5 Ways America’s Restaurant Industry Has Changed Over the Last Decade

The concept of evolution doesn’t only apply to Darwinian theory. The restaurant industry has continued to transform and adapt since the first known dining establishment opened its doors in 18th century France. We’re not going to delve that deep into the history of dining out, but we’ll explore 5 ways the U.S. restaurant industry has changed in the last ten years.

1. Fluctuation in the U.S. Economy Affects Restaurant Business

Time-travel back to 2008 for a moment. For some of us, it was a time we’re still trying to forget (fur-lined Crocs and Uggs, anyone?) It was also a time of economic plight, not only for America, but the entire world.  Between 2007 and 2008, the global financial crisis hit hard and was compared by multiple economists to the Great Depression of the 1930s. The catalyst for the financial downturn? The United States mortgage bubble that quickly turned into a full-on banking crisis. From there, the Great Recession sent shockwaves through the entire globe.

Unsurprisingly, this state of economic unrest severely affected the restaurant industry. A CNN Money report from mid 2008 noted that casual dining chains were taking a major hit as people turned to cheaper food alternatives. A number of restaurant businesses filed for bankruptcy and closed their doors.  At the same time, the job market was just as bleak, with unemployment rates reaching up to 10% in the years following the Great Recession.

Like anything else, the economy has since bounced back. Things took a positive turn around mid-2009 and have been steadily looking up ever since. Unemployment rates are currently at an impressive low, with a rate of about 4% holding steady throughout 2018. Total US food sales also increased year after year, with 2017 total retail and food services sales reaching 5.75 trillion.  In 2009, food sales were only at about 4.06 trillion, a true reflection of the economy’s downward spiral.

According to the National Restaurant Association, as of 2017 there are over 1 million restaurant locations in the United States employing 14.7 million people in the field. Predictions for the next ten years in the food-service industry continue to look up, and we hope that to be true.

2. The Rise in Popularity of Organic Food Creates a New Standard

In today’s world, the term organic in reference to food is as ordinary as the common cold. When you go to the grocery store you have the option choose between organic and non-organic fruits and vegetables, a decision that can have an influence on both your health and your wallet.

According to the Organic Trade Association, the consumer demand for organic products has grown by double-digits every year since the 1990s. In 2008, total U.S. organic sales and growth was sitting at about $20 billion. By 2015, that number had nearly doubled to almost $40 billion.

Although organic food items tend to be pricier, people are buying them. Today, America is spending nearly $50 billion on organic products each year, with over 82% of households buying it. Top reasons? A 2016 Treehugger survey reveals people buy organic for health reasons, concerns for the environment, and better taste.

The organic craze doesn’t just apply to household preferences and the grocery industry. Restaurants have followed suit in order to cater to the ever-growing demand for organic products. We’ve seen a rise in locally-sourced, farm-to-table concepts that center around healthy ingredients and environmental sustainability.

Today’s savvy restaurateurs are giving the people what they want – delicious food with ingredients that have a clear, local origin. And this trend isn’t just prevalent in single location restaurants. Fast-casual chains like sweetgreen and Dig Inn pride themselves on mindful farm-sourced menu items that include rotating seasonal selections.

Over the years, our population has taken a stand, demanding the right to know where food is coming from before it enters our bodies. In response, the restaurant industry has made strides to become more transparent, more inclusive of local agriculture, and more vocal about their use of high-quality ingredients. An inclusion of organic products isn’t just a foodie trend, but a standard of quality with a permanent seat at America’s dining room table.

3. Social Media Impacts Where and What We Eat

Social media is tremendously influential, a notion that isn’t the slightest bit groundbreaking. But, think back to 2008 again for a moment. Most of us were awkwardly navigating our newfangled Facebook pages and kissing Myspace goodbye. Instagram was probably not yet even a figment of Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger’s imaginations. Twitter wasn’t as flooded with politically and humorously charged tweets, retweets, and favorites. It’s a bit nostalgic to think back to those days of infancy of social media, when everything was new and exciting. Today, social media is a fabric of society, often too hard to escape even for an hour.

Pew Research shows that in 2018, 68% of Americans use Facebook, 35% are on Instagram, and 24% have a Twitter account. The average person uses three social accounts and most people access their social channels at least once per day.

The authority of social media has had a significant effect on the restaurant industry as well. If I could sum it up in one hashtag, it would be #FoodPorn (which by the way currently has 171 million posts attributed to it on Instagram alone). You probably follow at least a few accounts, whether it be restaurants themselves, food magazines, or the bloggers and influencers who have made a living out of snapping irresistible photos of what they’re eating. And this foodie phenomenon has altered the way that we look at food, where we go to get it, and what we choose to eat.

