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Friday, August 14, 2009

10 tips on how to market your restaurant (and what restaurants really think of food blogs)

We all dine in restaurants but what's it like to run one? Attending Restaurant 09 provided some insight into the challenges that restauranteurs face, particularly the topics covered in the Business Talk sessions.

I sat in on two sessions: "Marketing 101 - Ideas for surviving the down times"; and "Gen Y dining - Meeting their demands". The panellists raised a number of interesting points which I've compiled into a summary list below.

10 tips on how to market your restaurant

  1. Create a customer database so you can market to your customers. It's much easier to market to people who already like you than try to convert new business. Obtain your customer's details by using a business card draw with an appealing prize. Use your database to remember their birthdays, anniversaries, favourite dishes, likes and dislikes. Capitalise on building a relationship with your customer throughout the evening - talk to them if it's appropriate and take note of what they're saying. Few industries allow real-time feedback on customer experiences or purchase of goods/service. The database doesn't have to be complex - an Excel spreadsheet will do. The most important thing is to start one now.

  2. Communicate regularly to your customers. Avoid the connotation of spam by considering frequency and always including relevant interesting information. Provide details of upcoming special events, new dishes on the menu, or behind-the-scenes snippets - make sure there's something in it for the customer. Develop a personality, preferably authoring it from the owner or the chef. If you are not a natural writer, you should enlist some help. Implement a regular newsletter schedule so customers come to expect and look forward your email, rather than resent a desperate flurry of spam that is spruiking a one-off event. Marketing research has found that the best time to email is 10.30am-11.00am on a Tuesday, just when people are having their first break for the day. Mondays are too hectic as people catch up on weekend emails.

  3. Target your marketing. Generic advertising is a shotgun approach that has a high risk and low conversion rate. At best it will increase enquiries for Friday and Saturday nights - times you don't need customers. Instead target your marketing so people will come when you want them - on a Monday or Tuesday. Attract them by waiving corkage, having theme nights, cellar nights or hosting cooking classes. One restaurant organisied a special networking lunch on Tuesdays for local doctors and chemists in the area - it was hugely popular and effectively created a new market audience.

  4. Identify your marketing radius. Almost every restaurant has an area which is the source of 90% of their customers. Find out who they are and how you can look after them. This area is not always geographical - it can be an online community or a group united by a special interest.

  5. Talk to your neighbours and find out who they are and what they're doing. Investigate the possibilities of cross-promotion or whether you can work together on an event.

  6. Can you explain your business offering in one sentence? If you can't succinctly articulate what your business does or offers uniquely, then maybe your customers don't know either.

  7. Deal with your complaints. A complaint is not just a negative criticism - it's an opportunity to not only win back a customer, but to significantly raise their perception of your business to another level. Listen to their feedback and address their concerns. Respond personally. Turn their experience into a positive and people will be impressed. Wow them with your earnestness and they are likely to tell their friends and colleagues about what a great restaurant you are.

  8. Restaurants live or die based on the quality of their front-of-house. Good service can save a bad meal, but even the most amazing meal can't save poor service. Your customers should feel special, attended to, and believing their experience was above-average. Make sure your internal operations are right before you even consider marketing your restaurant. Your customers will soon find you out and not return. You will only end up wasting your money.

  9. Eat out to see what others are doing. Are you aware of what trends or changes are happening in dining? Could you improve your own booking processes by observing how others do it? Don't get stuck in a time warp - are you meeting the demands of today's customers?

  10. Remember young customers are your future business. Understand they are looking online (often on the street with their iPhone), they are less patient and they want real value for money. Attract them with value offerings like tasting menus or all-you-can-eat pizza on Mondays. Develop products that are more affordable or different - you don't have to discount. Create an experience opportunity they will enjoy. Tap into things they want or appreciate, like wireless access, Fair Trade coffee or cocktails - cocktails that always sell are the ones with quirky or exotic names and ingredients. Be inviting and polite. Treat them with the same amount of attention you would give an older diner. Don't ignore them or offer poor service. Understand that Gen Y are your future customers and they have the potential to be your best vocal advocates. If they are happy, they will naturally spruik you online and on social marketing channels. Tap into the online community, network actively and genuinely, use Facebook, get onto Twitter, start a blog and make sure you're listed on relevant iPhone applications like Urbanspoon. Be an early adopter of these online technologies whilst the market is still relatively uncrowded.

Panel members included David Wasserman, Stevan Premutico, Frank Wilden, Tony Eldred, Gawen Rudder and Astrid Rudder.

