Above the Fold restaurant marketing
by DOUGLAS D. STUCHEL | ASSISTANT PROFESSOR AT THE CENTER FOR FOOD & BEVERAGE MANAGEMENT IN THE HOSPITALITY COLLEGE
AT JOHNSON & WALES UNIVERSITY
The restaurant business has traditionally relied on word-of-mouth advertising as a method of marketing and to drive repeat business. Historically, this exchange has resulted directly from conversations amongst friends and acquaintances who have recently dined at a particular restaurant.
The advancement of technology, though, has prompted modern society to rely more and more on such mobile applications as Urbanspoon, Foodspotting, and OpenTable to guide them in their quest for dining options. It used to be said that if you had a bad meal at a restaurant, you’d tell approximately ten friends about your experience. Today, one bad online review can reach hundreds of potential customers in real-time, thereby influencing their dining decisions and immediately impacting a restaurant’s bottom line.
Recognizing this growing trend, technologically savvy restaurateurs have begun to promote and market themselves instantaneously through the use of social media, blogs and smartphone applications. Capitalizing on new advances in technology, current and future restaurateurs alike are challenging preconceived notions of what it takes to establish, promote and operate a restaurant. If your customers aren’t tweeting about their experience, liking your restaurant on Facebook, or posting photos of menu items on Pinterest, you are losing a valuable market segment comprised of young, tech-savvy customers with an ever-increasing desire to eat out and socialize with their friends.
Customer preferences are changing. Virtual menus adopted by such establishments as the Grand Met restaurant at the Grand Hyatt Dallas Fort Worth offer guests an interactive, touch-screen tour of the menu, detailed food descriptions and chef-recommended food and beverage pairings. The virtual menus are available for dinner service only and do not at all infringe on the first-class service provided to patrons by the Grand Met’s wait staff. Rather, the virtual menus are simply a new option intended to enhance the overall dining experience of Grand Met’s guests. After a guest completes their virtual menu tour, a personal server is on-hand to offer further recommendations and answer any questions.
Another innovation is the use of Twitter by mobile restaurants, whose teams will broadcast their next location to their online followers. Food trucks sell niche menu items ranging from cupcakes and sushi to vegan dishes and everything in between. Food & Beverage Management seniors at the Johnson & Wales North Miami campus responded to the food truck trend for their capstone project, operating their own mobile restaurant for a day. The introduction of food trucks on campus was so successful that several trucks now drive through campus every Thursday, offering unique cuisines to students and the community.
Pop-up restaurants, yet another restaurant trend, rely almost exclusively on social media for promotion, as they will only be at a specific location for an evening or two. In the pop-up environment, chefs set up temporary kitchens and serve hip, locally-sourced meals in any location deemed safe to cook and serve food. Menus are typically prix fixe and offer few or no substitutions to customers. Some chefs see pop-up restaurants as an opportunity to generate the revenue necessary to open their dream restaurant, while others simply like the challenge of offering completely different menus in exciting locations for a short period of time.
Doug Weiler, a 2009 JWU graduate and one of the chefs and owners of Lost and Found, a pop-up restaurant located in the Long Island area of New York, focuses on menus that offer healthy, Long Island-grown and locally foraged ingredients. Chef Weiler and his partners use Facebook, Twitter and its website to build buzz about their food and the unique, exciting and innovative locations in which they serve it. One recent stand-out location was the Lali Lali Salon Gallery in New York City, where Lost and Found was part of a book launch for famed photographer Denis Piel in October 2012.
The restaurant trends discussed here suggest that physical structure and location are no longer as important to a restaurant as is its ability to promote good food through both traditional and innovative methods. But what’s next? What are some future trends in restaurant marketing?
Look for restaurants, especially high-end ones, to start promoting smartphone applications and websites that allow the customer to order from an online menu, like the very successful tracker website introduced by Domino’s Pizza. However, unlike the pizza giant’s menu options, expect your gourmet items to be packaged in eco-friendly, reheatable containers.
Also look for new and creative apps that incorporate social media into the marketing mix. “Gratafy” is one such smartphone/social media application; recently launched, it lets you buy and pay for a round of drinks, food items, a game of pool or even comedy tickets for your friends over the web. This online service is sure to entice customers to visit a restaurant or venue that they otherwise may not have considered going to before. Think about it—would you pass up a free meal?
To view the Grand Met’s virtual menu description, please visitwww.hyatt.com/hyatt/images/hotels/dfwgh/TheVirtualMenu.pdf.
To locate Lost and Found, like them on Facebook:facebook.com/LostAndFoundPopup, follow them on Twitter:@lostandfoundpop, or go to their website: www.lostandfoundpopup.com.