In order to keep up with the demands of a social-centric society, your restaurant needs to be present on social media. And you’ve got to do it right. You should not only be posting quality content to your own handles, but reaching out to foodies and influencers to cast a wider net.

Restaurant marketing has experienced a paradigm shift over the years and traditional advertising tactics just don’t cut it anymore. What was new and exciting on social media in 2008 is now an essential piece of the marketing pie for restaurants, so it’s important to attract new customers by being social.

4. Food is Easily Available Whether You’re Dining Out or Staying In

Along with being present on social media and more tech-savvy than ever before, Americans are growing increasingly impatient. Technology lends itself to a “I want it right now” culture. You can get an Amazon Prime delivery in two days and even get grocery stores to do the shopping for you. This concept translates to restaurants as well. A vast  landscape of restaurants lie between fast food and fine dining. The fast casual dining concept has experienced a boom in recent years with its ability to juxtapose a slightly elevated in-house dining experience with quickness and convenience.

Brands like Shake Shack, Panera Bread, and Moe’s Southwest Grill (to name a few) have made a business out of being the middle ground between fancy and fast. Of course, fast casual existed in 2008, and was a crutch during the recession, but picked up speed in years following.

The fast casual scene as a whole has had its ups and downs, with brands like Chipotle and Starbucks making national news for everything from foodborne illnesses to social injustices. However, according to Restaurant Business, fast casual chains grew sales by 8.9% in 2017. People like having the option to dine out without having to dress up and enjoy being able to place an order with a staff member but not rely on a waiter each step of the way. Convenience is key when it comes to fast casual.

Eating in has also become wildly simpler in recent years. Delivery services like Grubhub, Postmates, and Slice are dedicated to getting food to people in the comfort of their own homes. What used to be a landline call to your local chinese restaurant is now a few taps on a smartphone app. As a comparison, in 2008 only 22% of people owned smartphones. Today, that number has risen to 77%.

Online delivery currently represents 43% of all delivery orders. The market has increased steadily since 2011 alone and there are no signs of this trend slowing down. According to CNBC, the investment firm Cowen is forecasting a 79% surge in total U.S. food home delivery over the next 5 years, an increase from $43 billion in 2017 to $76 billion by 2022.

The cuisines people are ordering are more diverse as well. Typically, Chinese food and pizza were go-to order-in items. Now, especially in large metro areas, people have access to anything from Mediterranean kebabs to bagels and lox, delivered quickly to their door. People are expanding their cultural palates within the comfort of their own living rooms.

If your restaurant isn’t making it efficient for hungry couch potatoes to order food online, you’re missing out on opportunity for more profit.

5. The #MeToo Movement Breaks Silence About Workplace Culture

 #MeToo march via Vox #MeToo march via Vox

It’s no secret that brave individuals of all industries have been more vocal about their rights than ever before. What started out as a shocking scandal involving Hollywood’s elite quickly reverberated through a number of other sectors. And the restaurant world wasn’t omitted from the conversation. Celebrity chef Mario Batali and other restaurateurs, like John Besh and Ken Friedman, have been accused of inappropriate acts in the workplace. Case by case accusations quickly turned into a larger stand against sexual harassment and inequality everywhere. The #MeToo movement continues to send a clear message that injustice will no longer be tolerated.

The restaurant kitchen has long been known to be male-dominated, and was referred to by the New Yorker as “bro” culture. But, because these horrible truths within the workplace finally surfaced, positivity started to come as a result.

For the first time, women have a prominent voice that echoes loudly through the discussion. Empowerment has been a result of the destruction. In the aftermath, we’re seeing more female powerhouses in the restaurant and hospitality industries band together to create a statement and a difference.

Earlier this year, OpenTable CEO Christa Quarles started an Open Conversation dinner series dedicated to women in food. Just this month, Saveur magazine released an issue completely created by and about women. Women are taking on more prominent roles in the industry, proving that they can make light of a negative situation, turning it into a mission for good.

The truth about workplace culture has been brought to light and the dynamic is continuing to evolve; what was once swept under the kitchen rug is now the topic of dinner conversation. There’s still work to do to make the workplace a safe place to be, but we’ve made larger strides than ever before. And for that, we should be proud.

In Closing

Change is inevitable in any industry and has been especially prominent in the restaurant sector over the past ten years. From shifts in technology and trends to developments in acceptable work behavior, we have seen an evolution that will continue to advance in years to come.

