By Bruce Hakutizwi
Every restaurant dish has the potential to become a star of the social media stage.
According to the food research firm Technomic, one of the biggest restaurant industry trends is that dining out is becoming a “staged event”–each dish prepared with the camera phone and immediate sharing on Instagram and Twitter in mind.
Smart restaurant owners are realizing that each customer can have tremendous power to generate viral interest—or condemnation—in real time. With millennials and teens spending and influencing significant disposable income on dining out, this digital population can be a huge asset to the savvy restaurant owner who knows who to give them what they want. This also is leading to another trend in the industry—louder music, high-tech service and moving visuals to bombard the younger generation with stimuli to keep them engaged and interested. Now if you visit a previously quiet and peaceful restaurant and think it’s too loud—well, you may have aged out of the establishment’s target market.
People in their 20s and 30s value food experiences as much as good food, and are willing to spend a lot on eating out. These experiences include food presentation that is potentially captured by smartphones and shared to massive networks of potential customers.
In the LivingSocial “Restaurants Trends & Insights for 2015” report, more than a third of restaurant owners stated that managing customer interactions online was a primary business issue.
Restaurateurs said they recognize the growing importance of social channels to interact with patrons, build their brand and manage their reputation.
This applies to fast casual and fine dining restaurants most of all. Restaurant owners can use social media tools like Iconosquare to “re-gram” positive experiences their customers are posting on Instagram. In the visual world of social media, restaurants are at a distinct advantage. Pictures of food, taste testing, the chef in action, a crowded dining room, décor and promotions can become viral opportunities.
Facebook advertising makes sense for many restaurants because of the advanced targeting capabilities. Ads targeting graduating children, birthdays, Father’s Day and other special events can be very effective on Facebook. With research showing that people 25-44 years old spend about 23 minutes four times a day on Facebook, this remains a platform that should be included in all social media efforts.
Just hearing the word Yelp can invoke fear and even fury in many restaurant owners. Stories about diners who threaten to leave bad reviews as a sort of blackmail have become legend in many restaurant markets. Nonetheless, ignoring Yelp isn’t a prudent strategy in any market. In fact, 19 percent of Yelp reviews are about restaurants and four out of five Yelp users say they make purchases based on Yelp reviews, according to an article in Search Engine Journal. Independent restaurants can especially benefit from Yelp, with a one-star increase in rating leading to a 5 to 9 percent increase in revenue, according to a Harvard study. Are there exceptions? Probably. Take Botto Bistro in Richmond, Calif., which has been waging a campaign to become the restaurant with the worst Yelp reviews in the world. This has resulted in media coverage that likely has been a boon to revenue.
Bruce Hakutizwi is the U.S. and international manager of BusinessesForSale.com, a global online marketplace for buying and selling small businesses.