ROI and Effective Best Practices in Social Media for Independent Restaurants

How can my restaurant effectively plan and execute a social media strategy that provides return on investment?

Discard using comment cards – social media is a much more powerful tool.

There’s a lot of discussion recently about the human resource cost of embracing social media in the restaurant industry. Some operators are denying that social media will impact their operations – they may not be seeing that now, but what about six months from now? Many operators are curious about what this paradigm shift in connecting with customers means to their business:

  • How should my restaurant use social media?
  • Can I just use it as a way to advertise?
  • What networks should I use for maximum impact?
  • Can I train one of my staff to do the work?
  • How can I afford to do social media?

These are just some of the questions being talked about this year whenever hospitality leaders congregate. Here’s my topic – what are the best practices in social media and how does an independent restaurant implement these into an effective process, fully integrated into the operation with minimal investment, that generates return.

First, let’s define return on investment. Social media is radically changing the organizational environment. By next year, more people will get their news from cell phones than any other media. By next year, more people will look for a restaurant to eat at through their cell phone – than through any other media. Restaurants have to get on those phones to not only survive, but prosper. This month, only 10% of restaurants in major metropolitan (US) areas are using social media. Only 6% of restaurants in those markets have established a Twitter presence.

Let’s talk a little more about return on investment. Let’s imagine a situation where in one week fifty people message their friends about eating at your place. They do this on Facebook, on Twitter, leaving comments on Yelp or Urban Spoon and perhaps on community networks like We’ll assume that they each send out one message – fifty total. Do you have time to sit down for an hour at the start or end of your day to look for these comments and messages? What if four of them had a bad experience? You know the saying – a great meal gets a few referrals, but a bad meal gets twenty down-shouts.

It used to be that a bad meal only affected the close network of the diner. Not anymore. Now, that bad meal could be (and likely is) tweeted to hundreds before the diner leaves the restaurant. Not only does this mean increased pressure to have great game from your staff so this doesn’t happen – it also means you have to know about it and be able to fix it – to engage immediately. You have to spot it, contact, listen, and react. You have to fix it that day.

Need more on return of investment? There are hundreds of food bloggers now. Anyone with a laptop or a cell phone (currently 95% of the adult US population) is a micro-food-blogger. There are more than fifty home-grown food-bloggers online and active in PortlandOregon today and you can bet the cow that they’re all following each other. What if that food-blogger is at table sixteen and having a great meal? They’re snapping a couple of pictures to put up later that night on a blog that will not only get read by a hundred or more in the next few days – but also by other influential food-bloggers with more stature. And let me share something – those food-bloggers on Twitter announce to the universe when they publish a new post (that might be talking about you).

What’s the return now? When both a bad and a good situation have hundreds of people reading about it today and tomorrow, what price are you willing to pay? Here’s a great article published this month by McKinsey Quarterly on the global benefits of using social media. How companies are benefiting from Web 2.0: McKinsey Global Survey Results

Social Media Best Practices for an Independent Restaurant

Let’s run a scenario by illustrating a restaurant operation (annual sales of $1-3 mil) utilizing social media best practices as defined by leading SM experts (links to best practices follow this article). Remember – social media is all about dialogue and engaging customers. It’s no different than visiting tables and deepening the connections.


  • Update and establish a consistent brand presence across the networks you choose to participate in (i.e.: Facebook, Twitter,,
  • Update your webpage with cross links to social networks (make sure the links open on a separate webpage tab and use small SM logos)
  • Bring key staff together to participate (Chef, Sommelier, Bartender, FOH Manager)
  • Determine the minimum frequency on the various networks you will message through and commit to six months


  • Plan your messaging for the week to allow time to create compelling content that followers want to share with their friends
  • Listen to the networks and what people are saying about you. Think before responding. Always respond positively.
  • Leading theorists on social media encourage involving your key staff through their personal accounts. Empower them to engage the dialogue from their personal accounts. Give them guidelines and a social media policy (part of your employee manual) so your expectations are clear.

