Digital restaurant: How to extend your reach with online innovations

By Luke Nicholls

- Last updated on GMT

The likes of social media, online advertising and mobile loyalty apps allow businesses large and small to reach out to increasingly digital-savvy consumers. But how can these ‘digital innovations’ be used in the most effective ways to impact your restaurant’s bottom line?

This was the underlying theme of last week’s Digital Innovation Forum,​organised by BigHospitality and Restaurant magazine to help big national chains, high-profile chefs and small emerging brands prepare for the digital future.

In this short podcast, we spoke with some of the speakers and delegates at the event to find out just how important these various digital channels are for restaurants, and how they should each be used to drive sales.

Social media

The half-day event began on the subject of social media. The potential benefits of a strong following on the likes of Facebook and Twitter are fairly obvious and many operators have dully jumped straight in. But, despite being in such a fast-moving world, it’s important to remember an age-old saying: Fail to plan, plan to fail.

So said speaker Susanne Currid, founder of digital marketing and social-media consultancy The Loop. Currid explained that a bit of variety is needed, whether it be photos, videos, competitions or exclusive special offers – things that engage those followers and potential customers.

If you’re looking to develop your presence on social media and you’re particularly unsure about anything then BigHospitality can help.

Our #SocialRestaurant​article earlier this year explained the most effective ways that a restaurant can use Twitter, while our four-part Special Feature​on the various forms of social media provides you with all the details you need to make the most of each channel.

Online advertising

As the variation of speakers and businesses at the Digital Innovation Forum proved, being ‘digitally innovative’ isn’t just about using social media. There are other innovations you should also be thinking about.

Ignite-Hospitality
Sam Trainor-Buckingham, marketing director, Ignite Hospitality

Sam Trainor-Buckingham, marketing director at hotel and restaurant consultancy Ignite Hospitality, spoke of the opportunities and benefits that digital advertising can have for a restaurant.

He explained that the two digital channels of social media and advertising can, if used effectively, be a marriage made in heaven. 

"Whenever you're looking at a digital strategy - no matter the size of your business - you have to look at a multi-channel approach," said Trainor-Buckingham. "Digital advertising allows you to reach a wide scale of customers. If you engage in something like display advertising, you can reach up to five or six million people.

"Compare that to social media, that's about engagement and building a tribe around you. So display advertising is a key part of the mix. But then again, Facebook and Twitter advertising play a massive role as well."

Mobile marketing

As the world of advertising has been hit by the digital revolution, so has the world of discounting. The days of tearing out a two-for-one coupon from a local newspaper have been replaced by discount dining websites and email promotions.

Digital-restaurants
Nick Chambers, managing director, Stampfeet

When the recession hit, many businesses began offering more discounts online, as a quick way of increasing sales. This left those businesses in a ‘discounting bind’,​unable to escape the special-offer treadmill as consumers grew increasingly value-conscious.  

But, as Nick Chambers, the UK managing director at mobile loyalty company Stampfeet, explains, loyalty apps provide the perfect way out, allowing operators to become more specifically targeted in their voucher marketing approach.

"Where mobile loyalty can help a restaurant is in terms of the repeat visits," said Chambers. "You're rewarding customers for coming in on a number of occasions and then giving them some value for doing that.

"The fundamental benefit is being able to understand your customers and build a profile of them from the date you're receiving. You can marry that up against the registration information that you get, and you can use that to target them and change your behavior." 

An operator’s perspective...

The Digital Innovation Forum also featured a panel discussion entitled ‘Digital innovation at work – an operator’s perspective’ featuring Neil Lambert, head of marketing at Pizza Express, Phil Sermon, managing director at Vapiano, and Julian Bartlett, operations director at Me Love Sushi.

In our podcast, Bartlett concludes that, while digital innovations like the ones seen at the Forum can help you find new customers, it’s the fundamentals of your business offering that remain the key to success.

"You can't ignore the key cornerstones to your business," he said. "To think that social media's going to be the answer to bringing in thousands of new customers, that's kind of unrealistic. 

"Just being open-minded about what might work for your business - that's the key. For us it's a survival instinct. Just one extra customer coming in could be £3000 a year spend with us. That's why we've adopted social media as strongly as we have done."

Also speaking at last week’s event was Cardlytics’ head of international Jason Brooks and commercial director Jill Dougan, who explained the benefits of their transaction-linked bank statement advertising business for restaurants.

Meanwhile, David Burton, the head of innovation at digital design agency Redweb held a demonstration called ‘How to pour beer with your mind’, offering delegates the opportunity to try and pour a pint using brain power alone.

A full report of the Digital innovation Forum will be featured in the October issue of Restaurant magazine. Subscribe here.

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