Social Media has proliferated through every segment of our commercial universe during the past two years and has changed the playing field forever. Companies are scrambling to catch up to the wave and re-organize entire marketing departments based on the new paradigm of customer engagement. No where is this change more evident – and game changing – than in the restaurant industry. To paraphrase the Bard – Some restaurants get Social Media, some restaurants are catching up to Social Media – and, like websites (and I’m sure the phone at some point in history) some restaurants are going to have Social Media thrust upon them. If recent history is an indicator then those getting to the table last will mimic the last adapters of websites and throw a whole bunch of money at an over-priced agency to create something that looks flashy, plays some lame version of cool jazz, and is functionally useless.

Everyone needs a cogently targeted, efficiently managed Social Media campaign – however the specific requisites for these successful marketing efforts differ not only from industry to industry – but within those categories as well. Example: a sports bar that serves pub food, an Italian family restaurant, an upscale French Bistro – all restaurants – yet all have very different sets of customers that all need to be engaged differently. In the first case you can post and tweet what team is playing on the big screen and the special on chicken wings. In the second there maybe a family friendly special on the menu – or a deal for early diners. In the case of the upscale venue you want to engage your customers on an entirely different level. Post interesting articles about the menu and food sourcing, create a short video displaying the preparation of a favorite dish or even add a wine blog to your Facebook page to tell regular patrons about changes to the list – all great strategies for their specific venue, yet definitely mutually exclusive.

So – beware of all the one-size-fits-all platforms and applications that are rolling out almost everyday now. Start by either engaging a proven professional to access your specific social media program and make recommendations, or simply take the time to look and see which market leaders are doing the best job and take your cue from them. Chefs always eat in other restaurants to see what’s trending – you know your customers better than anyone, take the time to learn the best method for interacting and engaging with them.

You can’t catch up to the wave by simply buying the biggest surfboard – you have to paddle out and see what’s going on for yourself.