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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Food Photography For Social Media – 9 Essential Tips

Photos – yes, of course you understand that pictures of food are an important part of any restaurant’s promotional campaign, whenever tweeting or posting an update about the menu, wine, or even a new cocktail, it should always be accompanied by a picture.  But you would be amazed at the number of restaurant owners that pay photographers for print ads and website layouts – and then post out-of-focus, badly lit, poorly framed photos of their menu on their social media sites for thousands of people to see.  There are famous restaurants in NYC, with chef-owners that are household names, that regularly post pictures of their offerings that are almost unidentifiable as food.

Here are several basic tips on food photography. Invest in an inexpensive point and shoot camera, just make sure it has a macro setting.    Shoot at the highest resolution from at least eighteen inches away – any closer and the autofocus is going to be useless.

  • Keep the Background Clean


Make sure there is a color contrast between the background and the food; avoid using the same color or similar shade for both. Keep the background simple and uncluttered. If unsure, stick to a plain white background.

  • Adjust the White Balance












Adjust the white balance on your camera according to what you’re shooting. Meat should always be shot in warm tones – a blue-ish tinge caused by fluorescent lights can make the dish look less appetizing.

  • Use Natural Lighting













When you can, try to shoot with natural lighting. Shoot during the day near a window where you would get plenty of natural sunlight. If you must shoot at night, avoid using flash directly on the food as it is too harsh. Instead, use a flash diffuser or have the flash bounce off a ceiling or wall.

  • Use a Tripod When Possible

Most food photography will be done indoors, where there might not be enough lighting. Use a tripod whenever you can as it beats trying to hold very still for a long amount of time.

  • Small Details Make a Big Difference













Don’t disregard the small stuff. Keep in mind that using nice cutlery and a clean serving plate/bowl could make all the difference in transforming a nice photo into a fantastic one.

  • Get Up Close













Instead of only taking photos of a full plate of food, take some macro shots too. Getting up close to your subject will bring out the textures and finer details, making it more interesting and intriguing.

  • Cut it, Slice it, Dice it!












As with anything, you shouldn’t just take something for face value. With food, sometimes it’s what’s inside that can create a great shot.

  • Take Photos from All Angles













Don’t just take a photo from a bird’s eye view, try different angles. Left, right, top, bottom. Feel free to even move the food around and come up with different compositions.

  • Use Props


















Don’t be afraid to jazz up the set. Maybe a bottle of wine in the background with your steak? Just remember to keep it simple – too many props can cause a distractions.

For post production editing I’ve found a great tool called Irfanview.  It features simple, intuitive tools for brightening and balancing the colors – and it’s free.  Remember – with a little attention to detail food photography isn’t difficult to do well, it is, however, all too easy to do poorly.

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