Restaurants and bloggers

Ahh that old chestnut. Discussion host Simon Thomsen raised the issue of food bloggers and asked the panel how they think restaurants view the rise of food blogs. "Some restaurants are angry" said one PR specialist. A few are upset about the poor quality of some photos which they think reflects badly on the restaurant. He said he knows of establishments overseas who have explicitly banned photography inside their restaurants for this reason. At the same time, he acknowledged there were lots of great photographs with food blogs, and that some bloggers work as professional photographers.

[I am always bemused to think that poor photo quality is seen as so threatening by restaurants. Does the restaurant's website have photos of their food? If yes, then there's no problem. Customers will always look at a restaurant's website as a first port-of-call (presuming they can find it on Google!). If the restaurant does not have a few photos of their plating style, then they probably should. Potential diners often want visual proof of how the menu translates onto a plate. Food photographs are usually the very reason people visit food blogs.]

One thread of conversation centred around bloggers not being professionals - they are not bound by rules or regulations. They are members of the public who publish to their own agenda. Some may be overly critical primarily to be notorious and attract traffic, but Simon pointed out that being controversial for the sake of being controversial is not unheard of in print media either.

A parallel was drawn between this new era of public discussion on restaurants--via Eatability and food blogs--and the introduction of TripAdvisor six years ago. When TripAdvisor first started, hotels were hostile to the notion of being reviewed by the public (an unqualified amateur public!) on an open forum. Today it is a way of life. It was put forward that retaurants, too, will have no choice.

[The irony that this topic was brought up during the Gen Y discusion was not lost on me. Whilst restauranteurs were encouraged to get online and interact with young people via social media, involving or at least accepting food blogs seemed to be a logical strategy. Not only are many food blogs being read by Gen Y, they are often written by Gen Y too. One person asked how to get Gen Y more excited about food, and to try new things beyond the usual fast food offerings. Food blog, anyone? The writers, their readers and entire networks of friends and online communities get more involved and engaged with food, spreading their infectious enthusiasm to others in a natural flow-on effect.]

There is a public perception that bloggers are independent reviewers and that they provide a scope of how common people are treated. Apparently studies have shown that if a member of the public is presented with an advertisement and a food blog review, nine out of ten people will favour the believability of the blog and not the ad.

It was pointed out that most members of the public understand how to use their own judgement when reading information on food blogs. They can usually get a sense about the background of the person behind the food blog. Most food blog reviews are not read as stand-alone pieces, but small parts of a bigger picture that creates an idea of the overall restaurant experience.

Stevan Premutico said, "Smart restaurants will work toward embracing them. Food blogs are a powerful tool."

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Food blogs finally in fashion
Restaurant 09
Restaurant 08
Restaurant 07
23 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 8/14/2009 02:22:00 am


  • At 8/14/2009 3:04 am, Anonymous Christie @ Fig & Cherry said…

    Wow, such an interesting event. I hope to catch it next year.

    Regarding points 2 and 3 - I can't agree more! Perhaps you'll allow me a little business plug?

    If there are any restaurateurs out there who require high quality email marketing newsletters/campaigns made by a food lover, please contact me at my company Morning Copy.

    Another great post Helen! :)

  • At 8/14/2009 3:54 am, Blogger Peter G | Souvlaki For The Soul said…

    I was wondering when this was going to rear its head again...very interesting points that are made in general. I personally believe this area will be an interesting one to watch in the next few years. I don't think food blogs are going to go away...I'm curious to see how this all pans out.

  • At 8/14/2009 8:04 am, Anonymous Esz said…

    Excellent post :-)

    I know that I much prefer reading a review on a food blog than from anywhere else. I rely almost solely on bloggers to find great new restaurants to try :-D

  • At 8/14/2009 9:42 am, Blogger Betty @ The Hungry Girl said…

    Interesting read! Everything said about the Gen Y'ers is true. Since I've started my blog, my friends have been more into food and they've been to places that I've raved about.

  • At 8/14/2009 9:43 am, Blogger Food lover said…

    Very interesting post. I started blogging mainly to stay connected with friends and share my dining experiences with them. Like me, most of friends here in Melbourne are from OS and do not have many restaurant references in the city. Every time I write good comments about a new restaurant, I'll get emails and phone calls later on of people saying they also went to the place and thanking me for the tip. I can hardly image restaurant owners being upset about amateur pictures when the posts attract customers to them - for free!

  • At 8/14/2009 9:48 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Really interesting post. As a food blogger myself, I really enjoy reading other bloggers' reviews. I take them with a grain of salt though; I have read reviews of places that I have been that I totally disagree with. Personally I only write positive reviews and will likely continue doing that to share my great experiences with people.