As part of a larger entity of food, hospitality, and restaurants, we’ll be along for the ride and looking forward to seeing where it’ll take us next.

You Need These Restaurant Event and Promotion Ideas to Win More Business this Football Season

Whether you’re excited or not, football season is official back in America. After last week’s kickoff, games are in full swing and fans are in full celebration mode. If you’re running a sports bar or laid-back grill, this is the perfect opportunity to capitalize on the revelry.

We highlight restaurant event and promotion ideas that are perfect for football season.

Events

NFL Sunday Ticket

The most obvious, of course, is offering a place for rowdy fans to cheer on their favorite teams. Millions of Americans tune in each Sunday to watch their favorite teams play. Why not invite them to your place? Host an NFL ticket event each Sunday where you stream multiple games throughout the day. You can ask guests to pay a cover charge to access the live action but promise drink and food specials for select timeframes.

Make sure you market this event beforehand by sending out email blasts and doing some local paid advertising on social media. People will be looking for places to watch the game and you want to let locals know that your restaurant or bar is the place to be.

The Anti-Football Corner

Let’s face it, not everyone wants to sit around for hours and watch a sporting event. But, that doesn’t mean you don’t want them in your restaurant. Create a space for the non-sports enthusiasts to kick back and have a good time. You can offer a special menu for those who choose not to watch the game but still want to enjoy some good food and fun. Put some board games and icebreakers on tables to encourage group activity and let them pick the channel on the television. Football season can still be fun for everyone!

Make sure customers know you’re offering something for everyone by including this offering in your email newsletters and other marketing. Being inclusive and not just football-centric can help bring in larger crowds.

The After Party

The fun doesn’t have to stop when the last games end, keep guests around until closing time.  Release a “post-football” late night menu to keep guests ordering. Offerings can include fried food platters, beer pitcher specials, and dessert. Offer discounts on select food and drinks until closing time to keep the party going. You can even incorporate some fun post-football games like NFL trivia or bingo to keep guests engaged.

Promotions

Pick a Side Promotion

If you want to make things more exciting during the games, ask guests which team they’re rooting for upon arrival. Stamp their hands or give them a colored wristband based on the team they choose. If their team takes home the win, offer up a discounted drink or free appetizer for next time they visit.

If you incentivize guests with a prize that can be used later, they’ll want to come back next Sunday to redeem their winnings. Restaurants’ current customers spend 67% more than new customers, so you want this return business.

Right-Priced Platters and Buckets

Aside from the game, the most exciting part about football season is the food and drinks. Fan are looking for delicious things to drink and eat while they intently watch the screen. Create game day platters filled with football fan favorites like mozzarella sticks, wings, and potato skins. Shareable platters are perfect for large group events like these. Beer buckets are also great for game day. Offer deals on these platters and buckets to encourage more orders.

Referee Raffle for a Cause

Give guests a chance to enter into a contest to win a grand prize. Keep the raffle going for all of football season and choose a winner right before Super Bowl Sunday. And make it about charity! Ask participants to make a predetermined amount donation for a local charity with each ticket. Let guests know that they can enter once per visit; if they’re excited about the prize, they’ll be encouraged to come back multiple times in order to increase their chances to win.

The lucky raffle champion will receive an ultimate Super Bowl Sunday package, including everything they need to have a fun-filled celebration. The charity you select will also benefit from all the collected earnings.

Raffle basket item ideas include chips and dip, party noisemakers, promotional items from your restaurant (t-shirts, hats, and mugs), gift cards to other local businesses, and a gift card to your own restaurant.

If you want to take your raffle in a different direction, offer up a television as the grand prize ahead of Super Bowl Sunday. You can also provide runner-up prizes to two other guests.

**Before running a raffle, make sure you’re adhering to the laws of your state.

Plenty of people are pumped about the beginning of football season. The games have just begun and will be continuing on for a number of months, so use it as a chance to get more business!

Use marketing, events, and promotions to get famished fans into seats and stools. Keep them coming back all season with offers they can’t resist. Football is more than just America’s favorite game, it’s an opportunity for you to attract more guests and boost profits.

Does Your Restaurant Location Matter as Much Anymore?

Location has long been known as the primary consideration for many of life’s biggest decisions. Where you choose to live is determined by various outlying factors. Is it close to work? Is the school system good? Are there plenty of things to do nearby? It’s all about location, location, location.

The same has been true about opening a business. You’re told that choosing the right restaurant location t heavily influences its success. If you’re too much off the beaten path, you might not get any customers. If you’re in a bustling part of town, there could be too much competition. But, with the prevalence of technology today, does your restaurant location really matter that much?

