By Donald Burns, CDMP, CMEC, CHt
Food and drink alone are only part of why people dine out. There is a huge social aspect to going out, and modern technology is affecting where consumers choose to dine out. Restaurant marketing plans need to incorporate some, or all, of these new technologies in order to keep pace in the 21st Century.
1. Restaurant Websites
The restaurant’s own website is the first line of offense in the restaurant marketing battle. These days, restaurants without a well-designed website are rare. Regardless of where potential customers hear of a particular restaurant, at some point, they are probably going to visit the website before they go to the restaurant itself.
Why customers rely on the website.
Customers generally visit a restaurant’s website if they need directions to the establishment or to see a menu before deciding to dine there.
How restaurants can use the website.The more information about your restaurant that can be put on the website the better. It is the gateway to your restaurant’s web presence. Use the site not only to post a menu, but to offer promotions, tell your story and show what social media outlets you are involved in. » Learn More about Restaurant Websites
2. Social Media
Social media refers to any web-based technology that is heavily dependent upon user-generated content. Basically, it is people talking about and sharing their experiences on the internet.
Why customers rely on social media.
Rather than relying on biased advertisements, customers use social media sites to learn about particular restaurants from people who have been there. They are also able to share their dining experiences with and get suggestions from with people of similar tastes.
How Restaurants can use social media.
Social media is the word-of-mouth forum for the 21st Century. Restaurants that are actively involved in social media sites can interact with their customers and market to them in a relatively inexpensive manner. Some restaurants even have Twitter or Facebook parties in which they invite all of their fans or followers in for an exclusive event with special menu pricing.
Examples: Facebook, Twitter
3. Restaurant Review Sites
Restaurant review sites allow users to post comments and rate the site online. It’s like a comment card, only one that everybody who visits the review site can see, and restaurant owners have no control over what is posted.
Why customers rely on review sites.
When going to a new restaurant, customers can use restaurant review sites to get a pure, unbiased opinion from people who have been there. The more comments the better, because each experience is unique and paints a more complete picture.
How restaurants can use review sites.
Restaurants can hold Yelp parties for elite-level “yelpers” as a way to increase their brand awareness. However, one of the best things a manager can do with restaurant reviews is use them as teaching tools for employees and find out what can be done better. Think of restaurant review sites as modern comment cards, only one that people actually fill out.
RESTAURANT COACH TIP: Just an extra half-star rating on Yelp gets restaurant 19% more reservations.
4. Wi-Fi Availability
Wi-Fi availability refers to wireless internet access for guests in a public place. Recent research shows that the availability of free Wi-Fi affects venue choice for 64 percent of the respondents.1
Why customers rely on Wi-Fi.
We live in a constantly-connected world. Whether it involves using a smartphone to check their email while at dinner or working on a laptop while drinking a cup of coffee, more and more people want to be able to access the internet 24/7, regardless of location.
How restaurants can use Wi-Fi.
The aforementioned research also stated that free Wi-Fi doesn’t necessarily correlate to increased revenue. However, it does bring more people in the door, and that’s half the battle. Restaurants can become Wi-Fi hotspots and advertise free internet to their customers, and workers can up-sell extras or offer cheap refills. Make sure the network is secured and customers have to get a password from the cashier. This will prevent people from sitting outside and using the free internet without buying anything.
5. Ordering Online
Online ordering is primarily a tool for restaurants that offer carry-out or delivery. Rather than having to call in, a few quick clicks allow customers to place their order.
Why customers rely on online ordering.
The big benefit to online ordering is order accuracy. Customers no longer have to talk over a noisy kitchen to place their order only to have the wrong thing show up at the door.
How restaurants can use online ordering.
It is doubtful that online ordering will completely replace phone-in orders anytime soon, but online orders can help free up restaurant staff. Restaurants that offer online ordering should advertise as much on their website and give delivery/pickup time estimates. Restaurants can also use online ordering to create an email marketing database and offer special deals to loyal customers.
6. Online Reservations
Either through smartphones or websites, online reservations add more convenience to the reservation process. However, since reservation sites charge restaurants for the service, there is currently a limited database of restaurants on reservation sites.
Why customers rely on online reservations.
As with online ordering, online reservations allow customers to make and adjust reservations without having to interact with a person, which minimizes the chances for error.
How restaurants can use online reservations.
This frees up employees, so they can better serve customers who are actually in-house.
Examples: Opentable.com, Urbanspoon.com
7. Dining Applications for Mobile Devices
For smartphone users, there are applications, or “apps,” for practically anything. In the restaurant realm, there are apps for making reservations, finding restaurants, counting calories, ordering online or choosing the right wine for a meal, among others.
Why customers rely on dining apps.
In the fast-paced world in which we live, speed and convenience are key. For customers on the go, dining apps make choosing the right restaurant as easy as making a phone call.
How restaurants can use dining apps.
Since there are reservation apps available, it helps restaurants that offer reservations to be listed on Opentable.com or Urbanspoon.com. Also, there are restaurant review apps available, so restaurant owners use that feedback and improve upon the dining experience to offer guests – smartphone users and non-smartphone users alike – the best possible experience.
8. Geo-Location Services
This is a relatively new technology. Using their smartphones, customers are able to “check-in” to particular establishments. Once they check-in, social media sites, like Facebook, tell that person’s friends where they are.
Why customers rely on geo-location.
Geo-location services allow friends to easily make plans and meet up. Rather than texting directions back and forth, smartphone users can simply check a person’s Facebook page and pull up a map to get where they need to go.
How restaurants can use geo-location.
Currently, geo-location sites use promotions and discounts to appeal to frequent visitors. Since geo-location services allow the company to track a person’s travel and dining trends, eventually the database can create a profile of each person who uses the application. This allows restaurant operators to hit the bulls-eye with their target marketing efforts. » Learn More about Target Marketing for a Restaurant
WARNING: Use Coupons with Caution!
A lot of restaurants start out their technology or social media marketing efforts by offering coupons. However, this is dangerous territory, because it can erode your brand value. Offering coupon after coupon will make customers not want to pay full price or think the restaurant’s offerings are not worth full price.
Coupons are a good starting point to high-tech marketing efforts as a way to drive traffic, especially during tough economic times, but as restaurant traffic picks up, use technology and social media to create brand awareness and make your restaurant stand out from the crowd.
If all this seems overwhelming, don’t fear. I will break each of these down in future blogs and online courses.