It used to be that a restaurant could thrive with a few well-placed print ads and good word of mouth. In the age of social media, that is no longer the case. The current generation of diners not only enjoys their meal, they enjoy documenting it and sharing it with the world. Every second, 12 newly active mobile accounts spring up on social media, steadily adding to the 2.3 billion social media users currently operational worldwide.
The hospitality industry needs social media as much as it hates it. Most restaurants now have Facebook pages, blogs, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram accounts. Larger chains have entire departments devoted to social media. Some of the more unscrupulous companies post phony reviews on sites such as Yelp to maintain high ratings.
Social media has changed the way we experience dining out. Even if you don’t post, Tweet or Snap your meal, restaurants are adapting their products and services to accommodate those who do. The design of the restaurant’s dining room has been tailored to promote social media postings. Look around the next time you’re in a restaurant. Is there a large graphic or focal piece? It’s meant to promote folks to post to Snapchat or Instagram. Have you noticed more lighting directly above tables? All the better to get that perfect shot of your plate.
Social media affects how chefs prepare and plate dishes as well as the design of the dish itself. The more customers choose to share their photos of a restaurant’s ivy-covered patio, the farther that restaurant’s reputation reaches. It’s all free publicity, and “likes,” comments, and reposts extend that reach even further. Nearly half of those questioned in a recent survey claim they have learned about a restaurant through social media and a third of those surveyed had written or read online reviews.
Restaurants take advantage of the “check-in” features to do location-based marketing. Almost 30% of Americans use their mobile devices to search for restaurants. For example, say a consumer goes to the app Foursquare/Swarm, LivingSocial or Groupon to check on dining options. Restaurants using the app for marketing can offer perks or discounts to people who check in, thus encouraging others to dine there as well. Other restaurants go one step further, creating their own apps which can promote loyalty programs. In a recent survey, 46% of consumers said they would use a restaurant’s app.
Restaurant consumers happily snap pictures of their dishes and fill Yelp with their reviews, forcing the food service industry to adapt. It doesn’t matter whether those comments are informed and knowledgeable, on Yelp, everyone’s an expert! As my mother once said, “Opinions are like butt-holes; everyone’s got one, but that doesn’t mean I want to see or hear it.”
Restaurant owners have a love/hate relationship with sites like Yelp. Amateur food critics may bash a place because they couldn’t seat a large party without a reservation on a busy night. Restaurants know that a good Yelp rating is essential, a raise of one star in a rating can lead to a 5-10% increase in business.
“The PR agency I work for represents multiple restaurants, from fast casual chains to fine dining landmarks and social media is far and away the chief influencer,” said Diana Hanford, account director at Pierson Grant Public Relations. “Multiple five-star Yelp reviews or a timely post from an influential foodie with thousands of Instagram followers has an instantaneous impact and can sometimes make or break a new restaurant.”
According to a recent social media survey the following are five of the most influential consumer sites for the dining and hospitality industry:
Yelp - was specifically designed to rate and review restaurants.
Facebook - while it appeals to an older demographic, it is still a strong influencer.
Instagram - a picture is worth a thousand words.
Twitter - lends itself well to quick bits of information.
Snapchat - an even more real-time outlet, information that disappears after a few hours.
Of course, many restaurants have house accounts for each of these sites and interact with them on a daily (if not hourly) basis. In addition, Google+ and Periscope (basically a video version of Twitter) are essential in helping those in the hospitality industry promote their business and products. According to Julie Mullen of The Buzz Agency, “Don’t just post on social - respond to those who comment on your posts. We’ve found loyalty builds when a fan/follower feels like their comments were heard and responded to.”
While technically not a part of social media, blogs are essential for the industry. House accounts provide an opportunity to outreach to potential customers, but also influence local media coverage, including independent bloggers.
Although anyone can set up a blog, it tends to be a case of survival of the fittest. Those that know their stuff and know how to promote themselves garner the most hits. The more hits a blog gets, the more its influence grows. Some blogs are an outgrowth of other media (newspapers, radio, television) while others have been built, from the ground up, so to speak. Sometimes the blogger has a background in the hospitality industry, sometimes they are just an enthusiastic consumer.
While there are many bloggers in South Florida, it seems many focus on either Miami or Palm Beach County. The following bloggers either focus on Broward County or offer extensive area coverage.
- Rick’s Reviews, southfloridagaynews.com/food - If I may toot my own horn for a second; I bring 30+ years’ experience covering the restaurant and hospitality market, primarily for the LGBT press.
- Mike Mayo’s the Eat Beat, southflorida.com - This Sun Sentinel reporter knows his way around a dinner plate.
- Check, Please!, checkpleasefl.com - An off-shoot of the PBS dining review/cooking show.
- Linda Gassenheimer, dinnerinminutes.com - The former WLRN contributor now has “Food News and Views,” on AM 880 The Biz. She is not only an accomplished journalist, she is a two-star trained chef.
- Burger Beast, burgerbeast.com - This foodie has been around since September of 2008 and he also runs the Burger Museum located at Magic City Casino in Miami.
- Eater, miami.eater.com - The coverage is international focus, but offers good local coverage as well.
- The Plastic Spoon, theplasticspoon.com - David Fuertes primarily covers Miami, but he’s so pretty we put him on the list anyway.
- Foody Fetish, @foodyfetish - Yanni Georgoulakis has 2.7 million followers on Instagram because he makes food porn. It doesn’t hurt that he’s young and pretty, too.
Whether you are a consumer, a social media maven or a restaurant operator, social media affects the way you do business.
The bloggers listed in the story are only the tip of the iceberg. Check out some of these other locals, all with at least 2,000 followers.