Courtesy of Swipely

Use Technology to Keep Hospitality at the Core of Your Business

A social media presence is now a crucial part of customer service

Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr…and more. News about the impact of these products is flying around at every turn. At first glance, they sound like a whole lot of new ideas all at once. But these are opportunities as well as, on some level, an obligation to your customers. Talk to them where they’re already listening. Here’s how:

Understand each service and stay savvy.

It’s probably safe to assume that most of your customers have a smartphone and understand basic technology. So you should use this to your advantage—before, during, and after their meal.

As a tech-savvy consumer, I expect to be able to go online to find all information I need to make a decision about where to dine. I want to look at a menu, reserve a table (when it applies), and read reviews, tips, and ratings. Some of these pieces of information, like Yelp reviews, will find their way online without your involvement. Other things, like your online visibility and basic information, require a little bit of effort—but it’s worth understanding these platforms that many of your customers know and use daily.

Online content travels... fast.

Digital content can spread far, quickly. One reason: breaking news and making announcements online makes customers feel like insiders. Look to other industries for promotion ideas—one great example comes from the quick-service space. Last year, Taco Bell used Instagram to announce its new Doritos Locos Taco flavor, which was smart for a couple of reasons: the menu items had large cult followings online, so Taco Bell went straight to its audience. Also, online social content is sharable by definition. Taco Bell simply let its fan base spread the word organically. It worked!

Small changes can yield big results.

A simple move of including your Twitter handle or Facebook URL on marketing materials, the menu, or the check shows guests you’re digitally savvy and connected—even if they don’t immediately engage online. In New York City’s East Village, Empellon Cocina subtly jumped on an Instagram trend, including a line on its menu that reads: “Empellon strongly discourages the use of cell phones, unless you’re posting food porn on Instagram. #Empellon.” (That’s also solid "two-birds-with-one-stone" messaging.)

When customers talk, listen and respond.

Leverage your online connectivity and take advantage of online feedback. Read reviews on Yelp and tips on Foursquare. Monitor Twitter “@” mentions and search Twitter for other mentions of your restaurant or a signature dish. Respond to comments and questions, especially if you notice a pattern.

No one has time to track and respond to everything, but there are tools available that make it easier; giving you the ability to track reviews across platforms from a single login, organize reviews by rating to quickly see the best and worst, and follow keywords—including items from your menu—to see what gets people talking about your business online.

If you encourage feedback about your restaurant, you need to participate in the conversation. Mario Batali does this well, selectively responding to guests and fans who share both positive and negative feedback. This is smart. Responding to only negative feedback can make you seem defensive or insecure; responding or promoting only positive feedback can make you look overly self-promotional.

Follow Through.

Social media is not superficial, and this digital connectivity is not a silver bullet. Opening a Twitter account and tweeting every few days does not a connected restaurant make. Listen for real, and when the feedback you hear requires making a change, make the change and share the news.

The opinions of contributors are their own. Publication of their writing does not imply endorsement by FSR magazine or Journalistic Inc.

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