The Socialization of the Restaurant Experience

Just yesterday I was talking to a friend about where to meet for lunch, when he mentioned that he never tries a new restaurant without first searching the reviews on Urban Spoon or finding deals through Living Social.

Not only did this remind me of a recent blog post I read about how one diner’s perception of his favorite restaurant changed upon checking in on Foursquare and reading a negative review, but I also recalled not being able to decide where to go for dinner recently in South Lake Tahoe with some friends who were visiting from out-of-state. As a result, my friends and I collectively spent the better part of an hour searching for new restaurant ideas via Yelp and other review sites from our iPhones before finally deciding on the local Tep’s Villa Roma for its positive reviews on TripAdvisor (combined with the fact that it was close to our hotel). To be perfectly honest, Tep’s is probably a place we would have never thought twice about had it not been for the positive reviews we stumbled upon. Clearly, social media is changing the way restaurants do business.

While there is no substitute for good food and a great customer experience in the restaurant industry, marketing is still an essential element for defining a restaurant’s brand, managing its perception, and facilitating opportunities for  growth and expansion. In the digital age, restaurants need to be a part of the conversations that are taking place about their brands online, have a plan of action for dealing with negative reviews and customer complaints, and be fully transparent, up-to-date, and accessible.

The Campo Case Study

Campo is a restaurant that recently opened in Downtown Reno, which was named to Open Table’s “Top 100 Hottest Restaurants” list this past March. According to the survey’s methodology, “The Diners’ Choice Awards for the Top 100 Hot Spot Restaurants is generated from nearly 5 million reviews collected from verified OpenTable diners between March 1, 2011 and February 29, 2012.” Simply stated, based on the number and quality of reviews received related to Campo through Open Table, the restaurant was instantly catapulted among the ranks of such popular, well-established, big city restaurants like Mr. Chow, Katsuya, and Tao.

While satisfying customers through great food and amazing experiences in person is one thing, responding to customer service issues online is quite another. Earlier in the year when Campo first opened, Bret Simmons blogged about his dismay when he discovered that the restaurant did not open according to the time that had been listed on their web site. To his surprise, the restaurant’s owner soon jumped in on the social media conversation taking place about his brand, and before too much time had passed Bret had returned to the restaurant only to be converted into a satisfied, repeat customer (which you can read about here in his follow-up post).

For more details about Campo and their social media strategy, you can read more in this post from Kristin Stith entitled “Social Media Humbles Mark Estee at Campo Reno.

Restaurant Marketing in the Digital Age

So, what does it take to be successful at marketing a restaurant in light of the digital age? To answer this question, I thought it would be fun to look at a few of my all-time favorite restaurants and see what they’ve been up to lately online:

  • Edgewood, South Lake Tahoe, CA – Even though I haven’t written many restaurant reviews, I love Edgewood Tahoe’s restaurant so much that I once wrote a review about it on Yelp here. With an average star rating of 4.5, the restaurant’s food, service, and ambiance speak for itself. Edgewood Restaurant is part of the larger Edgewood Tahoe brand, which you can find here on Facebook and here on Twitter. Their web site includes featured Yelp reviews, an online reservation system through Open Table, and the option to sign up for a newsletter, as well as a video introduction about their restaurant and 360 degree views of their interior space.
  • El Cholo Mexican Restaurant, Los Angeles, CA – El Cholo is a Mexican restaurant and LA staple that has been in operation since 1923. While the location is questionable, the restaurant has managed to excel over the years by catering to local celebrities, forming strategic partnerships, and most importantly offering popular items such as their famous handmade green corn tamales, doughy and decadent flour tortillas, and the “best margaritas in all of LA.” The restaurant has been consistently covered by local media and has over 600 reviews on Yelp. They have a Facebook page here. Their web site asks you to “share your story” and also offers online ordering and an online reservation system.
  • Miceli’s, Universal City, CA – In operation since 1949, Miceli’s is known as “Hollywood’s Oldest Italian Restaurant.” In addition to offering incredible, authentic food, the restaurant’s waiters and waitresses sometimes double as opera singers. Bottom line? Great food, unique experience, excellent customer service. You can find them here on Facebook and here on Twitter.

In closing, as with any business it’s always important to keep your finger on the pulse, but in the restaurant (or service)  industry, where success ultimately hinges on the opinions and expectations of others, proactive, positive, good old-fashioned customer service still works best. And what better way to manage a customer’s experience than in the digital space where positive conversations can be transformed into testimonials and negative discussions can be turned into real-time opportunities for recapturing customers and making improvements?

Now it’s your turn! What are your primary decision-making factors when choosing a place to go out to eat? How much of a role do social review sites like Yelp make a difference in helping you decide which restaurants to pick? How important is it that the restaurants you visit be active on social media?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s