Restaurants adapt in the age of social media

A screenshot of Gusto’s website.

Posted by Casey Morgan

Gone are the days when restaurateurs relied solely on chalkboards and neon signs to advertise their businesses.

Restaurateurs have altered their business models by advertising through social media outlets such asFacebookTwitterfoursquare and blogs to increase awareness about their presence and ultimately drive up sales.

Gusto Pizza Co., located in downtown Des Moines, has utilized various forms of social media to advertise since their doors opened in January 2011.

In addition to having a  sleek, social media-drenched website, Gusto Pizza Co. also maintains an active Twitter account, a Facebook page, a“Chef’s Blog” featuring local, socially responsible organizations, as well as humorous promotional YouTube videos tailored to their clientelle. They even have an App for smartphone users.

In similar fashion, restaurateur George Formaro developed a social media advertising campaign preceding his latest business venture in downtown Des Moines, Zombie Burger + Drink Lab. Formaro tweeted voraciously leading up to opening day, amassing a huge fan base well before even opening the doors to hungry patrons.

These social media-savvy business owners still use traditional forms of promotion, like advertising in local publications such as Cityviewand Juice. But TV ads, chalkboard promos and neon signs are simply a thing of the past.

Restaurants are adapting in the age of social media, using intangible means (social media outlets) to promote their tangible products (pizza, burgers); and it’s working. Zombie Burger + Drink Lab served upwards of 1,500 patrons on its first day, smashing previous estimations; and Gusto Pizza Co. has seen an uptick in sales undoubtedly due to social media promotion.

The question isn’t if restaurants will eventually suck it up and get a Twitter account, it’s when.

 Amid all the technological advances brought on by smartphones and tablets, restaurant owners and operators need to become lean, mean, social media machines to survive in such a climate, racking up tweets and Facebook posts daily.

The bottom line simply doesn’t consist of profit margins and growth projections these days; success is now unequivocally measured in terms of ‘Retweets’ and ‘Likes.’

If a given restaurant fails to create a multi-faceted online presence, how can they expect to survive and flourish in the age of information?

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11 responses to “Restaurants adapt in the age of social media

  1. This is a really interesting topic. I am guilty of going to restaurants and businesses based off of social media work that they are doing. For example, I was dressed as a Zombie at Zombie Burger’s opening party. It was a fantastic time and this business is doing a great job of using social media, as you suggested.
    However, when does this become a problem for the business? There are any of times where friends and I will check to see which bars around town have specials or deals for FourSquare. That is the only reason sometimes why we go to this bar. Is this helping or hurting that business in the long run? Yes, short-term it is positive gains for the business, but my friends and I probably will not go back unless we have some kind of a coupon or discount, or unless someone else is buying. Sorry, we are poor students.
    This brings up the whole issue of sites like Groupon. http://www.pressherald.com/business/restaurants-give-coupons-mixed-reviews_2010-04-11.html This is an interesting article regarding the short and long term consequences of restaurants using groupon to gain business.
    I agree that social media and online advertising should be done by restaurants, however, there needs to be a balance for the restaurant or bar to make it in the long run.

  2. I couldn’t agree more, Casey, though I’d take it a step further.

    Clearly, what restaurants need to start doing is counting their Facebook likes and Twitter follows as a part of their company assets, as much as they should take a solid accounting of inventory and daily sales. When a businesses such as my client Gusto Pizza Co. does it right, there is a direct correlation between the amount of quality activity on social media and the amount of pizzas sold… http://goodmilkshake.com/blog/text/13427563

  3. I have no doubt that social media is effective, but I personally would not go to a restaurant based upon social media advertising or reviews alone. In my mind the most effective advertising is still word-of-mouth and I trust my friends telling me a restaurant is good more than however many likes the restaurant has on Facebook.

  4. Good use of the word “restaurateurs” from class. This is interesting especially looking at restaurants like Zombie Burger and others that really boosted their opening with social media. The build up was quite intense and people raved about it online all of their opening weekend. Being active in social media is vital to build suspense these days and reach audiences we previously would have never been able to reach.

  5. Personally, I stay up-to-date with the Des Moines metro through Twitter. In fact, I heard about Gusto Pizza via Twitter and followed their page before ever setting foot in the shop. I like the way Phil put it, saying there is a direct correlation between the number of followers and the number of products sold. It would be advantageous for any restaurant or business to embrace social media today.
    (Also, nice use of “restaurateur”.)

  6. I probably wouldn’t go to a restaurant without a strong word of mouth, either, but that’s exactly what Gusto does through it’s social media. It encourages people to tell their friends about their experiences, which in turn drives in more customers. Without a strong social media presence, their growth wouldn’t have been nearly as strong.

  7. I think restaurants getting involved in social media is a great advancement! The social media that you mentioned are even better than a newspaper ad that simply says the food is good. With social media, restaurants now have the ability to show potential customers that their restaurant is worth visiting. Facebook can connect customers and help promote the restaurant as well as improve it with feedback. Chef blogs let customers know what dishes to watch for and give people a look at what happens behind the scenes. And putting coupons on Foursquare is a great way to bring in more people, whether the special is for the mayor or the first check-in.

  8. Zach, I don’t think it can become a problem for restaurants, especially if they do it well. I understand the Groupon issue, but if business-owners become social media-savvy, they can only stand to gain from their efforts. Any press is good press, right?
    Phil, thanks for the blog post and the Retweet!

  9. Another valuable component that social media can bring to restaurants is the ability to promote deals online. I love it when I get a tweet or read a Facebook event about free food or discounts: I feel like I miss out on a lot of the word-of-mouth promoting since I moved off campus. I think this is definitely a move in the right direction for restaurants.

  10. With all of the social media traffic, I definitely think the use of websites like this boosts traffic to restaurants. Like Alec, I go by word of mouth most often, but no one can deny that social media sites are visited by millions, maybe billions, of people every day and to not take full advantage of that by advertising there is just not taking advantage of a great opportunity.

  11. Social media is almost essential in business these days. However, just having Facebook and Twitter accounts isn’t enough: Businesses need to be interactive with their followers and communicate, or else the pages are worthless.

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