Restaurants Serving Up Social Media Connectionsby Mark Smith

Technology has changed the way people communicate with each other. These advances have made the world a smaller place. Information in every form can be held right in your pocket and social media services are on the front line of this massive information push.

According to Packaged Facts, a leading market research publisher, 31% of frequent diners use computers to place their orders, while another 21% use their cellphones or other portable device.

But many restaurants today are still left sitting at the cutting board trying to figure out a successful recipe for social marketing, while the early adopters are reaping the rewards of a lucrative, successful social media push. It can be the icing on the cake if it is handled correctly, and it can leave a bad taste in your mouth if your social media recipe lacks the flavor it needs to spread like a nice cream cheese.

People are hungry and they are hungry for much more than food. They want to feel connected and social media allows them to feel as if they are a part of the whole restaurant family. It makes things much more personal and it does it faster than instant coffee.

Giving people what they want is just the first step to a successful social marketing recipe. The days of newspaper ads and restaurants sponsoring local sports teams as a means to advertise their name and brand are slowly crumbling and becoming stale. Keeping things fresh and spicy are a key ingredient.

Social Media Services

There are many popular social media services available today, and they each offer a different kind of customer base. Many restaurants fail to see this. Free services like Twitter and Facebook don’t simply reside on a personal computer at home, they also have apps that can be used on smart phones, allowing real time communication between friends and family members who can, and will be customers, but only if the restaurant has a social media presence.

Facebook users are typically more engaged in everything that they do. They are also always on the go and they like to tell their friends and family where they  are and what they are doing, and that includes dining out.

Users can “check-in” with their mobiles phones and all of their friends and family are instantly aware of their location. One customer can quickly grow into several instantly and that is just the appetizer.  The full course comes when a user tells all of his friends and family just how good the service and food was.

Facebook users are foodies and it only makes sense for restaurants to be serving up hot fresh content to hungry Facebook users, but none of this can happen if the restaurant chooses to deny this great source of potential.

Twitter offers the same benefits to people and restaurants that choose to use it, but Twitter is even more popular amongst Asian, Hispanic and African American cultures.

On Twitter, conversations happen quickly and they can spread like a media wild fire. If the topic of conversation happens to be the current meal, then others will be wanting to take part in the conversation and the meal. Good news travels fast and in the social media world it is instant.

Using social media to grow a restaurants customer base

Traditional advertising methods still work in the social media world, they are just applied a little differently. It is about creating a connection with the customer, and this can be done in several ways.

For example, Scottsdale restaurant owner Dean Slover hired a social media manager to implement a Twitter and Facebook campaign to build buzz about his soon to open RnR Restaurant and Bar.  The campaign was a success, and now Slover has over 3,800 Facebook fans and 640 followers on Twitter that he connects with to announce wine tastings, breakfast specials and menu announcements.

Discounts are the most common method of creating brand name and getting a potential social foodie into the door. Many successful social media campaigns will send out frequent discounts to special events, as well as current food specials. Hungry Facebook and Twitter users are notified instantly and in the restaurant industry that is extremely powerful. If these updates can be scheduled at the right times, they can catch people while they’re hungry and this can greatly influence their dining destination.

Some restaurants have learned that they can grow their Facebook base, and their marketing base, by offering freebies.  Del Taco, for example, has offered free shrimp taco and Big Fat Crispy Chicken Taco coupons to those on Facebook who ‘like’ them.  From that point on, the Facebook fan will be notified when Del Taco updates their information or offers a promotion.  Further, the Facebook fan’s friends will also likely be made aware of the connection.  Currently, over 215,600 people like Del Taco’s Facebook page.

Social media is much more than a simple discount

Discounts are just the tip of the iceberg. Social media is a free doorway to not only market food and special events, but to also ask customers directly what it is that they do or do not like.

In the Summer of 2010, Pizza Hut did just that. Using Facebook, Pizza Hut asked its customers to vote on whether or not they should keep their $10 Any Pizza deal. An amazing 98% of the people said yes. That is one example of the power of social media being used in the restaurant industry. Give hungry people what they want and they will be happy to gorge themselves on the offerings.

Other restaurants have been making things a bit more personal by giving chefs the social media spotlight. Chefs can talk freely about themselves and what inspires them to create such magnificent food. They can even go into extreme details of how the food is prepared and how it is cooked. This particular example is pre-selling at its best. By describing the way the food is created, the chef has just made that reader hungry for more and given them a direct invitation to join them for dinner. This simple yet effective social marketing technique can quickly spread and fill a restaurant.

This has been a huge success. It puts things on a much more personal level. Relationships are grown and the chef is now a friend that has the power to persuade hungry people to come in and have a bite to  eat. Ideas like this make it beneficial for social media users to follow a restaurant’s social media campaign. It makes them want to be a part of it and it creates long lasting relationships.

Social media for disaster recovery

Taco Bell recently put the power of social media to work for them during the short-lived lawsuit over the quality of their beef.  As news of the lawsuit began to gain traction, Taco Bell effectively used Facebook to give their side of the story, thank their fans and customers for supporting them and offer up a coupon for a free Crunchy Seasoned Beef Taco.

Problems happen in every line of business and they happen more frequently for restaurants. Social media can be used to stop potential problems quickly and effectively, but it must be handled correctly. This is where getting personal can make things much worse. Emotional responses not only look bad, but they can turn away customers faster than a rotten egg.

If the restaurant is at fault, then there is no harm in admitting it, in fact this is exactly what should be done. People make mistakes and do stupid things, but when those things create a negative online buzz, a restaurant can live or die by the keyboard.

Ruth’s Chris Steak House learned this earlier in the year when a manager made a racist comment in response to an email reservation.  The email was accidentally forwarded back to the customer, and Ruth’s suddenly found itself in the midst of an online firestorm which included a Facebook boycott page.  Ruth’s responded quickly and appropriately, terminating the manager and releasing a statement addressing the problem. 

Serving up social media connections a smart move

While many restaurants today are leveraging the huge benefits that social media brings to the table, there are still  many who are not.  The National Restaurant Association reports that eight out of ten restaurant operators believe that social media will continue to develop as an important marketing tool. 

According to C.W. Craig Reed, Convention Chair for the Association’s 2011 Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show, “Social media savvy consumers dine out more often and show a higher level of engagement in the restaurant community than other consumers, so building a strong social media marketing strategy is a smart move for restaurateurs.”