Below, I explore the reasons why location isn’t as much of a deciding factor for your business as it once was.

If You Instagram It, They Will Come

According to WordStream, 95 million photos and videos are shared on Instagram per day. Let’s face it, your restaurant’s social media presence matters. Tons of foodies, influencers, and restaurants themselves are posting drool-worthy photos of bison burgers oozing with cheese and colorful scoops nested in sugar cones. The goal? To attract social scrollers to get up off the couch and get that trendy treat before it goes out of style.

The point is, if someone is tempted by an item they see from your restaurant, they’ll put in the extra effort to pay you a visit. Of course, if you’re serving up a lemon meringue cronut in Manhattan, someone from Utah probably won’t trek 2,000 miles just for a fix. But, if they’re living in the Upper East Side and you’re located on Wall Street, they might just hop on the 4 train to get there.

I must admit I myself have fallen victim to the influence of Instagram. I scrolled by photos of one restaurant’s delicious looking dessert pizza for months before I finally caved. I had to taste the cannoli cream atop the crispy crust for myself. So, I drove about thirty miles out of my way for my own little slice of heaven. It was well worth it. And of course, I Instagrammed it too.

The moral of the story here is that people aren’t finding your restaurant by chance as they may have years ago. Hungry diners are discovering new places on social media, on travel, review, and search sites. If your online presence is strong, they might just make the trip, no matter how near or far you are.

It’s A Piece of Cake to Get Anywhere These Days

If you’re old enough, you’ll remember unfolding the paper map and rambling off directions to the driver. I can recall firing up the dial-up Internet and printing out paper directions for my dad before a major trip. Today, all of that sounds about as archaic as dinosaurs.

With the use of advanced GPS navigation, available with a few taps on a smartphone, anyone can get virtually anywhere. Simply type in the address or name of where you’re headed and you’ll get a route with step-by-step directions. Because of this convenience, it’s not such a hassle for people to find your business. Tucked in the woods? Waze will get you there. On the other side of the highway? Use AppleMaps to find a way.

As echoed above, if you have something a hungry customer wants, they’ll make an effort to get there. Of course, we’re not telling you to choose the most obscure place to set up shop, but if you’re not in the most convenient of locations, it shouldn’t matter as much as it once did.

However, you should start thinking about the accuracy of your online information on these navigation platforms. 70% of listings are wrong on navigation sites. If your address or business name is wrong on a major navigation site, you’ll send diners off in another direction. Not only will you have made someone angry, you most likely lost a customer for good.

The roadtrip to you starts with your online presence, so make sure it’s accurate. SinglePlatform has now added a powerboost to our offerings by getting your accurate business information on the most used navigation tools today. To learn more, visit this page.

Competition is Fierce, But You Can Win

Sure, there are a lot of restaurants here in America (we clearly like to eat). Although there are over 650,000 spots to dine in the US, you’ve got something that makes you special. You’ll probably have a few competing restaurants in your area, but you should focus on what helps you stand out.

Hone in on your menu, establish your social presence, and make sure your business is accurately represented online.

A recent survey by TripAdvisor found that 94% of US diners are influenced by online reviews & 60% are influenced by a restaurant’s photos when choosing where to eat.

It’s clear that the experience with your restaurant begins before the food is served, so make sure your business is represented in the best way it can be. A well-executed website and strong marketing strategy should also be considered as part of your overall plan.

If you go above and beyond the basics to ensure your restaurant has an impressive online presence and provides a memorable in-house experience, it’ll be easy to conquer the competition. It’ll also be easy to attract new and returning diners regardless of your location.

In Closing

Choosing a location has long been known as an important element of opening a business. But, the technology available today makes it less of a concern for business owners than it once was.

Diners are no longer finding you by chance as they travel along a highway; instead, they’re researching places to eat online, finding restaurant menus, and reading reviews before making a decision.

Instagram influencers are tempting followers with trendy treats, and navigations apps are getting people anywhere they want to go at any time. Although you should still consider location as a factor in your restaurant decisions, it simply doesn’t have as much of an impact as it used to.

If you have delicious food, an outstanding staff, and the online presence to match, hungry diners, with the help of GPS, will travel near and far to join you for a meal.

Is it Necessary to Respond to Positive Online Reviews?

Restaurant reviews are easy to come by these days – diners, whether delighted or disturbed, are willing to give their unsolicited opinions on public forums. There are plenty of platforms to post an evaluation on, like TripAdvisor, Yelp, and Google, just to name a few. As a business owner, it’s wise to keep tabs on what people are saying about your restaurant in order to maintain an impressive reputation online.

