Social media has given consumers the power to spread information to hundreds, if not thousands, of people in a matter of seconds.  For the restaurant industry, which relies heavily on reviews and recommendations, this means every customer now has the power of a well-acclaimed critic.  Instagram, blogs and other social sharing platforms allow everyone to be a “foodie.”  Publicists no longer control the reputation of a restaurant; customers do.

Due to the shift toward social sharing, restaurants must be proactive in their offensive and defensive strategies of protecting their reputations. Here are 10 ways social media impacts the restaurant industry, along with tips regarding how restaurateurs can make the best of them:

1. Easy photo-sharing allows pictures to be linked to review and other social sites.
Easy photo-sharing allows pictures to be linked to review and other social sites
Pictures that Instagram users post can easily be shared to other social networks, such as Facebook, Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Twitter making dramatically amplifying word-of-mouth recommendations.  Regardless of the type of cuisine, it’s important for chefs to create photogenic dishes. One out of four consumers photograph their food regularly for a food photoblog or diary, so make sure dishes are attractive, colorful, and above all, insta-worthy.

2. Social media networks are sought as one of the most credible sources for reviews.

Consumers often use social media to find restaurant locations, reviews and nutritional information. 86 percent of Millennials will try a new restaurant after seeing food-related content online. And 92 percent of consumers read restaurant reviews and 33 percent say they would never eat in a restaurant with less than four stars,  so it’s important that each customer has a positive experience.

3. Social media users dine out more often than non-users.

According to a survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association, 92% of frequent social media users eat at a sit-down restaurant at least once a month, compared to 84% of all adults.  Thirty-two percent of consumers text or socialize on a mobile device during mealtime, meaning nearly one-third of restaurant customers are exposing their plates to thousands, right as they’re dining.
Hashtags are universal across all social networking platforms
4. Hashtags are universal across all social networking platforms. 

Photos aren’t the only content meant to be distributed across social sites.  Hashtags are a great way to promote events, plates, spark conversations and unite fans of a certain cuisine.  Rules of what’s appropriate to post on which platform can be overwhelming for those who are social media inept, but luckily, hashtags can be used on all social platforms and can easily be tracked.  Check out Social Media Restaurant’s tips on the best practices of creating and utilizing hashtags.

5. Mobile makes location-based marketing possible.

Social sites often have a “check-in” feature that allows users to post where they are, and it allows others to see where they’ve been.  Restaurants can offer perks or discounts to people who check in, thus encouraging others to dine there as well.  Blogs are another great way to target local markets.  Reaching out to a local blogger with a story connecting to his or her geographic region can create a great post that sparks nostalgia- and hunger.  Utilize hashtags that are unique to the location to draw in a near-by crew.

6. Social media creates an easy outlet for loyalty programs.

People prefer to receive coupons, promos or discounts from brands as opposed to other types of content.  Help customers help you by rewarding them for supporting your restaurant.  Exclusive content and deals for consumers who “Like” and follow a restaurant’s pages strengthens their rapport in the restaurant, essentially leading to a wider, positive spread of word-of-mouth and social media marketing.  People are more likely to share content that’s valuable and relevant.  By providing online perks, you’re encouraging customers to spread your restaurant’s name across their social networks.

7. Consumers are going mobile.

Forty-six percent of consumers would use a restaurant’s app.  Restaurants would be wise to hop on the mobile bandwagon and cater to the convenience needs of their consumers.  Almost 30% of Americans use their mobile devices to search for restaurants.  Restaurants should work with a tech team to create an app that allows customers to review, browse the menu and nutrition information, order, make a reservation, etc.  Despite mobile’s growing popularity, restaurateurs should rely on word of mouth to increase knowledge of their app.  Seventy-seven percent of app users found out about an app based on recommendations from friends and family.  If creating an app is not currently feasible, a mobile-friendly site is imperative.

8. People are always looking for the best deals.

Group-buying sites, such as LivingSocial and Groupon, combine the social and economic components of dining out.  More than one in five people looks up discounts, coupons and deals on food, and 40% use group-buying offers.  Offering lunch, dinner or group specials can go a long way on social media- especially drawing traffic to typically low-key hours.

9. Apps, sites and consumer education help many manage dietary restrictions.

Children’s allergies, gluten-free and vegetarian dietary restrictions cause many consumers to question what’s in their food and if they’ll have any options at certain restaurants.  Posting nutritional information, ingredients, menus and specialty menus online relieves the anxiety of consumers with dietary restrictions.

10. There is a positive correlation between a restaurant’s social media reviews and revenues.

Based on the statistics that demonstrate the popularity of dining out amongst social media users and high sharing rates, it’s not surprising that a restaurant’s revenue is reflective of its social media reviews.  In fact, a one-star improvement in rating correlates to a 5-9% increase in revenue.  Restaurateurs should stay on top of social media trends and make sure they don’t fall behind in the social scene.

Social media affects the restaurant industry in ways stretching from customer loyalty to public reputation.  Photo-sharing and review sites increase the need for restaurants to not only offer delicious food, but aesthetically appealing plates and great service as well.

Some statistics and sources have been updated since this blog was originally posted.

Interested in more?

Check out our guide to creating successful consumer engagement.

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