Should Restaurants Be Using Social Media?
Could social networking have saved Edmond Davari’s Plymouth restaurants from closure? In this guest article, journalist and foodie David Wilcock discusses some of the ways that restaurants could take advantage of social media.
Is it worth restaurateurs signing up to social media platforms? This conversation came up during a Twitter chat (#plymchat) recently, when the topic of discussion was the sad news that Edmond Davari had liquidated his four Sutton Harbour restaurants. It was noted that none of the four had a social media presence.
So, should restaurants be using social media? The short answer is yes. But it should not be seen as a standalone saviour of your business. There is more than one reason for a business’ failure.
Reading Mr Davari’s comments to the Herald it seems clear the company already had serious cashflow problems over several years. Being on Twitter et al may not have kept them afloat.
What social media can do is enhance what is already there and make you more visible to customers and potential suppliers.
Hopefully you’ll find the following useful. I’ve stuck to Twitter because I think it is the best platform for restaurants, and if I talked about other social media we’d be here all day!
When I asked my @FoodiesSW followers for their thoughts about Twitter to include in this piece, the Sienna Restaurant in Dorchester in Dorset summed it up succinctly:
“Powerful communication tool, great for interacting with people. Good for late table availability, food photos seem a winner!”
The only cost is a smartphone, which you may have already. Most Twitter apps, if not all, are free to download and use.
Free marketing, advertising and PR
No cash for marketing or hiring a PR agency to handle things for you? Be your own publicist.
Before you groan about not having time, consider this: you don’t need to be on Twitter all the time, because most of your target market isn’t either.
You are not trying to provide a constant running commentary about the business, that would tire you out and probably bore your followers, no matter how foodie they may be.
I’m a big fan of what I call “Twitter on the toilet” – if the only spare time you have to tweet is when you are on the can, use it! The obvious provisos about hygiene apply! The point is that during a loo break, a fag break, a tea break, you’ve always a free hand.
Don’t be alarmed if you have only a few followers to start with – it’s a good idea to follow a lot of people in the business when you find them – you’ll know a surprising amount who are on Twitter already, customers, other restaurants, suppliers etc, who should follow you back and help alert people to your presence. From then on, what and how you tweet will help you gain followers.
What and How to Tweet
Twitter is very soft marketing – give your followers a snapshot of your business rather than going for the jugular to get bums on seats immediately.
Talk about how busy you are, show people pictures of great dishes that are on the menu to get them thinking about making a booking in the future.
Be amusing (without being offensive).
The worst thing you can be on Twitter is formal and stuffy, or seem miserable or whiny.
Only moan sparingly and do it in a non-offensive way.
People like hearing about the peccadillos of customers, as long as it is done anonymously and with humour.
Gripes about late cancellations can be turned into tables filled by people who have seen your tweets, as I explain later.
Above all, treat Twitter as real life – don’t tweet anything you would be uncomfortable saying to a customer or supplier’s face. It may not feel like it sometimes but people are reading.
As well as communicating with potential customers, what about suppliers? You may find some you didn’t know about further afield, or some that can provide different ingredients you hadn’t thought about before.
As a food writer, I engage with producers and restauranteurs from Penzance to Scotland via Twitter, (I also have one follower in a Bordeaux vineyard) people I would never have known about without it.
If you want to get publicity away from Twitter, it is also great tool for contacting journalists.
Many of the key people at the Herald, Western Morning News, BBC Devon, Spotlight etc, are active on Twitter. They get hundreds if not thousands of press releases a day, so instead why not follow individual journalists on Twitter.
Interact with them, chat with them when you have time, build up a relationship with them. It’s far better than sending an unsolicited press release, which you’ve probably paid a lot of money for, which may get missed or just binned.
I have written many stories and blogposts that started with seeing a tweet from someone I know only through Twitter and building upon it. You can also often see stories the journalists are actively working on and sometimes get involved if they relate to your business (eg the budget, activities of local councils).
Filling Cancelled Tables
No one likes customers who cancel tables at the last minute. But Twitter is great for trying to refill them quickly.
Adrian Oliver at Margots in Padstow (Tweets from @adrian_margots) showed this recently, tweeting about a late cancellation, then tweeting minutes later that it was filled. He is not the only one.
Consider retweeting (rebroadcasting) tweets like this from other restaurants, it’s likely they will reciprocate when you are in a similar situation.
Hopefully you run a restaurant that attracts only praise from customers, and people do share good experiences on Twitter, so it’s worth adding your “handle” to promo material in the restaurant, business cards etc and so on.
Conversely Twitter can also get you out of a hole if you find yourself in one. If people tweet about a bad meal, bad prices etc, engage with them, find out what was wrong. Try to avoid arguing with them, as it looks bad even if you are in the right. If you handle it well, they may follow up a critical tweet with another saying how well you handled the situation – problem solved.
Pictures of food are almost as popular as pictures of cats on the Internet. It’s a great way to showcase what you are doing in the restaurant.
Picture of good raw ingredients, the finished article plated up, chefs at work, all give your followers an insight into your kitchen they might not otherwise get. They often share with their followers, who, along with them, might well be your future customers.
It’s also a great way to let people know there are new dishes on the menu. You don’t need to be a brilliant photographer, it’s real life.
It’s also worth using the free picture sharing and editing app Instagram, which allows effect filters to be added to pictures, that can them be tweeted. People like the Michelin-starred Nathan Outlaw (@nathanoutlaw) use Instagram to good effect.
What The Restaurants Say
Finally, so you don’t think it is just me wittering on, here are some tweets from restaurateurs already on Twitter, sent to me while I was writing this:
Sienna Restaurant (@SiennaDorset)
powerful communication tool, great for interacting with people. Good for late table availability, food photos seem a winner!
Sienna Restaurant (@SiennaDorset)
Met so many fantastic people through Twitter. Good for talking with other chefs and suppliers.
The Dining Room (@the_dining_room)
Great for business to business. Made great contacts with other chefs in #Dorset. @Dorset_Hour is useful too!
Flo & Kevin Parsons (â€@OliveTree_StM)
Has been great for us meeting people in the biz, particularly suppliers.
JD’s Bar and Grill (@JDsGRILL)
We were wary about Twitter over other social media, but with a little hard work it has paid off would recommend Very easy to use
JD’s Bar and Grill (@JDsGRILL)
The use of Twitter has seen a gradual increase in our footfall, as well as giving us a greater presence in the market place.
About the Guest Author:
This post was written by a guest author. David Wilcock is a journalist, food PR and copywriter who writes the Foodies South West blog www.foodiessouthwest.wordpress.com. He tweets from @FoodiesSW and is on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/FoodiesSouthWest. David can be contacted at [email protected] or on 07968 376854