  • At 8/14/2009 11:20 am, Anonymous Jacq said…

    Great post Helen! I thought it was strange that restaurants would be most concerned about poor quality photos - what about what's actually being said about their restaurant?

    I know when I'm looking for places to eat the first place I go to is the restaurant website before looking on food blogs and eatability. It's always a bit of a disappointment to me when a good-quality restaurant doesn't have its own website in this day and age.

    Being a Gen Y myself and since starting my own food blog, I know many of my friends read it and have become more interested in food and eating out. And I tend to only post positive reviews and comments about restaurants so I would think that getting free advertising would be a bonus!

  • At 8/14/2009 11:57 am, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    Fantastic post Helen! Very interesting to hear that restaurants are angry about us bloggers. I've always believed restaurant is good enough and confident about how good it is then they shouldn't have any reason to worry about anything to do with bloggers and bad photos and all that stuff, because the quality of their restaurant will speak for itself.

  • At 8/14/2009 4:25 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Very stimulating read!YES for point 10! I say more All-you-can-eat-___ and the tasting menus ^^! Interesting to see what rests think of bloggers and I can see some of their points hmmm

  • At 8/14/2009 4:36 pm, Anonymous Arwen from Hoglet K said…

    Bad photos is such a strange complaint, since they're obviously the fault of the photographer. I'd be far more worried about the words!

  • At 8/14/2009 4:54 pm, Anonymous yygall said…

    Great points.
    One of the (perceived) pros of food blogs is the fact that they are written not by recognised food critics, but just as an ordinary diner, no special treatments. Good food, in my opinion, should have universal appeal to an extent, in the same way as music and art.
    I think forums like eatability and food blogs are a great check for diner (and restauranteurs) on a restaurant's consistency. I really dislike going to a restaurant based on a rave review in printed media, only to find that it's nowhere near as good as it looked in the magazine, or the taste not living up to the prose. Remember that opening scene in "My Best Friend's Wedding" with Julia Roberts? Yeah.
    What restauranteurs should realise is that, just like with food critics, each diner (and potential blogger) will have different tastes. Appealing to everyone is simply not possible, or feasible, right?
    And food bloggers will be armed with different equipment, from camera phones to top-of-the-line SLRs. Poor photo qualities probably won't deter blog readers from visiting a restaurant if the review was positive, and if the review was bad, no number of fantastic-looking pictures on a food blog will save that restaurant from going downhill. If it's good, then people will flock to your restaurant, be it by donkey-carts or private jets.
    It'll be interesting to see how the industry views food blogs in a couple of years time. Maybe, just maybe, they might embrace the practice then?

  • At 8/14/2009 5:43 pm, Blogger Simon Leong said…

    hi helen, great read. some interesting facts and details.

  • At 8/15/2009 7:25 am, Anonymous Ken Burgin said…

    Great post - I've just found your blog.

    Transparency will only increase - now you can even check from an iPhone app if the restaurant is on the NSW Food Authority's Name & Shame list. No hiding anymore! (search in iTunes store for NSW Food)

    Keep up the good work!

  • At 8/15/2009 9:09 am, Blogger lex said…

    hmmm I would love to debate at length about half the stuff in there haha where to start; but I definately agree with no.4 - finding and knowing your regulars to keep them

    For food blogs; why would anyone honestly whinge about free marketing? Unless the restaurant is really that bad...

  • At 8/15/2009 9:46 pm, Anonymous Simon said…

    Regardings restauranteur's point of view about bad photos, as I've mentioned in the past if they're concerned enough about such things affecting their business enough to ban it or go ballistic, they have far more serious concerns to deal with that they should probably focus their attention on. A single blogger with bad equipment or a bad eye should be the least of their concerns.

    Love the post. Found it very interesting to read :)

  • At 8/16/2009 1:00 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Christie - Am sure you'd enjoy the event - as long as you're in the country and not jetsetting around the world!

    Glad you enjoyed the post - I found the topic of marketing quite fascinating, particularly as I've noticed so many more restaurants using email newsletters and social networking, some with great effect.

    Hi Peter G - I agree, I think food blogs are definitely here to stay although no doubt they will evolve over time. Will be very interesting to see how things develop - I think the wheels are already starting to turn...

    Hi Esz - Thank you and thanks for your feedback. I do think that food blogs have a role to play in the landscape of restaurant research by average punters. Always lovely to hear when people confirm their endorsement of the value of food blogs too :)

    Hi Betty - There's certainly a flow-on effect I notice that I've had on family, friends and colleagues. It's so liberating to share one's passion with like-minded people and I think it does inspire others to share in it too.

    Hi Food Lover - Thanks for your input. I do find it odd that restauranteurs don't realise the value of online conversation or buzz that will feed into new business.