I’ve already discussed the importance of responding to negative reviews in an earlier article, but is it necessary to respond to positive online reviews as well?

Below, I discuss the etiquette and best practices for responding to positive online reviews about your restaurant.

Yes, You Should!

The answer is simple, yes, you should be responding to positive online reviews just as often as negative ones. Of course, it can be argued that addressing negative feedback should take top priority because a scathing summation of a customer’s experience can cost you business. But, positive reviews are just as important to your online and in-house reputation.

Appreciation Warrants Appreciation

A satisfied customer took time out of their day to praise your restaurant and detail the experience they had dining with you. They didn’t have to recount their positive experience with readers, but they did. The least you can do as the restaurant owner is to acknowledge your appreciation of their kind response. You can keep your reply simple, thanking the customer for their words and hoping that they’ll join you again.

Showing that you appreciate the effort a customer put into writing a positive review makes your restaurant seem more human. It can also help establish long-standing relationships with customers and inspire loyalty.

It’s Free Advertising For You

Leaving a positive review isn’t the only kind of a customer to do, it’s free, favorable advertising for your business.

According to BrightLocal research, 60% of people read online reviews for a local restaurant or cafe. Further, 73% of consumers trust a local business more after reading positive reviews. Positive reviews clearly matter to hungry diners thinking about visiting your restaurant.

When people see a large number of high-star reviews for your restaurant, they’re more likely to dine with you. Personally, when I’m looking for a place to eat, I take into account the number of positive reviews. The more negative reviews I see, the less chance there is that I’ll dine there.

If people are reading your restaurant reviews, which they will (consumers read an average of 7 reviews before trusting a business), they’ll notice that you’re putting the effort into responding to them. Again, this further establishes a personality for your brand and shows that you care about customer service.

So, How?

You know you need to respond to positive reviews of your restaurant, but how should you begin? Of course, you’re busy and can’t dedicate hours per day just responding to criticism and praise on different review sites. But, you still want to maintain a presence and rapport with your customer base. We’ll outline how you can achieve it.

Create a Boilerplate Response

Come up with a generic response that you or your staff members can use when replying to an online review. It will help to set the voice and tone you want to convey for your business. However, providing canned responses for every review won’t look good on your part. Of course, you’ll want to tailor each reply, but having a solid example response is a reference point. It ensures that whoever is handling review responses has a starting point they can refer to and utilize along the way.

Address Them By Name & Use Yours

Most times, you’ll be able to see the name of the person who left the review. Use it! Personalization goes a long way. A simple “Hello Mary” or “Hi Peter” can help build the connection between you and your customer. Again, it establishes that human voice behind your brand and shows that you care about your customers’ opinions.

You can even sign off using your name to end the response. If you’re the owner of the restaurant, or even another employee, use your name when wrapping up your reply. This further shows that the response was made by a real person and not just an automated system.

Get Specific

As mentioned above, canned responses won’t reflect well on your business. You want to address an individual’s comments when applicable. If someone mentions that they loved your chicken noodle soup, say something about it in your reply. For example:

“Hi Samantha, We’re so happy that you had a memorable dining experience at Westside Bar & Grill. Our chicken noodle soup is one of our specialties, we use my grandmother’s recipe to get it just right. Thank you for your feedback, we look forward to having you join us again soon! – Bill”

Going the extra mile to mention a highlight not only makes the interaction more conversational, it shows that you read the review and that you, again, appreciate it.

Carve Out Some Time

A restaurant business is hectic, unpredictable, and fast-paced. At times you probably feel like you don’t have time to breathe, let alone time to respond to reviews online. But, it’s essential, and designating some time to the task will help you stay on track.

Create a weekly calendar block when you know your schedule isn’t as busy and use that time to responding to feedback. Things may come up and priorities will shift, but you’ll at least have a helpful weekly reminder to check in on your online reviews. Making review response part of your routine ensures you will keep it top of mind.

Reviewing Your Reviews

Reviews can be found on an array of websites and apps. It can be time-consuming to have to keep up with every review on each platform. Here at SinglePlatform, we strive to make your life as a restaurant owner easier. That’s why we created our Review Intelligence and Review Monitoring tools. With these tools, we aggregate all of your online reviews from the essential sites into one easy-to-use platform.

From there, you can drill down on reviews by star ratings for different categories. Quickly identify what makes your business stand out from the crowd and what areas you need to make improvements in. It’s review reviewing made easy with SinglePlatform!

