Restaurant Social Media – Finding the Right Person For The Job

Social Media Restaurant Trends 2014

Social Media Restaurant Trends 2014

We have reached the point where everyone can agree that social media (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, and Whatever Network Appears In The Next Ten Minutes Before I Post This) is a critical component in any restaurant’s marketing strategy.  What no one has seemed to have done is clearly define whose responsibility it should be.  That is until now.

Social Media is as much a process as anything else, and while I hate the buzzwords that have obscured the issue (brand ambassador, engagement, influencer, conversation facilitator, etc.) there is no denying that the core of the issue is customer relations.  Therefore the person that becomes the online face of your restaurant must possess several indispensable skills:

1)      They must be articulate – and not just in 140 characters

If someone is writing about your food you need them to able to express themselves confidently and coherently.  Great literature no, remedial grammar abilities – yes!  Typos happen, but they shouldn’t become a distraction to potential dinners reading about your current desert special.

2)      They need to be knowledgeable

Whoever is tweeting or posting about your menu should know it at least as well as your servers do – if people ask questions they should know the answer.

3)      They need to be invested

And I don’t mean financially – the person must be invested in the success of your restaurant in a manner that extends beyond the next week, the next pay check or the next tip.  They need to be a committed professional that cares about  product and service.

4)      They need to be personable

Personality is an integral component of any dining experience – an engaging server can mean a big difference in check size versus one going through the motions – it works the same online.  We all know a limp handshake is worse than none at all.

5)       They need to be accountable

There has to be a chain of command where it is clear exactly who is responsible for social media marketing – and who they report to.  There are already too many cracks for this process to fall into – make sure everyone knows their role.

Okay, the next question is who is the person that fits all of these criteria?  Well, they are probably already on your staff – and they may not be the person you think they are.  First of all let’s discuss who this isn’t.

It isn’t the host or hostess.  Yes, I do realize that Jessica or Ryan is very personable, probably cute and no doubt perky, enthusiastic and likable (you hired them, after all).  However if you look at the list above you’ll see that they may not be knowledgeable or necessarily that articulate about food.  And they certainly aren’t invested or accountable.  While they may blossom into an eventual GM they could just as easily tell you they’re leaving for a week at Bonnaroo at the end of the month.  And while they may be extremely active on Twitter or Facebook, it doesn’t mean that those personal habits translate into marketing skills.  Looking good behind the wheel of a car doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to drive.

It is also probably not the assistant manager – the person responsible for schedules, seating, printing, reservations and pretty much everything else happening on the floor.  You don’t want your field general in charge of public relations – they’re used to prioritizing, and something called “Twitter” is going to fall off the end of that list faster than you can say “The ice machine is broken”.

It is also not the chef, waiter, back waiter or bartender – all of these employees might be willing and available, but will almost always fall short in one of the above stated qualifications (I know, I’ve tried everyone).  However, there is someone we haven’t mentioned.  I can also say that with almost four years’ experience developing the online marketing programs for the Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, as well as other prominent restaurant organizations, that this is the clear cut favorite for the position of social media manager.

Virtually every restaurant has someone in charge of Group Dining and Event Planning.  This may be a dedicated role, or the responsibilities may be combined with other promotional efforts, but in general it’s going to be someone that possesses the requisite skill set.  The catering manager is going to know the menu – they have to sell it every day – and they are going to be able to speak about it intelligently and confidently.  They are going to be personable and skilled at marketing – they are probably working on some sort of commission.   They are going to be invested in the success of the restaurant because it benefits them both monetarily and professionally – and they are going to be accountable, they are probably already an important person in the chain of command.

However the most important part of this role may be one I haven’t mentioned – consistency.   It is important to not only appoint the current group dining or catering manager social media point person – it is critically imperative to make it part of the job description.   And anyone applying for such a position in this age of constantly evolving social networking should already have those skills – you don’t hire the sous chef hoping for on the job training.  This will ensure that you won’t find yourself searching for passwords or logins – responsibility for account maintenance will be handed off the same way it is in the kitchen and on the floor – qualified personnel in the right place to do the right job.

Now, before I get a lot of unhappy comments from devoted hostess tweeters and bartender bloggers – this does not mean that other people on your staff are automatically unqualified or unprofessional.  For instance – Anthony Sasso, Chef at Casa Mono/ Bar Jamon, is engaging and informative when writing about his menu, and he also takes the most amazing food pictures I’ve ever seen – but that is very much the exception to the rule.  Social Media Marketing Admin is an increasingly vital position in any marketing campaign, and the position is one that needs to be consistently executed at the same level of competency expected from any other position on your staff.  Any other approach is a sure recipe for, are you ready, failure.

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Going Mobile – Why Your Restaurant Needs To Be Smartphone Accessible

OTTO_with_IPHONE4(1)Mobile – Easily the most important trend this year – it is also the one that offers the biggest opportunity.  Here’s the skinny – mobile internet use in the U.S. is set to overtake wired use by 2015 – and this shift is happening even faster for social media.   To quote Facebook in last September’s quarterly SEC filing: “[We] anticipate that the rate of growth in mobile usage will exceed the growth in usage through personal computers for the foreseeable future.”  What does this portend for the hospitality industry?  Think it’s an accident that Google lists restaurants and bars on their smartphone browser and not on their desktop version?  It is now estimated that 45% of all restaurant website traffic is mobile generated – and that number is not only growing, but also skews upward for a younger demographic with a relatively large discretionary income.

This means that if your site is not mobile ready at least three out of ten visitors will find it useless – and that’s not even the worst part.  If someone is browsing from their smartphone and cannot access your site they are going to go to the next option – which is guaranteed to be a review site, such as Yelp or Zagat.  Besides the fact that there is no surety that the info those sites provide will be correct or up to date, you are also subject to the whims of your restaurant’s latest reviewer.  Not an attractive scenario – but one that is, happily, easy to remedy.

There are many online services that can easily create a mobile version of your site.  With the addition of a few lines of code to your existing website it will then be automatically loaded when your site is displayed on a small screen device.  These services range in price from free (ad driven) to a monthly fee structure that can be scaled to a single store or restaurant group.  Consult with your IT provider to determine which service is best for you – it may even be included in your web hosting plan.   Minimally the mobile page should include: Hours of operation, contact info, map link, menu link, click-to-call button, Open Table link and social connectivity.

A small investment in time and money can leap-frog you ahead of the competition – especially the restaurant sites with the extensive Flash-based slideshow of Venice and the Tony Bennett soundtrack that takes ten minutes to load.