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Social Media Influence on Restaurant Patrons

Caught an interesting article on VegasInc.com about social media in the restaurant industry and effective it is in attracting customers. You might be surprised by some of these findings. I was.

  • adults who use Instagram has doubled in two years from 13 percent in 2012 to 26 percent in 2014
  • 62% of Americans say social media has no effect on buying decisions
  • the average restaurant has a mere 3 percent engagement rate on social media
  • social media, online reviews tend to have a greater effect on smaller, higher end restaurants

The article goes on to bash Yelp, calling it the yellow pages with pictures and that most of the reviews lack substance with more focus on smaller, personal things vs. the food or the service. We’ve talked a lot about Yelp this year and most of the feedback about Yelp from restaurant operators tends to be negative.

While social media seems to be less effective in restaurants, what they found works best is old fashion schmoozing and coupons.

  • inviting people to try food
  • boast about your staff
  • make regulars feel special when they show up
  • stand behind your product
  • ask guests to come back and bring their friends
  • 90% of people said a coupon will influence their buying decision
  • 78% said word of mouth will influence their buying decision

The article concludes by saying that you need to know your audience. A lesson here can be taken from JC Penny when tried to go the Nordstrom route and not have any sales. It flopped big time. Their clients are accustomed to sales and deals so when that stopped so did the shopping. They quickly changed back. Know what your customers want and make sure you give it to them.

I have copied the full article below.

If you build it — a social media bridge to restaurantgoers — they will come, right?

Not so fast.

Social media is all the rage: The Pew Research Center reports adults who use Instagram has doubled in two years from 13 percent in 2012 to 26 percent in 2014.

But a majority of Americans — 62 percent — say social media has no effect on their purchasing decisions. In the restaurant industry, the Sprinklr Social Business Index reports the average restaurant has a mere 3 percent engagement rate on social media.

That means restaurants would be better off ratcheting down their social media expectations and connecting with consumers offline. Offline word-of-mouth, from face-to-face or phone conversations, has a significant advantage (50 percent vs. 43 percent) over online interactions with respect to purchase intent, a Keller Fay Group TalkTrack study found.

The good news is there are lots of ways to engage customers offline, including stellar food and service, loyalty programs, friendly hosts and servers, charity work and community involvement.

The perks and pitfalls of social media

Armand Iaia, regional manager for the Chicago-based restaurant consulting firm Cini-Little International Inc., says social media messages often are perceived as just another form of advertising.

“Many people are immune to this kind of advertising and do not pay attention to it. I don’t,” he said.

But Gary Worden, a restaurant operator and publisher of Restaurant Startup and Growth magazine, said social media can play an important role for smaller restaurants. Good reviews can boost business.

“Independent restaurants particularly seem to generate a good number of reviews that can have an effect on prospective guests and guest visits,” Worden said. “The higher the restaurant menu prices or if the guest has friends or a special occasion, the more influence the social media reviews can play a role.”

Examine the source

Still, “while social media will influence people and help or hurt the innocent, I say examine the source,” said Steve Nachwalter, CEO of the Nachwalter Consulting Group in Las Vegas. “In human decision-making, there are always internal representations made in regard to how each individual receives and processes information.”

Yelp, which publishes crowd-sourced reviews about businesses, by definition is subjective and therefore can harm businesses if reviews are negative — even if they are unfair.

“Logically, we can’t punish the chef for a mistake the waiter made and subsequently bash a restaurant that has amazing food,” Nachwalter said. “In the same vein, a less-than-great place receives five stars because the hostess is hot or because the greeter made them feel special.”

Nachwalter said he viewed Yelp as “an online Yellow Pages with photos.”

“I don’t pay too much attention to individual reviews because I’ve seen too many unprofessional and untrue reviews,” he said. “I’m not in a position to judge people one way or the other, but I am intelligent enough to know when someone is bashing a place over personal nonsense.”

What can be a more effective method of attracting and maintaining customers is schmoozing.

Restaurant owners “should invite people to try their food,” Nachwalter said. “People are visual, so show pictures. Talk about your staff, make them real and personal. Stand behind your product and make everyone aware of your presences in the space. Make regulars feel special. Make a big deal when they come in. Mention bringing their friends. Ask directly for referrals.”

Employees can help if they have been trained on how to connect with customers and how to give them the experience they want.

“It all starts at who represents your brand,” Nachwalter said.

Explore the workplace

Whereas digital advertising appears to do little to influence consumer dining decisions, customers have a harder time turning down rave reviews or good deals.

Almost 90 percent of people surveyed by WorkPlace Impact said a good old-fashioned coupon influences them, while 78 percent said word of mouth did.

Since Americans spend a large share of their lives at work, the workplace becomes a natural venue for people to share opinions, experiences and recommendations with co-workers — including about where to eat.

“A lot of the decisions (people) make about dining are made while at the office,” said Tara Peters, director of marketing at WorkPlace Impact.

Peters’ firm helps restaurants reach workers during the workday with the goal of attracting new customers.

“When we are running a marketing program for a restaurant client, we will send their materials to businesses close to their restaurants” and have employers hand out coupons to workers, Peters said. “Employers in our network love giving their employees these perks. ”

Know your audience

Despite the power of face-to-face interaction, restaurants aren’t about to abandon social media, which means it is important owners learn to view it accurately and use it wisely.

Making social media more effective comes down to knowing your audience, Nachwalter said.

“The top restaurants don’t offer coupons, just like heart surgeons don’t offer two-for-one,” he said. “Decide what your audience wants, and give it to them.”

Restaurateurs also have to take negative comments in stride and trust people will see through insincere reviews.

Nachwalter recalled one eatery with amazing reviews.

“There was still a lady who did not love it,” he said. “Her reason was because, even though she loved the food, the flower they make out of gelato did not look floral enough. So she gave them one star.”

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