Using technology to engage your restaurant guests
We’re living in a world where more and more F&B professionals need to consider their position on the tech playing field. Some new solutions are no-brainers – if you can install a smart dispensing system or more sophisticated POS/inventory management software, the benefits are obvious. But how can technology affect business beyond your back of house operations – for example, how your restaurant guests interact with your venue?
According to the National Restaurant Association, 34% of customers say technology makes them dine out more and 70% say that technology speeds up service in a good way. The modern day patron – whether in a bar, restaurant, theater, or arena – craves a different kind of experience: one that is both novel and more convenient. Let’s look at a few ways that technology helps guest interact with your venue and brand.
If you don’t currently have an online presence, now is a good time to start. No matter what type of business you’re running, it helps to have a website and some basic social media profiles set up. When looking for something new, consumers turn to the internet first. On top of that, they’re more like to follow an online referral from their peers – through social media or through a website dedicated to business reviews – than any other advice.
Social media isn’t just for posting – it’s a great way to listen. Even if you’re not talking about your venue online, somebody probably is. Make sure you’re paying attention to the good and the bad, taking note of what your customers enjoy most and what they think could improve. Use their suggestions to make your venue even better.
A great example of social listening comes from the restaurant Le Diplomate. As outlined in this article on Next Restaurants, “STARR Restaurant Group used social media to determine that its French cafe, Le Diplomate, would be a good addition to Washington, D.C. Yet after opening with rave reviews, Le Diplomate began to lose loyal customers.” How could they figure out where their new location was falling short? Through social listening. “Customers found it hard to hear each other while dining and took to social media to complain about the noisy restaurant. STARR Restaurant Group took quick action, adding soundproofing decor and insulation to the restaurant, and then announced the changes via social media with great success.”
With the numerous tools available to monitor what restaurant guests are saying about you on social media, it’s one of the easiest ways to kick your business up a notch. If you’re looking for suggestions, Hootsuite is a top contender.
Another great way to boost engagement on and offline is with well-executed contests. If you hold a contest aimed at drawing more restaurant guests into your venue, you can promote it on social media, marrying the physical location with your online brand. For example, host a contest that allows your target clientele to enter by following, liking, or sharing some of your social content. Then, reward the winner with a discount, free meal, or credit toward something in your venue.
One of the most effective strategies is hosting a “Fan of the Week” style contest. To set this up, post a rallying cry on social media asking your guests to take photos of themselves, their meals or something else when they visit your venue. Then, they can either submit the photos to you or post directly in their own channels. Allow others to vote on their favorites and reward the winner. Turning this into a recurring, weekly contest will boost loyalty to your brand as well as spread the word about your venue.
Social media walls
Social media walls have been growing in popularity recently. Essentially, a large screen is set up to display a live feed of social posts – most often Twitter or Instagram – from a particular account or revolving around a particular topic. Social media walls are another great way to connect your digital brand with your brick and mortar presence, bringing the benefits of social connection into the physical world.
While they look complex, social media walls are not difficult to set up. All you need is a screen or series of screens with streaming capability, using either a built-in app or plug-in streaming stick. Then, there are apps built to automate the feed. Screen Cloud offers such services and has a nice walkthrough on their site.
REWARDS PROGRAMS & CUSTOMER SERVICE
Technology puts a wealth of data at your fingertips, making it easier than ever to give your guests a top notch experience. We already went over how to use social media but there are a number of apps available designed to do everything from handling guest feedback to automating the reservation process, or even splitting a bill. Check out the list featured on Gather Here for some ideas.
Next, consider going beyond stellar service by implementing a rewards program. A well-built rewards program is fun for restaurant guests and good for business, adding yet another layer to your data set. Once guests sign up, you can track what they’re enjoying and use the information to tailor their experience even more. You can also build interactive functionality – from surveys to barcode scanning to games – into your own app.
Food News Feed discusses a good example of using technology to improve customer service and restaurant guest loyalty. “Mellow Mushroom has seen a huge uptick in mobile during the past 18 months. Their Share Happiness campaign offered an in-restaurant mobile experience where guests scanned the tabletop QR code to interact with each other via a series of conversation starters and trivia questions. An SMS sweepstakes gave those who purchased a Coca-Cola product a chance to win Mellow Mushroom gift cards or a grand prize trip.”
BRING IT ALL TOGETHER
Guests enjoy going out for the experience, not just the food. Integrating new technology in multiple layers is a great way to draw in new restaurant guests, engage them fully during their visit, and make sure they stay tuned into your brand between visits. The information you gather through social media, reward programs, and apps enables you to make data-driven decisions for your business and foster deeper relationships with your guests. The best approach will vary depending on your venue and your target clientele. Most of the solutions we mentioned make it easy to experiment so now is a great time to jump in.