Your Social Network Messages

  • Must be authentic. Today’s savvy customers see through hype and traditional marketing. They want to know who you are, why you are in the restaurant business, what your passions are and about your adventures, concerns and successes. They’re not merely looking for a good place to eat. They want to know what inspires you and your crew. If they like you, they are very willing to offer constructive suggestions, perhaps things you never thought of. How much value is that – your customers telling you what they need? Authenticity = Loyalty.
  • Use Images. A recent Harvard Business Review article stated that messages with compelling images received a 70% click through rate. We humans love eye-candy. Maybe it’s a picture of that outstanding rack of lamb, or your cute bartender (female or male) interacting with a customer – or, that loyal dishwasher that works harder than anyone else (and you introduce him/her to your followers with an intriguing story). Here’s an idea – a one to two minute gonzo journalist video interview (from your iPhone) with the chef on the line during service talking about tonight’s special. Compelling content = Viral distribution.
  • Pace your messaging. Different networks have different frequencies of appropriate distribution. Facebook and are a one unique message per post environment. It is okay on Twitter to send the same message multiple times in a day; just don’t over-do it. Here at we’ll send a unique message repeatedly on Twitter about once an hour during our workday. Appropriate frequency = Follower growth.
  • Then listen. This is the key part. Collect the responses from the Facebook-type networks, but reply that day. If a negative comes in, reply positively in private communication first if possible and give them thanks for caring enough to share. Listening = Customer service.
  • Respond. Always be positive in responding and get back to them as soon as possible.
    • Use negative messages as positive critique (more down below on that). Respond quickly to nip issue in bud before it gets re-broadcasted and so they will message again how quickly issue was resolved. If you do this publicly, others will see how authentic you are as an operator.
    • Thank positive messages and respond in a way that compels them to share more about their positive experience. If they are seeking to know you better – share away – it only deepens your relationship with a new core customer center of influence.

Create and Maintain an Active Blog

Only 2% of USA restaurants, maybe less, use blogging as a way to connect with customers. Blogs are a fantastic way to engage – they provide the escape from daily life that so many of our customers deal with. It’s best to post weekly or more, keep articles semi-short and use images.

It’s very easy to set up a blog – there are several free services out there like WordPress and Blogger. I like WordPress over Blogger because it provides an easy dashboard to analyze the metrics of who’s visiting and what they are reading. I also find it much more intuitive and simple to use. One beauty of these services is being able to generate articles in MS Word (as I am right now) and then email it to my blog. It posts with all the formatting and images I’ve put in using Word.

Make sure you tag your blogposts with appropriate tags. For this article I’ll tag with – social media, social networking, restaurant, twitter, facebook, blog, and etc. This allows people internet searching to find your article.

After you’ve posted – share the article on your social networks! Don’t be afraid to promote the blogposts for 24-48 hours once an hour on Twitter.


Social media for hospitality is replacing traditional marketing, advertising and customer engagement in a fundamental way. Instead of waiting on days and weeks for traditional marketing to take effect – social media offers operations a 24/7 communications cycle.

Instead of having the luxury of days to respond to issues, operators now have a huge opportunity to engage immediately and resolve/satisfy a disgruntled patron.

Planning and executing a successful social media campaign has to be incorporated into your business plan. Operational management has to embrace and lead the effort. Pull your top human assets into the execution. Be prepared for constant dialogue and use positive leadership.

The expense of social media really comes down to human resource management. Operators can design and implement effective programs themselves or they can outsource the tasks to a trusted and authentic agency. Either way, social media is here, the return on investment is significant and it can easily help grow your satisfied customer base.

For more information or dialogue, drop us a line. can recommend a research list for social media best practices, advise operations on developing their programs or provide outsourced services.

Best Practice in Social Media Theorists

11 Comments to “ROI and Effective Best Practices in Social Media for Independent Restaurants”

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  4. I really like this post. You wrote it for a restaurant, but it easily extends to different kinds of businesses.

    Here’s what would be cool:
    – customer tweets about getting served cold soup
    – restaurant employee sees the tweet and a waiter appears within minutes with a steaming hot bowl of soup

  5. I am not in restaurant and hospitality business, but it is interesting to see how best SM practices are applicable in various consumer interaction spaces. The important thing however, is that this article has specific directions customized for the target industry. Good, interesting read.
    Thank you.
    -Stas Antons
    SmartSymbols on Twitter

    • Dan,

      Thank you for all the great content on strategic branding you publish. I find it highly valuable and as so many independent restaurants are extensions of the owner’s personality and dreams – I believe your work is of value to them. Please keep up your high energy!


  6. Thanks RestaurantZoom!

    Check out this video – this is the source for basing that statement that social media is “replacing traditional media. What’s especially intriguing is is that newspaper, television, radio and other print media are all down by double digits. That screen is at 54 seconds into the video. The makers of the video list all their sources at the end. Go Where The Market Is Video

    I have a lot of respect for Paul Barron at Fast Casual Magazine. He’s the one that found that video and shared it. But the statement is also backed up by other leading SM theorists such as and Brian Solis.

    I’d be willing to slightly revise my statement and say that SM has “been augmenting” traditional media but is on the cusp of replacing it.


  7. Great information Jeff but I would argue with your summary that social is “replacing” traditional media. I think a more accurate term might be something like “augmenting” traditional media. Anyway, again, nice work on your part:-)

  8. great post jeff! amazing material here! and good for you for sharing

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