November 25, 2013 Last updated September 18th, 2018 1,866 Reads share

How To Fill Your Restaurant

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Food service is a huge, competitive business. The 

photo credit: nattu

Work the Web

I’m always surprised at how many local restaurants and other food service businesses lack even a website. Today’s diners want to engage. They want a website where they can check out a current menu, specials, entertainment, ambiance, and directions, but that’s only the beginning. A website alone brings your business up to 90s standards. To build a loyal customer base, you need to understand the market and hit them where they live online.

Red Robin

It’s hard to stop thinking about @redrobinburgers tweets

Mouthwatering Photos

Image-based sites, like Instagram and Pinterest are the perfect venue to grab your diners by the taste buds and make them want to visit your restaurant. Post drool-worthy pictures of juicy, luscious food and let your followers do the work. Mouthwatering food spreads faster than cute kitten videos on the web.

To make a big splash and keep the costs down:

  • get a professional food photographer,
  • set a bright, colorful stage,
  • have photos taken of every dish on the menu in one sitting. Include attractive diners,
  • beautifully set tables,
  • cooks in the kitchen (if your cooks aren’t model material, have the photographer focus on the food cooking so just the hands and chef’s coat shows in the photo).
  • Make sure you have a variety of backgrounds and table setups, and include all the parts of your restaurant, including outdoor tables and scenery.

Don’t publish all the photos at once; instead, load about ten at first and then put them out slowly as you gain followers.

Facebook and Twitter

Can’t beat the big two for social engagement. Pick a staffer or two to run your social media (or hire an expert). It is absolutely crucial to put someone you trust in charge, and to change the passwords if you think you might have to fire that person. The public voice of your online presence must reflect your corporate culture. For example, a sports bar and grill needs a person who is upbeat, clever, and sports-savvy enough to discuss games with friends and fans without getting emotional or upset over trashtalk or team losses.

To build your audience:

  • offer incentives
  • hold a contest for a free meal for four
  • free beverages on game day
  • or something equally attractive
  • ask for email addresses in exchange to build your email list.

Control your brand image

The scariest thing about the web is all the information out there that you didn’t volunteer for.  Sites like Foursquare, Urbanspoon and Yelp, where the information might be partial, incorrect, or out of date. Search for your restaurant regularly, claim the listings, and make sure everything is always up-to-date, especially the menu.

You can’t control bad reviews from dissatisfied customers, but you can respond and attempt to appease them before one incident turns into a vendetta. Good customer service and positive response goes a long way online.

ice cream sandwich

photo credit: roland

Stay on-trend

Keep an eye on what’s hot for the coming year. Andrew Freeman, CEO of hospitality consulting firm Andrew Freeman & Co.  had some surprising predictions about what’s coming next year. Hard to believe, but our national love affair with fancy cupcakes is over, replaced by donuts and  pretzel bread.

Before you jump on the pretzel bun bandwagon, however, consider what’s currently on the horizon…biscuits, teas, and…ice cream sandwiches? Sounds a bit like Sunday at Grandma’s, only with gourmet twists. One of the trendiest eateries in NY is Empire Biscuits, where you can order your down-home biscuit with pear & vinho verde butter or pineapple & thyme jam. They are so overwhelmed with demand that they can’t stay open 24 hours as intended. They keep running out of food.

Get creative!

Fusion foods are another trend going strong. Asian tacos, dessert pizza, crabcake sliders, and seafood macaroni and cheese have appeared on menus everywhere. It’s a trend that will be helped along by a new show on Spike called Frankenfood in casting now.

Follow the health buzz

There’s always some hot healthy trend out there, and the trending buzzwords on that front have morphed from low-carb to Paleo and gluten-free. Keep an eye on health trends via social media and keep appropriate selections on the menu.

Plum pudding - flambe

photo credit: Brian U

It’s not just a flash in the pan

Tableside flambe-style dishes are making a comeback. The thing about specialty dishes like this is they are impressive enough and rare enough to create a natural buzz. Investing in some unusual food service equipment may help you go viral – in a good way, especially if your social media feed includes pictures of unexpected tableside service.

Go Local

Finally, take advantage of every opportunity to put your food in the mouths of local people. Giveaway lunch for an entire office once a month, participate in food tasting and charity events, and contact the sports organizations in your area. Pop Warner leagues, for example, usually have about 500 kids…and their parents. Offer league organizers a kickback to the league, say 10% of profits on a certain night of the week or the month, and they’ll pack the house. Booster clubs and alumni organizations are always on the lookout for food deals –offer at-cost or no-cost wings for resale at games and they will happily respond with free, highly targeted advertising.

We’d love to hear any suggestions you have too in the comments below.


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Sherry Gray

Sherry Gray

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