A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. Well, I know just enough about cooking and fine dining to be extremely dangerous. At home, I’m allowed to use the grill, the toaster and not much more.
Despite the reality that I’ll never be a culinary artist, I have developed a deep appreciation for well-prepared food and the service that is provided by top restaurants. I’ve met and gone into the kitchen with some of the Hudson Valley’s best chefs, and I’ve had the opportunity to watch them prepare many of their favorite dishes.
I’ve learned that the dining experience is dependent on many factors, including, of course, the quality of the ingredients and the skill of the chef in combining and preparing them. But other factors figure in as well, including the service provided by the wait staff, the ambiance of the dining room, curb appeal of the restaurant, the room temperature, lighting, noise, other patrons, and more.
Exactly what kind of experience people are going to have in your restaurant is dependent on all of those factors, and you had better be paying attention to each one if you want to be one of the rare success stories in this super-competitive business. But once you’re on the right track with all of those things, you also need to start telling people your story.
Yes, we all know of restaurants we loved that closed up because they weren’t surviving financially. It may not be fair, but to compete in this fast-moving world, you need to be able to tell your story online. Here are 7 things you should focus on first as you prepare to tell yours.
7 Things a Restaurant Must Know About Social Media:
Facebook – We’re long past the point where it makes sense for virtually every restaurant to set up and maintain a respectable presence with their business Facebook page. Even longtime social media skeptics are finding it hard to argue with the idea of signing up for a free platform (boasting around 150 million American users) that directs traffic (potential customers) to their website, phones and establishment. You will see examples of many Westchester, NY restaurants using Facebook successfully on the Westchester Food Facebook page.
Twitter – For the few minutes involved in setting up a basic Twitter account (also free), why wouldn’t you claim yours today? Your Twitter profile can tell people a little about your business and drive traffic to your website. Twitter is a great way to share stories about your business, get the word out about special events and offerings and to listen for what’s being said about your business and your competitors. Did you know that there are other individuals and organizations that frequently promote Westchester restaurants on Twitter? Check out Westchester Tourism, Westchester Magazine Wine and Food Weekend, Valley Table and WCFood for starters. Here’s a list of Westchester-area restaurants and other food-related businesses already on Twitter: @WCFood/WestchesterFood.
- Yelp and other review sites – Yelp is one of the first places people turn to find out what others are saying about your restaurant. It pays to be aware of what’s being said for a few reasons. First, you need to know if there is a legitimate problem that needs addressing. Second, if someone is saying things that are unfounded, you need to take steps to eliminate or mitigate the damage. Did you know you can “claim” your business location on Yelp (and many other review sites)? This allows you to respond to comments and get email notification when a review is posted. After claiming your page, be sure to review all information, including address, phone, business hours, type of cuisine served and all the other details to make sure there are no errors. As the business owner, you can now update that information and post photographs of your restaurant and the food you serve. And there are situations where Yelp will even remove an objectionable review (they will listen to your side of the story). Yelp is the most prominent restaurant review site, but you’ll probably want to get familiar with others like Angie’s List, Urbanspoon, Poynt, Insider Pages, Merchant Circle and CitySearch.
- Google+ – You’ve signed up for Facebook, so is it really necessary to get involved with the far less popular Google+? The answer is yes, especially for any business with a local presence. You’re probably aware of Google’s search engine dominance, and now Google+ has been integrated with Google’s local search. Your business will need a Google+ page to maximize its local search presence. After you’re all set on Google, you’ll want to claim your listing on the less popular, but still important Yahoo Local and Bing Local sites.
- YouTube – Restaurants are extremely well suited to take advantage of YouTube, and great news — creating quality videos is easier than it looks. Every item on your menu could be the subject of a video, and viewers get the opportunity to learn something as they watch your chef do his/her magic in the kitchen. Videos are also a great opportunity to talk about your philosophies on food or nutrition, show off your great dining room, or to highlight anything you think will create interest.
- Pinterest – There’s no excuse for a restaurant not to be taking lots of great photographs. You should be taking photos of your staff, customers (when they are okay with it), menu items and the restaurant itself. Pinterest is a great place to categorize and share these photos (you can also post links to videos), and if you develop a knack for creating compelling images, they will get shared (pinned) over and over again. Obviously, you can also share your images on Facebook and Twitter, too, and they can be used as you set up your review site profiles as well.
- Blog for your website – I deliberately saved the most important one for last. Your website is the only piece of web real estate that is owned by you, and you should work to add value to that property. On the web, value is created with quality content, and a blog is the perfect place to create this value. I’ve been in enough restaurant kitchens throughout the Hudson Valley to know that every decent restaurant has a story to tell, but most of those stories are being left untold. Blog posts need not be elaborate, but they should contain something — words, images or audio/video — in which your target audience will find value. For a restaurant, this could be a short article about the upcoming Fall Menu, some tips on how to prepare an everyday item like rice or pasta, or a well-captioned photo of the chef doing his/her thing. Fresh, relevant content not only makes your site more attractive to those in your audience, it will help improve your performance in search.
Restaurant owners should also regularly evaluate their online presence with a couple of relatively simple steps.
- Search your business on Google, Bing and Yahoo using a variety of relevant keywords to see what others see when they look for your business. Take screenshots and work toward improving the presence over time.
- Monitor important keywords using Google Alerts, Social Mention and Twitter search (all free) to remain informed about what others are saying about your business online. If after trying those tools and wanting even more powerful monitoring capabilities, there are numerous paid services available.
Creating the perfect online presence for your restaurant is a daunting chore, but start small and connect with others in your community for guidance. For example, in Westchester, NY, I manage the Westchester Social Media Facebook page, where content created by some of the region’s smartest social media minds is frequently posted. Join the community and ask for help in the comments section — you’ll be amazed at how helpful the Westchester social media community can be!
Chris S. Cornell is a public relations professional who believes that with a synergistic approach, businesses and organizations can use traditional and new media to build communities, grow audiences and increase revenues. An award-winning writer and photographer, Cornell uses quality content as the foundation for a successful marketing, social media and public relations plan. You can follow him on Twitter and converse with him on the Westchester Social Media Facebook page.