Restaurants Benefit from Streamlining Social Media Goals

By Glenn Withiam, Director of Publications, Cornell Center for Hospitality Research | July 28, 2014

Engaging your guests on social media entails a risk—a risk that they will doubt your sincerity or, worse, that any dispute will go viral. This is exactly what has happened in the case of Scottsdale restaurant operators who have gained notoriety for what can only be described as a lively exchange with their customers. Or maybe there wasn’t really an exchange, since one set of posts by the owner disavows an earlier set of posts, also allegedly by the owner. The claim is that the earlier, very negative comments were the work of hackers.

The controversy began when the owner of the restaurant responded negatively to a one-star review on Yelp. Facebook, Yelp, and Twitter postings followed, with thousands of responses, according to local ABC affiliate KNXV-TV. The restaurant called further attention to itself by participating in a television reality show. The episode didn’t go well, and the program’s celebrity chef walked out. Bear in mind that this is “reality” television, which is usually produced for as much drama as possible. Thus, it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s exaggeration. Eventually, however, the restaurant took a break in operations and then announced a “grand reopening.”

Stepping back from the specific details, this story from Scottsdale once again raises the question of hospitality firms’ social media strategies. I cannot say whether the Scottsdale restaurateurs consciously had a strategy of criticizing their critics or whether they simply disliked reading negative comments (or if it all was the work of hackers). Strategy is important, however.

The question of restaurant social media strategies was addressed in a report from the Center for Hospitality Research. Authors Abigail Needles and Gary Thompson surveyed 166 restaurant operators to determine their social media strategies. They found that many restaurateurs lack well-defined social media goals, both in terms of the purpose of social media activities and in terms of the target of those social media messages.

Asked about three possible specific goals — increasing customer loyalty, bringing in new customers, and boosting revenues — many of the operators listed all three. Instead, Needles and Thompson suggest that restaurant operators choose one of those goals, and also choose which specific social media channels to use in achieving those goals.

Most restaurants do not have a goal of becoming embroiled in controversy, but in an odd way that may well accomplish one of the three goals highlighted in the study. The Scottsdale restaurant has received visits from many new customers who wanted to see what the fuss was all about. So far, so good, but looking at the Yelp reviews, the results have been mixed, at best. That outcome brings us back around to the core reality of social media. Before you do anything in terms of social media messages, make sure your core business is solid. Then your social media strategy can become a logical extension of your real business.

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