In Closing

Responding to positive reviews is just as crucial as addressing negative comments about your restaurant. Providing a personalized, well-executed response will help to establish a synergy of sorts between your business and your customers.

Utilize these tips to become a master at review responses to lift your restaurant up to the next level of customer interaction and care.

5 Restaurant Events to Host this Fall

Looking for some fresh ideas to bring in new customers this fall? Plan an autumn restaurant event! As summer winds down, people are returning from vacations, going back to school, and feeling an uptick in busyness at work. As everyone gets back into their routines, they’ll be looking for ways to take a break from their hectic schedules. Restaurant events can help take the edge off for them and bring in more business for you.

Below are 5 unique restaurant events you should consider hosting this autumn.

Fall Food and Wine Pairing

Nothing says autumn better than a hearty meal and robust wine to match. The summer beach body season has ended, so more people will be more willing to indulge than they were in the previous months.

Craft a creatively delicious fall menu with wine pairings for a prix fixe price. Appetizers, an entree, and dessert can be matched with complimentary drinks to create a memorable menu journey. Host the event on select nights and offer a limited amount of seating. This will encourage customers to purchase tickets in advance to secure a spot.

Is wine not a shining star of your restaurant concept? No problem. Change the narrative and make it a food and cocktail tasting event. Create autumn-inspired aperitifs to serve with your food selections. This will give guests a taste of your bar offerings for the season.

Local Taste Showcase

Are you surrounded by an agricultural goldmine? Know local farmers who sell product at the town market? Aware of a really great home-baker that hasn’t taken her talents to the next level? Host an event to pay homage to the talent that exists in your town. Reach out to these local businesses and individuals to purchase product from them. Utilize these ingredients in a special menu created for the event. Make sure that the menu descriptions showcase where the items were grown or who provided them.

Hosting an event of this kind is a great opportunity to get into the local press. You can also do some co-marketing efforts with the companies and people who get involved. Invite the contributors to dine at the event, and even mention them at some point in the night.

Being inclusive of others in your community helps to establish your presence within it. Utilize this event to build relationships with diners and contributors, and look for partnership opportunities for future endeavors.

Harvest Happy Hours

Happy hour is a common event at most bars and restaurants. And people love it! I consider myself somewhat of a happy hour connoisseur – I scour the area in search of them for a Friday night fix.

According to Statista, the top three reasons people attend happy hours because of food prices, drink prices, and because it’s an easy way to relax. Give your customers what they want! Offer great prices (while still considering your profit) on food and drinks and create a relaxing atmosphere for people to enjoy.

Something as simple as rebranding of an event can help you drive more business if you market it right. Maybe you switched up your specials for summer to offer more Mai Tais and Daiquiris and less cranberry and mint cocktails. It’s time to revamp the menu again to offer drinks and eats that people get excited about in autumn. Incorporating spiced elixirs and ingredients like pumpkin, apple, and cinnamon can entice those who are already in fall-mode.

Let customers know that you’ve introduced a new happy hour menu by posting on social media and updating your online menu. You can even make it a spotlight in your restaurant’s email newsletter. The more excitement you create will attract more eager people looking to eat, drink, and take the edge off.

Cozy Cooking Class

When the weather turns colder and the days get shorter, people look for ways to be entertained indoors. Draw in ambitious crowds by offering a cooking class. Host an autumn-inspired instructional that allows amateur cooks to create a memorable meal. Cooking classes are highly popular right now, so capitalize on the interest by having your own. Use recipes that are easy enough to teach to a large crowd, but still impressive enough for attendees to post on Instagram.

When it comes to executing the event, it’s wise to pick a time that’s usually slow for business. A mid-day class from 2-5pm could work well, or offering a weekend gathering from 10-1pm with a brunch how-to may make the most sense for your restaurant.

Encourage guests to post about the event to social media and tag your restaurant’s social channels. If you see an overwhelming success, consider putting on the event multiple times per year.

Murder Mystery Dinner

Things start to get a little eerie once October rolls around. Feed off this frightful revelry by hosting your own murder mystery dinner. Of course, you’ll want your food and service to be the spotlight of the event, but the element of thrill is sure to add a bit of excitement to the night.

Hire a crew that specializes in murder mystery to provide props, staff, and storyline. Charge guests a fee for the event that encompasses the experience and the food and drinks and make the menu fixed for the event to avoid any confusion or hiccups. Usually, murder mystery events are split into three acts, so you can serve a different course during each segment.

