Social media has radically changed the 21st-century restaurant landscape. At its best, it has enabled sharp owners to adopt new business practices (eg, pop-ups; crowdfunding; using cheaper, off-beat locations), and it has provided many fledgling independents with an essential, cost-free marketing lifeline.
Yet, five years into this revolution, too many restaurateurs still suck at social media. I do not mean they have failed to build an engaging online personality for their brand. Few owners will achieve that Holy Grail. Instead, the problem is far more basic. Put simply, many restaurants do not deliver competent, day-to-day communications. In numerous small, clumsy ways they are frittering away social media’s potential for meaningful connection, if not actively alienating people. Not every operator can rule at social media. But here are nine things you must avoid.
1. The praise storm. Where the owner logs-in and, in one great lump, retweets any praise from the previous night – flooding followers’ timelines with irritating gush. At 11am on a Wednesday. When no-one cares. Result? At best boredom; at worst, an exodus of followers.
2. The hard sell. Social media is all about selling to people while appearing not to. This sophisticated audience does not respond well to hawking. Consequently, unless yours is a two-star Michelin restaurant with sudden availability, repeatedly tweeting your number urging people to book now, feels way too pushy.
3. The ‘special’ offer. Likewise, your online followers will already know about your ongoing weekly offers. They are the last people you need to reach, and endlessly ramming those reoccurring deals down their throats will annoy them. Mention such offers, but sparingly and vary the message to keep that info fresh.
4. Ugly images. From glossy baked goods to colourful cocktails, there are many naturally photogenic food and drink items. And just as many which look god awful. Think about that when posting pictures of your food. For instance, close-ups of pink flesh (chicken, ham, prawns etc.) can easily look like stills from some horrific surgical textbook, just as, say, risottos or any dish blanketed in a pale sauce will look wan and sloppy online. In fact, very few main courses are that pretty that they photograph well for online. And, in many ways, that is not what your followers want to see. They want insight, back-story, the prep rather than the finished dish. Show them handsome raw ingredients or things in roasting tins, all bronzed and bubbling fresh from the oven. Think: is this alluring?
5. Erratic updates. From lunch specials to beer boards, if you have daily changing products that you have promised to update online then do so, on a daily basis. Not as and when you remember to.
6. Hollow hashtags. Appending tweets with #fridayfeeling, #winewednesday, #thirstythursday, #mondaymotivation in no way embeds your bar or restaurant in a frenzy of online anticipation. It just looks lazy. And unimaginative.
7. Being an irritating enthusiast. Tweets of the saccharine “Only one more sleep until #tapastuesday!!!” variety, will only appeal to a) idiots or b) five year-old children. Is that your clientele? No-one has ever been that excited about patatas bravas.
8. Cheap cheerleaders. Similarly, stand apart from the weekly splurge of people telling you to “get your weekend started” (from Wednesday onwards, it seems) by visiting their pub or restaurant. It seems rote, generic and utterly unconvincing.
9. Forgetting it’s a two-way thing. People will ask you (sometimes, urgent) questions online, about everything from opening times to your vegan options. You need to respond… and promptly. Not two days later.
This column first appeared in the May 2017 issue of Restaurant Magazine, subscribe here from just £70 a year.