Thursday, 31 March 2011

How Twitter can transform your restaurant

I recently came across this piece by social media guru Peter Kay (not the comedian!) and I think it's worth sharing as many restaurants, pubs, delis and food producers probably haven't quite realised the power of Twitter and similar outlets. Food for thought.

Now there is nothing new and particularly bold in this statement, I grant you, but the environment in which we sit as judge and jury of all that surrounds us has changed dramatically over recent years.
These are changes many people in the restaurant industry are struggling to keep up with.
There are many factors that a restaurateur needs to skilfully manage to ensure their enterprise is a success. They need to work hard to ensure their menu is mouth watering, the service is excellent and the ambience is just so. These are all finely balanced to ensure and that every customer leaves having had a great experience and they go and tell all of their friends what an excellent place to eat it was.
A great dining out experience is underpinned by the understanding from the management that every element is a public relations exercise. A process that needs to be managed to ensure that valuable positive word of mouth is flowing and keeping those tables full of hungry diners.
If the chef was having a bad night or the service was particularly slow unless you had a food critic in the place the impact would be contained. The restaurateur could get away with an occasional off night but not so much these days as in the immortal words of Bob Dylan;
“the times, they are a-changing”
We all now connected in ways that ten years ago most normal people would have thought impossible; but the reality is now that anyone can publish and distribute information on an unprecedented scale with incredible ease. I am of course talking about the social web which happens to be a bit of a fascination of mine but it is everywhere these days, even in our pockets as we are sat eating out.
What this means is that, more than ever, we are constantly updating our status or tweeting. With the advent of the mobile web we can take pictures and use apps that share our location. Think about that for just a second, we are not only walking around with our entire contact book in our pocket but we can now send messages and photos to thousands of our loose connections with a few taps of a button. If you then factor in that anyone, and I do mean anyone, can search for that information then the mind boggles.
What this represents in the restaurant trade is both opportunity and risk. Opportunity, because if your customer is having a good experience everybody gets to read about it.
Risk, because if your customer is having a bad experience everybody gets to read about it.
In an environment where we can all share information about what we are doing, where we are and who is with us we are increasingly doing it. Twitter recently announced on its fifth birthday that over one billion tweets were flowing though its system a week. That's a huge amount of information and I can guarantee some of it will be about restaurants.
What this means to restaurant owners is that every customer sitting in their establishment should be now seen as a critic with their own publisher and a massive audience sitting in there with them.
A sobering prospect, but full of opportunity. Opportunity because if they manage it right they can create the conditions where this activity is focused and beneficial to the business.
Just imagine if you created the conditions where you actively encouraged your customers to be creative and tell you what they thought of their dining experience whilst they were still in the place but at the same time they were telling everyone on the internet. It would keep the place on its toes that’s for sure so service would always be good but it would also create lots and lots of digital word of mouth. Combine that with pictures and you’ve got a way to market your menu to the masses at a relatively low cost.
What I don’t understand is why I am not seeing much more of this happening. It might be because restaurant owners are too busy to worrying about social media or perhaps they don’t even realise it exists.
I know that if I were in their shoes I would be all over it.
Food for thought, methinks.

Peter Kay teaches businesses how to best meet the challenges that social media creates and turn them into opportunities. His Twitter handle is: @notfrombolton

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