The restaurant business. It’s all about the mouth. Not just what’s going into it, but what’s coming out of it too. It doesn’t matter if you make the finest calzone this side of Calabria, it’s pointless unless people know about it, and that means you’ve got to tell them.

But what you really want is for your customers to do it for you, tell their friends, their families, their co-workers. Word-of-mouth is absolutely essential, and in this magnificent 21st-century world of mobile internet and camera phones, it can be done in thirty seconds with 3 swipes and a click.

Let’s face it, social media platforms are the new word-of-mouth. Your customers are potentially the most powerful publicity tool you have at your disposal, and all you need to do is engage them. But you have to do it right.

No-one likes being bombarded with adverts, massive promos and messages saying “Buy Me”. Engagement isn’t just about advertising and pitching to your potential customers, it’s about interacting with them and encouraging them to spread your message. We’re not saying you shouldn’t advertise and promote through social media, we’re just saying that’s not ALL you should do.

The most popular posts by far on social media, the ones that get the most likes, shares, and retweets and reach the widest audience, are pictures. In fact, a good picture posted on social media is 40 times more likely to get shared than any other. So how do you get your customers to do this? You’ve already started, in fact, because the starting point is your business and your product. You’ve got to make it look good on the plate, and you already do that, right?

social media and the restaurant business

That’s not all though. When people see that picture and think “Oooh… that looks good, where’s that?” they need to be able to find you quickly and easily, so make sure your social media accounts are properly set up: your name is spelled correctly, your location(s) are correct and your opening times are up to date. Even if someone isn’t sharing a picture of your delicious food, they may still want to let people know they’re dining at your place, and they’ll want to ‘check in’. That simple action on its own can start a buzz and drive people to look at your accounts, but if that customer can’t find you to check in… Well, you get the picture.

It’s easy to encourage people to spread your message. By that, we actually mean bribe. By which we mean competitions and draws. For example, say everyone who ‘checks in’ over the weekend gets entered into a prize draw to win a free bottle of wine on their next visit. You have 50 check-ins. Each one of those check-ins is seen by 100 friends of that person. You’ve just reached 5000 potential new customers (and ensured a return customer) for the price of a bottle of wine.

That’s just one example – hashtag competitions, best pictures, food related games, the stories behind your creations, tips from the chef, soliciting opinions. Just talking to your customers online before they even become your customers is a great way to give them a positive inclination to your brand. For your existing customers do things like sharing their pictures, thank them for visiting, ask if they enjoyed it, what else they liked the look of on the menu. It doesn’t need to be a hard sell, but it makes them feel valued, and a valued customer is a repeat customer.

social media dining

Bear in mind all this can be hard work and time-consuming – consistency and timely responses are key. If someone makes a complaint about a brand on Twitter, for example, nearly 80% of people expect a response within an hour, so once you’ve established your online following, you need to make sure you keep on top of it.

Social media isn’t everything, mind. It can be hard to give a real sense of your identity through social media – what is your place about? Is it up-and-coming and effortlessly cool, or is it cosy and romantic? You’re bound by the constraints of the social media platform’s templates, which is why you use that social media to drive people to your website so they can see the real you, and your real branding.

With 70% of internet traffic now being generated via mobile phones and tablets, it’s more important than ever to ensure that your website looks good and loads quickly on those devices too. There’s simply no excuse not to.  Plus it needs to be easily searchable. That menu that you’ve lovingly created and had impeccably designed for your tables might look fantastic there, on the table, but on a mobile, it’s not doing you any favours. Google doesn’t search through PDF files or analyse the text on an image, so when a customer is looking on Google for a king prawn jalfrezi, which is your signature dish, and your menu isn’t searchable, that customer is going somewhere else.

This all looks like a lot of work, and it can be. It might not be your forte, after all, you’re trying to run a restaurant, not a website. That’s where Merlin’s Mule can help. Think of us as your digital Maitre’D. The restaurant business is all about the mouth, and no-one’s got a bigger mouth than us. If you want to grow your restaurant and business like the big boys do, click here to get in touch.