After more than 20 years in the business, Café Coyote enjoyed a great reputation and had a loyal clientele. Like most restaurants, this Old Town eatery relied for years on the tried-and-true methods of advertising and word of mouth to attract new customers.
But Laryssa Bentley, Café Coyote's marketing manager, was looking for a way to continue a relationship with customers outside of the restaurant, interact with individuals who weren't familiar with Café Coyote, and get the most out of the online restaurant review sites.
While different industries have had varying success in embracing social media, the restaurant industry has flourished in engaging customers and creating buzz through the use of social networking sites, group coupons and review sites.
Bentley realized early on that an integrated campaign was the best approach to social media. Here's a look at some of the tools in her restaurant marketeer's toolbox:
Location-based social media
Location-based social media like Foursquare or Facebook Places have proven their worth in engaging patrons and inspiring loyalty among a narrow band of customers within a specific age group. According to a Pew Research Center study, only 4 percent of those on the Internet use such sites or applications, and location-based tools are used most often by tech-savvy types under 40.
Buffalo Wild Wings, a national restaurant chain, used a location-based gaming platform called SCVNGR for a successful campaign in which customers were challenged to perform simple tasks while at the restaurant. Buffalo Wild Wings rewarded those who participated with prizes varying from T-shirts to the grand prize trip to see the NBA finals with Scottie Pippen.
Café Coyote has found that offering free appetizers to customers who share their location on Yelp, Foursquare and Facebook to be very effective.
Review sites can be a restaurant owner's best friend – and worst enemy. Yelp alone boasts 50 million unique visitors a month, and it isn't the only review site out there. Problems start when dissatisfied customers post negative reviews – warranted or not. People used to ask to talk to a manager if they had something to get off their chest, but now these complaints are done publicly online, and everyone can see the restaurant's response. Because of this, restaurants must be proactive in addressing negative reviews.
Café Coyote views Yelp customer reviews as an opportunity to interact with all patrons, whether they were thrilled with their experience or less than pleased.
"Responding to reviews on Yelp gives us the chance to thank our guests for their flattering comments as well as offers us an opportunity to reply to a critical review and try to turn it around," Bentley said.
Many restaurants have had tremendous success using Twitter for promotions and giveaways.
Naked Pizza, an all-natural pizza chain, dove headfirst into the Twitter craze, putting it before any other advertisements. They even bought a billboard to display to help drive traffic to their Twitter handle. For Naked Pizza, the time and effort put into this particular outlet has definitely paid off. According to a Naked Pizza press release, they "set a one-day in-store sales record in which 68.6 percent of sales came from customers calling because of Twitter."
Facebook stands out for several reasons, the main being that it is more visual. On Twitter, followers must click a link to see a posted picture. On Facebook, the restaurant can post the photo directly onto their wall.
Facebook also offers a sense of community. Instead of being a one-way information dissemination tool, or even a two-way dialogue between a customer and the company, Facebook allows customers to interact with one another.
But one of the challenges of creating this sense of community is actually building the restaurant's Facebook fan base. To address this issue, Café Coyote will soon launch an innovative campaign using one of the latest trends in new media tools: QR codes. Café Coyote plans to include a QR code on each table tent that will enable guests with smartphones to instantly "like" the restaurant's Facebook fan page. A QR code is a matrix bar code readable by cellphone cameras and other devices that can be embedded with an image, text, URL or other information.
Sites like Groupon and LivingSocial have become tremendously popular among retail businesses. So much so that some of these sites even say they have a waiting list of businesses wanting to get in on the action. Participating businesses offer discounts, often of 50 percent or more. There's no question that these promotions are effective in getting people through the door. That helps for exposure, but restaurateurs need to be realistic about the revenues raised by these types of campaigns:
Clearly, many in the restaurant industry, like Café Coyote, realized the benefits of social media early on and have leveraged the new technology to benefit their businesses. A National Restaurant Association poll indicated that 55 percent of the chefs said they are currently using social media for professional purposes, and another 16 percent said they plan to start using such channels. Programs often need continuous fine-tuning, and an integrated campaign with different tactics that support each other and effectively engage the target audience are typically most successful.