What Running A Restaurant Taught Me About Social Media

Hand RollsMost of you probably don’t know that I’ve been involved in restaurants one way or another for the most part of 10 years. And while it was my least favourite industry to work in, I’d learned a few valuable lessons on human nature. I’m going to jump right in and share those lessons with you, in the context of social media.

It’s all about the customer

The  number one reason any business exists, is because of the customer. The customer is the reason we open restaurants and stores, to give them an experience and give them something wonderful that they’re willing to pay us for. In social media, it’s not about you, or what you want. It’s about your followers and your fans and what it is that you have to offer them.

Deliver on your promises

I worked for a seafood franchise for the last three years, and just before I left, we ran a special where we were selling fish and chips at a ridiculously low price, for one day only. It was advertised on radio, tv and in newspapers. Everybody knew about it and was asking us about it. The day arrived and we were swamped with the crowds that wanted their really cheap fish and chips. It was one of the busiest days we’d ever had. We ran out of stock at 6:30pm, with long lines of customers still waiting to eat. I had to announce that were out of stock. I went to the front of the queue and apologised to my customers, telling them we were out of stock of our fish and chips special. A lot of customers were upset that night, because we’d made a promise and we didn’t keep it. The whole queue dissipated. I was relieved because we could no longer handle the crowd, yet dissapointed because there were plenty people we hadn’t helped.

Of all the advertisements, the one placed in the newspaper was the only one that specified that it was until stocks lasted, and it was in very fine print right at the bottom. A lot of people felt tricked, and rightfully so. They felt we’d lured them in with the special, and then told them we we’d run out once they’d arrived.

If what your social media offering has terms and conditions, say so upfront, very clearly. Let people know what to expect. And make that awesome promise and deliver the best way you can.

Make complaints work for you

Needless to say, there will always be restaurant patrons who complain. Sometimes it’s justified, sometimes it’s not. Most times this doesn’t matter. It’s all about you addressing a concern that a customer has about their experience, or the product that you’re offering. This is your time to shine. Address the concern right away, and be genuinely interested in what your customer has to say. Thank them for their feedback. Offer them alternatives. I often  find that when customers complain and you address it directly and genuinely, they not only appreciate it, they become fiercely loyal and become your biggest fans.

Be yourself

When running a business, customer interaction is always important. It’s something that I do my best to teach my waiters, explaining that building relationships with people is extremely important. I taught them to be themselves and to give their customers their best so that every time the customer returned, they’s ask for a specific waiter.

I built relationships with customers and suppliers alike. And ninety nine percent of the time, we were talking about the day’s events, our families and our lives. I’d join them for coffee and we’d have a chat. The great thing was, I’d built strong relationships with not only the customers whom I wanted to have, but also the suppliers I wanted to have. After all, like attracts like.

Get people to talk about you

When we initially opened our store, business was very slow. So we tried using all the marketing tools to at our disposal. We noticed that there were a lot of elderly people in our area, so we decided to offer a 10% discount for pensioners. The majority of our customers ended up being pensioners, and because we were helping them out with a discount, the word spread quickly. Pensioners were visiting us more often, and they’d bring their family and friends.

You don’t have to be the biggest, but try to be the best

We weren’t the biggest or the busiest franchise in our group, in fact, we were one of the smaller ones. We were also in a rather quiet suburb. What kept the customers coming back was the fact that our food was really very good. I’d have many customers call me over and tell me that the meal they had in our restaurant was the best they’d ever had, even better than the meals they’d had in the busier franchises.

As much as I’d tried to incorporate social media into our store’s marketing campaign, it never really took off. The reason was that the majority of our customers were pensioners and social media wasn’t something they understood. Instead, personal interactivity became my medium. By focusing on being social in-store and face to face interaction with my customers, I slowly grew my tribe.

Sometimes online social media works, sometimes it doesn’t. Take a good look at who your customers are, rather than who you want them to be, and build your strategy around that.

  • João Paulo

    Hi there Aless, enjoyed reading your blog, and agree with what you say.. Keep it up.

    • http://socialmediction.com alessiolr

      Hey, Joao

      Thanks very much, glad you like it and can relate. And thanks for being the first ever commenter on my blog!