Social media & location: a restaurateur’s recipe


I recently had a conversation with restaurateur who has been tasked with creating the social media strategy for several restaurants. It was an interesting talk. I’ve had no exposure to this business model other than sitting down to eat or waiting tables as a youth. We talked about the specifics around this business model and I thought it made for an interesting post. It’s also a recommendation as to how to go about creating the social side of a restaurant.

First lets set the record straight on what a restaurant is; it’s a community. It’s a community with people serving different functions. We have the patrons, the wait staff, the kitchen staff and management. If you’ve read Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain (and yes. Yes you should. Awesome book!) you will get a feeling for how different the wait staff and the kitchen help is. (You could so far as to define the bus staff, but I’m trying to keep this as simple as possible because it’s about to get messy.)  Each of these groups is a sub-community and should be handled in different ways.

First, let’s talk about the patrons. They participate by coming in to eat. Most people who eat out, eat at the same restaurants to a varying degree. They may not know each other but they know the place (location) and the wait staff and potentially the cooks. The easiest way to for this business to reach out to the patron community is by creating a Facebook fan page and a twitter account. These are two separate mediums so it’s okay to pump your twitter feed into Facebook but don’t rely on Twitter as the only method of updating Facebook. I’d use Twitter to announce specials and desert specials! (The kids love the SUGAR!)  I’d use Facebook to talk about the menu, live bands and get feedback on every aspect of the dining experience. “If you want to know how clean the kitchen is; take a look at the bathroom.”. Also, with the explosion in virtual goods on Facebook, it’s recommended that you create a virtual dish (that lives on your menu) that patrons can buy/share online. Also you could have them, “bring them in”, printed out (eventually on their mobile) as a coupon.

Also, as many of you know, mobile computing is happening and one of the key aspects is location based services. There’s an excellent post about preparing your business for geo-location here and some of the items are listed below.

  1. Make sure you educate yourself about geo-location services such as Foursquare, Gowalla & Brightkite. Check these companies to see where you’re already mentioned. Trust me. Someone has checked in to your business using more that one of these services. Foursquare has information for businesses partnering with their service here. I didn’t see anything for Gowalla and Brightkite as far as partnering with businesses but they’ll get there. Also, Facebook is going to get into the check-in fever that’s happening later this month.
  2. Make sure your business is on Google maps and your place is configured on Google Places. What’s Google places you ask? Look at the search results for Osaka Sushi (specifically the link labeled ‘Menu, hours and more‘) and Pasquini’s. You can see that Osaka sushi has entered their restaurant profile to provide a much more robust information set. Pasquini’s has the standard search results and does not offer much more than basic information. As a business you need to do this so people can find out about you. On the Internet and the mobile internet. Mobile searches will take your location into account. Also, recently, Google’s Favorite Places has businesses using QR codes to provide additional information about the business when someone scans the QR code with their smartphone.  Once the user scans it with their smartphone (Yes. There is an app for that. Several in fact.) they are taken to a URL with information about the business . This information could be a live band schedule or a coupon. Anything.
  3. Make sure that you’re spending the right amount of money on mobile advertising. The search kind. NOT the banner kind. Banner’s don’t work and search is going to be where it’s at until situational advertising (location, time, behavior) happens.
  4. Work to create a dish desired by Foodies. Foodies are people who love the experience of you guessed it; food. Just as you meet people who love movies and music, some love food. I recommended a dish and not the entire menu due the size of the undertaking. Not every item on you menu will be worthy of love. One of the best ways to find foodies is Twitter is WeFollow and you’ll find these foodies listed. As always, after you follow them; listen to them. You’ll get a feeling for the subject matter, the rhythm of the conversation and who plays what part in the conversation. Obviously it’s best to spend some time listening before contributing.
  5. Create a customer loyalty program that sends out emails and SMS messages talking about the same types of things mentioned on Facebook and Twitter. (Email = Facebook, SMS = Twitter.)

All of these things will help your business be found/discovered online/mobile and things like SEO also need to be considered.

Now for the manager. As a restaurant manager, I may organize Tweetups for off-hours gatherings.  As a manager, I would check to see if they’re on the niche social network for restaurant workers, FohBoh (Front of the House, Back of the House). This would be a great way to deepen the relationship with them in the appropriate context; as a restaurateur and his colleagues. For those workers that I feel close to, I would friend on Facebook. If they don’t reciprocate; don’t take it personal. Make sure you don’t invite the work world to be your bestest friend. Kinda creepy. As for keeping the business side of the house running efficiently I would look to LinkedIn groups like Culinary Industry Professional Group or some other group that matches the your organization. If there isn’t one specific enough – start one and share with your professional friends. I would also look at LinkedIn as a resource with the Learning Center. I would also look to this as a way to show your subject matter expertise. What information can you add that shows others you know what you’re talking about? This will help connect you to like-minded people.

As for the kitchen staff, the ethnic make-up of kitchen staff over the years has changed to be predominantly “non-white”. Also, the ethnic make-up of social media utilization is changing rapidly with non-whites becoming avid social media users. Outside of ethnicity, the kitchen has it’s own culture. The staff will interact with one another after hours if they choose and as a restaurateur, I would encourage them to use social media any way they see fit. If they want to share menu ideas on Facebook with the fans; let them. If they want to tweet about how busy the rush was; let them. If they’re inclined, they’re going to be talking about work anyway. Why not harness it. Also, you can ask them to do it but you can’t make them. Depending on the type of restaurant you’re running you may want them to have niche celebrity and a robust personal brand. Up to THEM. Not you.

The wait staff is a just as much a separate organism as all the rest of the sub-groups listed. My opinion is they’re more mobile that most. They may choose to utilize Foursquare to share venues with coworkers/friends and I can easily see them using Facebook check-in when that happens later this month. You may chose to participate as a peer or you may stay completely out of the interaction. Remember, social media is a representation of who you are and you’re not obligated to do participate.

These are some of the things I would consider if I was starting a restaurant.

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