Getting yourself noticed when your restaurant is one of the dozens in your local area is easier said than done. You may have amazing food, talented chefs, engaging waiting staff and gorgeous surroundings, but the only way that customers will find you is if you get your name in front of them when they are looking for somewhere to eat.
Traditionally, restauranteurs could rely largely on passing footfall and print advertising to encourage business. However, these days, the power of your online presence must not be underestimated – more specifically, social media. The ubiquitous internet phenomenon has integrated itself into our whole lives, whether we like it or not. From connecting with friends to landing job opportunities; engaging in political debate to searching for reviews and recommendations, we are relying on it more and more. Therefore, it is crucial that your restaurant takes full advantage of its many benefits and avenues for raising awareness.
First thing’s first – it all starts with your online presence. Most, if not all businesses will have a website of sorts nowadays, but this needs to be supplemented with a portfolio of social media profiles. These profiles must be accurate, well written and above all, kept up to date. Some good ones, to begin with, include Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, as these are popular sources of information, updates and recommendations for places to eat, amongst other things.
Setting up your profile is free and easy to do if you follow the online prompts. Make sure that everything is accurate and that you have included all the relevant details like business name, address, phone number, website address, opening hours and the type of food people can expect to enjoy at your restaurant. Add some attractive photos of your premises and perhaps some of your main dishes to catch the eye – these can be added to your profile very easily and should stop people scrolling past without checking you out if they are striking enough.
Finding an audience
Once you have set up your profiles, you need to find people to connect with. Take a look at your competitors’ profiles on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to see the kind of audiences they are attracting. Join online business networking groups and local residents’ pages to try and pick up some followers. Encourage people to share the content that you post (more on that below) by offering discounts or exclusive deals to anyone who attracts new people to your page.
People travelling for business or pleasure often turn to social media to look for somewhere to eat in their destination or in a city or town en route. So, make sure you
keep an eye on travel pages too, so that you can use these types of enquiries to spread your name further afield.
Getting the conversation Started
Social media is all about interacting and sharing conversations with other people – the clue is in the name! Do make sure that you post interesting content that encourages people to react. Don’t flood your social media with repetitive sales messages. Try to add interesting anecdotes, links to what’s going on in the wider world and generally, anything that reflects the personality of you, your restaurant and its staff and clientele.
Some examples of effective conversation starters include asking people what their favourite book is on World Book Day, for example, or inviting them to send in ideas for a photo caption competition. People like to read about people, so include a few posts about your staff – quick profiles about their own likes and ambitions, and any interesting stories about how they landed the job they are doing now. If you can show that you employ interesting happy people, it will make your restaurant that much more enticing for people to come and visit.
Protect Your Rep
Once you have set your profile up, found people to talk to and chosen what to post, you need to continue building up your reputation for being friendly and approachable online with regular posts, comments, deals, discounts and musings. Keep it light and relevant to your offering. Never stray into political or controversial subject areas, avoid online arguments and keep your private life completely separate.
A useful way to keep things on track is to keep track of reviews and comments made about your restaurant online – both positive and negative. This is especially important if a restaurant is new to social media, or just starting out in business – remember the importance of first impressions…
You can use positive feedback to inform future posts or interact with fans to seek their marketing support or encourage a repeat visit. If you manage to grab the attention of influential food critics, journalists or bloggers, this is a fantastic chance to thank them for their interest and ask if they can help you broaden your audience massively with a few strategic endorsement posts or by sharing your content on their own social media accounts.
Neutralise the negatives
Any negative comments should also be taken seriously and handled carefully. Contact the author, if possible, to see what went wrong with their visit and see if you can resolve any concerns they may have had. The fact that they have bothered to engage with social media to offer an opinion means that they are more likely to enter into a dialogue with you which could actually end up helping your cause if you can change their mind about you.
Another way to monitor your progress is to ask for customer feedback, not only about your food but about how you are doing online. Do they like what you post?
Would they like to see more (or less) of any particular subject, style or tone of postings? You can do this by posting an online poll, or by asking the question directly via social media. People will normally be keen to respond, especially if you can offer an incentive, such as a small discount or free soft drink for every person who replies.