If someone mentions a conversation these days, it’s not necessarily something people are having in person, or even over the phone.

More and more, conversations are happening online, among disparate groups of people who probably don’t even know each other.

What restaurant operators need to know is that these conversations may be about your restaurant. That means, that whatever is being said–good or bad—is being said for anyone to read and is inescapably there, on the internet.

So it’s important to be part of the conversation, says Dr. Bill Carroll, senior lecturer at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y. Carroll spoke last October at the Cornell Hospitality Research Summit (CHRS), which among other topics, documented the hospitality industry's use of social media.

But how do you be part of the conversation? You have to create a community around your restaurant, advises Carroll. Have a Facebook page where customers can post comments—positive and negative ones. This makes it easy for you to track what people are saying and to respond.

If you get an unfavorable comment, address it immediately and publicly. Either fix the problem, if possible, or apologize. Either way, says Carroll, “your reputation is increased because you’re stepping up.”

Sometimes your response to a negative comment might spur another customer to indicate that their experience was positive, thus counteracting the initial post.

And if there are positive comments, thank customers for them, Carroll advises.

These actions only take a few minutes a day and can go a long way towards increasing customer loyalty.

You should also be keeping track of your reputation by using online tools to monitor your name. Even if you have a Facebook page, diners could be commenting elsewhere on your restaurant and as with comments on your Facebook page, it’s always a good idea to respond—especially to the negative comments.

Carroll offers a couple of other pointers on having an ongoing conversation with your customers:

  1. Have a blog, and preferably have your chef write it. “This creates an aura around the property or the chef and the ambiance around the place,” he explains.
  2. Make use of Twitter to keep in touch with customers.
  3. Let your customers know where they can find you, so use your existing formats—traditional advertising, business cards, your website, etc.—to let them know that you’re on Facebook, Twitter, etc.

By Amanda Baltazar

Industry News, Marketing & Promotions