Love it? Hate it? One thing’s for sure: social media is here to stay. As a restaurant owner, you may be asking yourself, “Why do I need a social media presence? Most of my customer’s come from word of mouth. My coupons in Valpak seem to be getting people in the door.”
While the latter may be true, I’m going to answer your question. You need a social media presence because that’s how most people find out about new restaurants these days. Even if a potential customer knows they are looking for your restaurant, they are still going to look online for reviews and directions on how to find you. The old ways still work, but they are becoming less effective.
Put simply, millennials will take their friends recommendations on a restaurant. However, if a group of them don’t know where to go for dinner, then someone is pulling out their cell phone to find a place on Yelp with decent ratings. Because googling restaurants is second nature for millennials, they have taught their parents to do this as well.
The internet and social media have nearly eliminated the possibility that a new customer will wander in off the street. It used to be a real possibility that someone would walk in simply because they were in the mood for pizza or Chinese and saw your restaurant serves the type of food they were looking for. Now potential customers will see your sign, wonder what other people think of your food, and look it up on Yelp with a cell phone. If your restaurant doesn’t have at least three stars or a nearby restaurant serving the same food has a better review, you will lose that person’s business. They won’t even bother walking in the door. They will just go on with their day, enjoying lunch at a different restaurant.
Having social media accounts and being internet savvy will mitigate some of this. Responding to bad Yelp reviews, allows you to give potential customers perspective. Maybe you got a horrible review from a customer who complained about a rude server and unfairly tore into your restaurant. You can respond with a message explaining your side of the story. Maybe this customer walked in cursing and insisted the chef make a dish your restaurant doesn’t have the ingredients for because it’s not on the menu. By giving an honest and respectful answer, you will win brownie points. Everyone knows restaurants get unpleasable difficult customers. Unfortunately, difficult customers also are some of the most vocal.
The good news is that most people don’t just look at Yelp. Someone who is seriously considering visiting your restaurant will look for a Facebook page, Twitter account, or Instagram as well. Facebook is where your fans congregate to praise your food and provide feedback on different events going on at your restaurant. Potential customers get to see your restaurant’s personality, which will win over some of those on the fence about visiting. As for Twitter, it’s not as effective as Facebook because you’re targeting a much wider audience. However, photos do well on Twitter. An easy way to get material is to share those stylized food photos Instagram loves on Twitter as well.
This advice won’t help you if people think your food is genuinely bad or your waitstaff is actually rude. I’m not Robert Irvine or Gordan Ramsey, so I can’t help you there, but it will help you if you’ve never thought to engage your audience in a digital space.