This event should be heavily pre-marketed to ensure you fill seats and sell out of tickets. Plan to start marketing at least a few weeks in advance of the planned date. This would be a great event to host around Halloween when people are in the spirit of spook.

In Closing

There are plenty of ways to drum up business in autumn, and hosting a unique event can help draw in large crowds looking for entertainment. Get creative when planning and executing your events in order to impress attendees. If you find success with the first event, you can host more in the future to keep bringing in additional business.

Modernize Your Restaurant with Real-Time Customer Communication

The way that people communicate with businesses is changing. Gone are the days of customers who will leave detailed voicemails, wait patiently for replies to emails, or search across a restaurant’s websites and social profiles to find answers to their specific questions.

In an age where more and more businesses offer live chat support, customers expect to be able to get answers to their questions in real time, whether they have a question about making a reservation or want to ask about booking a private event. Real-time customer communication isn’t just a nicety, it’s a reasonable request.

A recent poll indicated that 90% of consumers would prefer to text businesses rather than call. And consumers look positively on brands that offer the ability to get quick answers via real-time messaging channels — 77% of people have a positive perception of companies that offer texting as a customer support channel.

In the hyper-competitive restaurant world, providing real-time support to consumers learning about your restaurant is more important than ever. According to a recently OpenTable study, more and more diners are making reservations within 24 hours of arriving at a restaurant, and nearly 30% of customers are searching for restaurants within an hour of their meal.

In short, restaurant guests have an increasing number of ways to discover restaurants, and restaurants that hope to capture customer attention in this ever-shrinking window of discovery need to be able to answer their questions instantly wherever a customer is online.

The Age of Responsiveness

Restaurants are already starting to adapt to this shift. Some of the best restaurants in the world are abandoning landlines in exchange for modern, real-time customer communication via SMS and other digital channels.

It’s not surprising that the largest restaurant discovery platforms in the world, from Facebook and Instagram to Google and Yelp, are actively rolling out tools to let restaurants be active, responsive, and easily messaged on all these platforms. Restaurants’ profile pages on these platforms now clearly show how long it takes for businesses to reply to customers who message them, in an attempt to remove the layer of frustration that comes when a customer reaches out to a business with no idea when or if they’ll ever hear back.

To encourage messaging adoption, platforms like Facebook and Yelp enable the messaging function by default. Showing up as “responds in more than a day” on these platforms where new customers are discovering restaurants can be enough to kill a potential sale right off the bat.

But how can restaurants easily manage customer messages in realtime when more and more major platforms are adding messaging functionality every month? In this article, we’ll outline four simple ways that restaurants can enable messaging without adding headcount, costs, or complex new processes to their existing customer engagement strategy.

1. Google Messaging

More than any other platform, Google is where the most people are learning about restaurants. Sites like OpenTable heavily promote their value as discovery platforms, and Google is no different. Here’s a snapshot from the Google My Business listing for Mezze Bistro, a Guestfriend customer. Nearly 75% of the people who found Mezze on Google were discovering them for the first time, rather than searching for them directly.

Restaurant owners should do everything they can to ensure that those thousands of potential customers can easily get all the info they’re looking for without having to go searching on competitor-laden platforms that are outside of your control.

Google is investing heavily in its Google My Business platform to ensure that customers can easily discover any restaurant, learn everything they could possibly want to know about that restaurant (from exploring a menu to finding out specific details like dress code), and book a table without ever having to leave the Google ecosystem.

For restaurants, the value of this is undeniable — up until now, a diner might discover a restaurant on Google, but if they wanted to explore the menu, make a reservation, or find some other specific detail about the business, they’d need to go offsite to a platform like Yelp or OpenTable to get answers to their questions. And once someone leaves the restaurant’s controlled environment on Google, the chance of them discovering a competitor and deciding to eat there instead goes up significantly.

But how do you let people make reservations, browse your menu, and answer more difficult questions that Google doesn’t support, without making them leave your Google page or call your restaurant?

Solution: Enable messaging on Google

Even if you keep your business info up to date on Google, there are still a lot of things that guests can’t do on Google. Previously, they’d need to go to another site or call your restaurant to do things like make a reservation. That is, until now.

Google now lets you enable Messaging within your GMB account. Currently the only way to enable Messaging on Google and ensure that your guests are receiving real-time replies without any extra work by your team is to use an automated messaging solution (like the one we built at Guestfriend). Connecting a “virtual host” to Google will let your guests get real-time answers to their questions in their preferred messaging format, without forcing them to call your restaurant or go searching for answers off-site.

