Joe Schmoe.


  • Don’t: start a Twitter account and neglect it. You need to update it regularly.


  • Listen:
  • Do: Twitter (as well as other social mediums) can be very powerful for extracting feedback and reaching out to your customers. Use Twitter’s search by plugging in your restaurant’s name or some related keywords to monitor what people are saying. Take this information as an opportunity to get a beat on what your customers are saying.


  • Don’t: neglect what people are saying. If retweeted, negative customer comments can spread quickly.
  • Also, consider using a free service like Bit.ly to shorten URLs when you place them inside of your tweets as well as track how many users are clicking on your links.

    Andy: As far as using Twitter to get gain influence with your audience, I have a little experience from my friend who I consulted. Laura Bonicelli. She has a home-cooked delivery meal service. The best thing for her was to answer questions. A lot of people have questions about cooking and it’s amazing how effective it is to say, “what are your cooking questions that I can answer?”

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