It’s not quite the white whale of the restaurant business, but one of the trickier elements of running a successful restaurant in the 21st century is developing a following with online foodies. Many of these consumers write their own blogs, do freelance food reviews, or just have a strong following on different social media platforms. Beyond these trendsetters are larger online foodie communities that are quick to share enthusiastic recommendations to each other.
These are people who love to gab about food. Tapping into that can mean big things for your restaurant, even making them ambassadors for your brand if you make the right choices. Word of mouth, the most consistently trusted consumer recommendation out there, has gone digital.
A social media goal for restaurants (especially locally owned restaurants) is building a community by forging a place within the larger community of your area. You want to build a cohesive brand both on and offline.
Think about the tone you convey at your restaurant, in both ambiance and service. That tone should be within your social media engagement. If your restaurant is a little quirky and fun, you can have a tongue-in-cheek sort of humor to your online posts and tweets. If you’re more of a family restaurant, warm and friendly is a good starting point.
However, there’s a fine line between a business reaching out online in a positive way and seeming desperate. Online foodies don’t want to feel like you’re using them, that you’re just attempting to capitalize on them. If that’s your only engagement online with customers, it will turn them off fast.
For instance, putting up a sign that says “Follow us on ____!” is probably not going to get you a huge amount of new followers, and could easily turn the social media savvy off to your business. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t share your social media handles at all — your social media handles can certainly go on any marking marketing right along with your phone number and address. That way, diners who are specifically wanting to engage you online can find it without you seeming desperate for followers.
You want to engage your customers and encourage them to talk about your restaurant online, but you don’t want to be pushy about it. Essentially, you want to give them really good incentives to enthusiastically recommend your restaurant to their foodie community.
A subtle, effective way to get your tech savvy guests to promote your food? Make your food look gorgeous. Online foodies are known for posting pictures of meals they’re excited to bite into.
Really focus on the plating choices for your menu so it looks fresh, colorful, and pretty — in other words, worthy of your guests getting their phones out to take a photo before they even take a first bite. Foodies want to share opportunities for special dining experiences with their friends, and making your food look special can be a great way to encourage posting and tweeting about that experience.
Make sure you’re following the major foodie bloggers in your area. In big cities especially you’ll groups of “instafamous foodies” that you should keep an eye if you want to get noticed. Follow them, “like” their stuff from time-to-time (unless it’s about a direct competitor!), and maybe comment if it’s appropriate.
But again, you don’t want to like/comment everything they post. The bigger bloggers (foodie or otherwise) worry about readers crossing the line with their interaction, so you want to make sure your interaction with them is professional and appropriate. It needs to be relevant, just like you’d expect from anyone posting on your own feed.
While Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are still popular resources for restaurants, consider also having a presence on Snapchat. Snapchat is an image-focused social media platform where the images sent out by users disappear after 1-10 seconds.
There are lots of ways to use Snapchat to market your restaurant. While you want to stay away from discount codes, consider sending out passwords for secret specials; it can make engaging with your social media into a sneaky game and tap into the secret menu trend. You can also use Snapcat just like Instagram to feature your food, this time adding in a FOMO (fear of missing out) element.
And again, no matter what social media platform you’re using to share your food photos, making sure they’re good shots of beautiful plating is key.
Another important tip: make it as easy as possible for Twitter users to @ you. If your Twitter handle isn’t your exact restaurant name (if you’ve used underscores, or if you’ve included your city name), have your Twitter name be your exact restaurant name as you have it on the front of your building. When your guests try to @ your business in their tweets and type out your name, your handle can still pop up as an option IF you have that spelling as your Twitter name.
Having your Twitter handle references in your guests’ Tweets is important, since other Twitter users can then click through to the restaurant’s account — don’t make it harder for your guests to give you credit for a delicious meal by not being easy to find online.
But how do you know if people are already talking about your business? As a manager, you don’t have the time to go searching for news about the restaurant, right? Well, setting up a Google Alert is a great way to avoid the timesuck.
A Google Alert allows you to be sent notification if any blogs or other websites write about the business. From there, you can share the good ones on your social media pages. Reviewers often enjoy seeing their positive reviews shared by the restaurant they’re reviewing, and it tells the foodie community at large that you’re paying attention.
You can also address any not-so-great publicity, which in some cases can turn it into positive publicity by showing how you addressed a problem. However, be very careful about getting defensive; hassling people who criticize your restaurant online could make you look even worse than the original negative review. Those online foodies you want to court don’t want to write about (let alone eat at) restaurants whose managers will go after them if they say even mild criticism online about the meal.
Consider keeping track of when the restaurant is “tagged” in posts so that you can like or comment on those posts. That lets online foodies know you saw their shout-out and shows you’re paying attention to social media. If keeping track of tagged posts starts to feel a little time consuming, there are apps and sites out there that help you manage it.
You also should be checking the geo-tag for your restaurant on Instagram – online foodies might not tag you in a post, but they could be tagging the post with your restaurant’s location. This means taking a little extra time to check it manually, but this is something you can do every once in a while rather than every day.
And finally, social media isn’t the only way foodies tell other foodies about their experiences at your restaurant. Don’t forget about online reviews! While they’re sometimes used to share criticism, online review sites also encourage guests to speak up for your brand. At Rewards Network, our programs offer only verified reviews so you know the feedback is from people who have definitely dined with you.
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