2. Facebook Messaging

95% of businesses have the “Message Us” button enabled on their Facebook page, but most don’t even realize it. While smaller restaurants may only get a few messages a week from potential diners, large national brands with millions of followers need a plan to answer all of these messages at scale.

From our research, the average response time for restaurants is several hours at best and never in many cases. Based on the fact that more and more diners are making decisions within a few hours of dining, lack of responsiveness is a major reason why restaurants lose customers.

Solution: Enabling messaging on Facebook

Even if your restaurant has a plan in place to periodically reply to customer messages on Facebook, it probably isn’t fast enough. So how do you automate messaging so that customers get intelligent answers to their questions in real time and then only get routed to a real person for complex questions?

Facebook provides a variety of tools to create your own automated replies, but your development team will need to devote extensive resources if you hope to create anything that is even remotely flexible. Alternately, you can build your own solution on a chatbot authoring platform, which can take several months, or use a custom virtual host built specifically for your restaurant, which you can customize and deploy within a few hours.

Solution: Submit Your Business to Facebook Discover

If you have a chatbot or “virtual host” connected to your brand’s Facebook page, then you should be using Facebook Discover. Discover is a product that Facebook launched on Messenger last year, which lets its users easily discover new chatbots that are either relevant to their interests or geographically close to them.

Being featured on Discover opens up your restaurant to an entirely new audience of potential customers. And the best part is that it takes two minutes to submit, and you’ll be one of the only restaurant brands in the world using it! It’s an effortless way to get more people organically discovering your business with no marketing spend required. We wrote more about this here.

3. Automated text messaging

Phones and landlines for restaurants are dying. In most scenarios, when someone tries to call a restaurant, they either go straight to voicemail or get connected to a host during busy hours and can’t hear anything. Any way you slice it, phones for restaurants are largely pointless and archaic, only delivering negative experiences. Texting is the future.

90% of people want to message businesses instead of calling. But outside of enabling messaging on platforms like Google and Facebook, how do you quickly set up the infrastructure to let your guests text an actual phone number and receive real-time replies to their questions?

Solution: Enable automated texting

If you have an automated messaging solution in place, anytime someone texts your restaurant, they’ll get real-time answers and be able to have a natural language conversation with your virtual host, with no work required by your team and full control over the exact responses guests receive.

At Guestfriend, we provide local SMS numbers, automatically connected to your brand’s custom virtual host, that can be promoted on your social media pages, across your website, in your phone voicemail recordings, and more.

4. Voice Platforms

Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri, Cortana. Every major platform now has a voice-based personal assistant that will give you instant answers to nearly any question. Voice is exploding and it’s going to change the way that people interact with restaurants. Some reports estimate that nearly 50% of searches will be voice by 2020. Search results and search marketing are going to be heavily affected by this shift to voice and Google is actively figuring out how to handle things like SEO in a world dominated by voice searching.

It remains to be seen how restaurants will be able to affect and/or sponsor voice search results, but it seems more and more likely that voice technology will simplify the way people learn about businesses and then allow them to take specific actions. It’s not hard to imagine that in the coming years, you’ll be able to discover, learn about, and book a table at a restaurant within a few seconds, all with your voice.

Conclusion

There’s never been a more exciting time to be involved in the digital customer experience side of the restaurant industry. The tools to engage guests across a huge number of platforms are readily accessible and easy to use, and the shift from an asynchronous customer experience to a real-time one is well underway. And restaurants that are able to leverage these tools to their fullest get to shape what “customer experience” in the modern restaurant world actually looks like.

Every month, more and more platforms roll out messaging features (Google being the most recent and Instagram coming very soon). While the growing number of platforms that customers can use to get in touch with your business might seem daunting, there are finally tools built specifically for the restaurant industry that let you manage and automate customer communication for the first time. And undoubtedly, allowing your customers to get in touch with you in their preferred medium is the best way to differentiate yourself and capture more business.

We mentioned “virtual hosts” several times in this article. To recap briefly, a virtual host (sometimes called a chatbot) is a tool that lets your restaurant interact with your customers in real time across all of your online channels. Most virtual hosts, like the ones we build on our Guestfriend platform, can answer 95% of guest questions instantly, and then seamlessly route guests to your normal customer support channels for specific questions that you identify.


If you’re looking for an automated messaging solution built specifically for your restaurant that lets you handle customer messaging online in a scalable way, check out what we’ve built at Guestfriend. We’d love to chat.

About the Author: Alec McGuffey heads marketing initiatives at GuestFriend, the virtual host built for the restaurant industry.

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