Times have changed. For those who have been in the industry for many years, the digital makeover may have turned the restaurant and bar industry into something unrecognizable—a dark tunnel of confusion to navigate. For others, it may come naturally.
The world of social media can be a terrifying place for anyone, especially a restaurant or bar owner. What used to take years of gaining editorial reputation, a fancy camera, and fair warning before popping in for a meal, is now, well, pretty much the general population. Got an iPhone and an Instagram account? You’re a food photographer. A reputable Yelp account (bonus for Elite status)? You’re a restaurant critic. Even people who simply enjoy the experience of eating out are deemed “foodies.”
All in all, there are now many more opportunities for customers to broadcast a negative experience and taint your reputation via the internet.
But there is a light at the end of this dark tunnel—this digital evolution also allows for many more people to spread the positive word about your establishment, and you yourself hold a unique power to control your own branding online, creating your own voice and image, and owning the social media world we live in.
It’s a scary online world out there, but let’s navigate it together.
Tip 1: Start from the beginning
Nothing helps build a solid reputation like getting that hot and new status. “Have you been yet? I went opening weekend! I can’t believe you haven’t tried it yet….you have to order the octopus appetizer.” People love to buzz about what’s new and exciting.
But how can you ensure that you’re not mistaken for the restaurant down the block that’s been around for years?
Anticipation is key. Start creating buzz from the beginning. Secure your social media accounts as soon as you have a name. Share construction and opening updates. Contact local media outlets early, offering little tidbits about your new concept. Local publications love to have the inside scoop on what’s what around town, and this will have people talking before your doors even open.
Tip 2: Have an easily accessible social media handle
There is nothing more frustrating than being out at a meal and endlessly searching for a restaurant’s Twitter handle (your username) while composing a tweet. Buried in your phone, with friends or on a date—no matter the situation—isn’t exactly mannerly.
Tweeting and tagging restaurants frequently from BevSpot’s social media accounts, I can firsthand say there have been more than a few times when I’ve given up completely on locating a Twitter handle that doesn’t immediately populate from the obvious spelling of a restaurant’s name. Amidst a crowded bar, with dirty looks across the table, it’s not always easy to guess the random hyphen or underscore in a handle. And how am I supposed to know if your Instagram account begins with your city and not your restaurant’s name?
If you can’t get the most obvious handle (we know, it happens), one way to make sure your patrons can find you on social media is to print your handles on the menu. Encourage guests to snap a photo and share their experience with a little message letting them know they’re in a social-media-friendly zone, and here’s how to reach you.
Tip 3: Respond to everyone
Although many aspects of the industry have changed, one thing will always remain: hospitality is all about customer service. But in this digital age, the definition of customer service has evolved. Like sending the manager over to see how your meal is, or letting a patron speak directly with the chef, people feel rewarded by social media engagement. Getting an immediate double-tap or retweet is satisfying, and nothing says customer-friendly like an immediate response on social media. Just a simple “Thanks for joining us!” or “Great pic!” encourages patrons to keep up the chatter.
Tenzin Samdo, Bar Director at Boston’s Trade, has over 12,000 followers on his personal Instagram handle, @BostonMixDrink. Samdo spends a good chunk of his time sifting through and replying to his many comments, “but there are real questions there that affect business and are important to reply to,” says Samdo. “You have to always be engaged with your audience, otherwise, you’ll lose them.”
Finding it too time-consuming to manage your social media? You may want to consider budgeting for a social media manager. This is a job that many college students would kill for, and a great way to reach your target audience. As Samdo says, “Think of social media like a giant billboard that you pass everyday that says ‘advertise here, for free.’ If you keep seeing that, are you just going to keep driving?”
Tip 4: Keep an eye out for loyalty
You may notice @CocktailGal84 constantly retweeting you, taking photos at your restaurant, and singing your words of praise. This is free marketing for you, so why not send her a free drink next time she’s in? This type of treatment shows your appreciation for a loyal fan and patron, while also showing how on top of your social media game you really are. You already know that recognizing regulars is key to hospitality management, but now you have many new platforms on which to recognize them.
That drink may only cost you a few bucks, but chances are, it will make her night and ensure she keeps coming back and calling you out.
Think of your restaurant as a celebrity and your social media followers your fan club. Don’t you want to show them love?
Tip 5: Share specials, events, and limited-time offers
Recently, I was browsing my Insta-feed and came across Hillstone Boston’s photo of a fried oyster on top of creamed spinach. My friend and I were there eating it within the hour.
This is probably a rather extreme case, but the only thing better than hearing about a really delicious restaurant is seeing it for yourself. And when you create that sense of urgency with a “limited time special” and a delicious looking visual to boot, you may have people lining up in no time.
Take local Boston staple Cutty’s, for example. This small neighborhood sandwich shop in the heart of Brookline offers a limited batch fried chicken sandwich on one Sunday every month.
And people go nuts for it.
Indeed, it’s a delicious sandwich. But is it worth rolling out of bed early on a Sunday to stand in line, possibly for hours?
You’ll have to judge for yourself, but chances are people are vying for the exclusive and rare opportunity that Cutty’s brilliant marketing team has successfully broadcasted across all social media channels.
No matter how you look at it, social media, in some capacity, is here to stay. Real time conversations and updates have become prominent in our culture, and if you don’t join in soon, you’ll fall behind. “Our parents’ generations went to libraries to learn things and read about them. But we use Google, and Instagram, and hashtags,” says Samdo. “PR today is about creating your own branding and making it convenient for your audience to find you. You have their attention for 5-6 seconds before you lose them.”
You have a huge opportunity to make a big splash out there. Don’t waste a second.
Want to learn more? Take your business to the next level and start an email marketing program for your restaurant or bar. Or, start advertising your bar online.