    Hi traveleatlove - I think that most people treat reviews with a grain of salt - as they should. One person's point of view is just that, but the value of a collection of insights is what's important. Plus it's always great to hear about suburban eats that would often be unknown otherwise.

    Hi Jacq - I agree, food blogs are so widely read because often restaurant websites are non-existent, lacking (or out-dated) in information (esp menus) and/or devoid of photos.

    Hi Stephcookie - It was said that "some" restaurants are angry, however I do think that others are catching on. The bad photo complaint is an interesting one. So often I see worse ones of the restaurant sites themselves!

    Hi FFichiban - Haha, it's a wonder you haven't thought about starting an all-you-can-eat odyssey "for research".

    Hi Arwen - It is a strange complaint. Isn't it better to be talked about, than not talked about it all?

    Hi yygall - I do think that food blogs have a grass roots appeal because they are written by "average people". Whilst it may be considered that we may not all have classically trained palates, neither do much of the paying public. I think this is why food blogs work, and you do find that the blogger attracts readers of a similar ilk, because they do have similar backgrounds, and presumably similar tastes and dining values as well.

    Hi Simon Food Favourites - Glad you enjoyed the post. I find this whole area fascinating.

    Hi Ken Burgin - I have heard of that iPhone app - it must have the effected restaurants very worried! Glad you enjoyed the post too :)

    Hi Lex - I think it's the lack of perceived control that restaurants worry about, without realising that the benefits probably far outweigh any predicted downfalls. I can't think of any restaurant that's had to shut down because of blog reviews, but can think of plenty that seem to have been buoyed by blogger buzz.

    Hi Simon - I think some restaurants tend to view food blogs as a sort of unregulated publishing anarchy. What's clear is that food blogs will continue to be published so perhaps those that take their heads out of the sand will be better off in the long run.

  • At 8/16/2009 8:05 pm, Blogger Suzie said…

    Thanks for the very interesting summary. I think that any restaurateur who thinks that the public (in this case bloggers) does not have the right to comment, does not deserve the public's business.

  • At 8/16/2009 9:40 pm, Blogger KY said…

    very interesting article. I still don't buy the whole banning photography inside the restaurant idea. Personally I've been rejected 3 times in Melbourne for taking photos in restaurants but none in KL or anywhere else.

  • At 8/17/2009 1:55 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Suzie - Perhaps restauranteurs should have more confidence in the quality of their product? And food bloggers are about celebrating food - having more of them gives the public an even broader spectrum of views and experiences.

    Hi KY - That's interesting that you say you've been stopped three times in Melbourne. Some colleagues have reported that Melbourne is much food blogger friendly than Sydney!

  • At 8/17/2009 10:51 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Interesting article Helen,
    im on eatability and i liked it because you can be honest on it.It's not overly accurate because there are often people on there with only one review and they seem either overly positive or overly negative.

    My conspiracy theory is its either rivals putting on bad reviews, or the good reviews are by the restaurants themselves. Ive encounter that by going to those with over positive reviews to only find it to be average at best, one place in particular which had continual good reviews closed down!!

    For me, i got the perception that most foodbloggers seem to give mostly positive reviews (then again why put a bad restaurant on your blog too) and thats why some restaurants love them and invite them to events, while one foodblogger which i have talked to and shall remain nameless give reviews and some are quite negative and that person doesnt get invited anywhere...........what am i trying to say? It goes BOTH WAYS!!

    I dont think restaurants got anything to complain about,its free advertising, like a lot of comments already,some food bloggers only give positive reviews......if there is some critism, then TAKE IT!!Maybe what they are saying are true, we've all experienced bad service somewhere,cant we be honest?


  • At 8/18/2009 1:26 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Sydneyguyrojoe - I agree, Eatability does have its limitations. People only tend to feel compelled to write something if they want to vent or whinge. I do think it's a resource that can offer some insight, although like any personal opinion, needs an exercise of judgement by the passing reader.

    I can't speak for other food bloggers but I know that these days on my blog, I try to maintain a theme of food discovery and celebration. I'm less concerned with critiqueing a retaurant's execution of a dish, and more interested in finding new places or giving an brief insight for other readers via my experiences.

    Everyone has different dining values and preferences. I think food blogging is generally about enjoying food and sharing every mouthful with others :)

  • At 8/18/2009 7:42 pm, Blogger PiCkLeS said…

    Nice post Helen, I'm frantically catching up on all my reading after a week in NZ.

  • At 8/19/2009 7:49 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi PiCkLes - Ah yes it's hard enough keeping up with all the posts by making an effort to read some every day. Sounds like you had much fun in NZ and you really must start up a blog again :)


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