In the pre-internet days of owning and operating a restaurant, an owner’s digital strategy was a simple one: Be careful with that chef’s knife, lest you slice off one of your digits. That’s a great strategy, and remains relevant even today. But it definitely isn’t enough in our increasingly digital world.
Pull Your Head Out Mate
As new technologies emerge, and the number of platforms on which a restaurant can establish a presence increases, it can be easy to get confused or overwhelmed and simply shy away from the whole enterprise.
That would be a mistake.
Having an online presence, especially for a restaurant, has become vital to survival. For better or worse, consumers expect it. They want to know as much as they can about a restaurant before they even set foot in it; what it looks like inside, the full menu and prices, accepted forms of payment, and reviews are among the most important information you can share.
Bring It Home Boys (and Girls)
If you offer takeaway or delivery service, they’ll want the ability to order online rather than place a phone call.
Make Smart Decisions In a Crowded Space
With so many options for implementing any one of these things, having a clear digital strategy in place, at the very least, eliminates any confusion about what you should or should not be doing—and if something isn’t working, you can be more methodical about what bits of your strategy need to be tweaked, or even replaced.
As for what kinds of plans you should implement, that can be dependent on the particulars of your business itself. But, in general, your digital strategy should address two main areas—marketing and operations. Here’s what that can look like in practice:
Get Them In The Door, Or Get Past Their’s
For a restaurant, marketing covers any effort you make to ensure that your food ends up in customers’ stomachs. Marketing efforts traditionally employ a number of different avenues, but we’ve gotten to the point where there’s no way to decouple marketing from the digital arena.
Above The Line Marketing Will Kill Your Bottom Line
In fact, a case could be made that the more traditional outlets for your marketing (radio, television, and print) are all but irrelevant—these tend to be more expensive, yet with a far more limited scope and reach. To make sure you’re reaching all the people you need to, you’ll want to come at this with cohesive marketing strategy.
It’s one of the oldest forms of digital marketing, but that’s got no impact on its relevance. There’s nothing unique or surprising about having a website these days—that honor goes to NOT having one. Seriously, if you lack a website you won’t be taken seriously. The website itself should have a look that matches your physical location.
This is where you set the aesthetic and tone of your brand: a new visitor ought to have a pretty good idea of what you’re about within 30 seconds of landing on your homepage. Key information to include would be your hours, your menu (with prices!), an origin story that describes your vision, and any relevant reviews you feel are worth sharing.
If you’ve got the time and resources to manage social profiles on the big three—Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter—you should absolutely go for it. Of course, owning a restaurant doesn’t leave you a lot of time for much else, and it also has a tendency not to leave you with much money, either.
If you can’t afford to have someone else handling these tasks for you, then it’s best to focus on just one of these platforms: Instagram. The visual nature of Instagram is perfectly suited for restaurants, where a quality picture of your food looking delicious, or your customers looking happy, goes a long way towards whetting someone’s appetite (for food and a good time). It doesn’t hurt that in the last year, Instagram has emerged as the clear leader in terms of encouraging brand engagement and loyalty.
Beyond simply broadcasting images and text to your followers on social media platforms, having some kind of software in place (like Hootsuite or Agora Pulse) to monitor these networks for any chatter about you is crucial to maintaining user engagement.
There’s a reason that the word “social” is used to describe this type of media: you need to be involved with what people are saying to and about you. Users who comment on your posts should be acknowledged, with something more than a “Hey, thanks!” Others who post positive reviews or are otherwise praising you very clearly need to be recognised, and perhaps even rewarded.
Maybe most important is to know when someone is badmouthing your business. Services like Yelp can do a lot of good for a business, like word-of-mouth advertising that’s been amplified. The downside to that is a bad review, which on Yelp is just as likely to be caused by something petty as it is to be a legitimate complaint. It’s imperative, then, that you’re aware of everything that’s being said, and that you can reply in a manner appropriate to the situation.
Managing the day-to-day operations of your restaurant can be a complex venture: there are so many moving parts and it’s often hard to keep them running smoothly. There aren’t many businesses, of any kind, that don’t rely on software to assist in this department, and restaurants are no different.
What makes this class of apps important to restaurants is that when all the back-of-house needs are being met, the front-of-house can’t help but follow suit—all of which leads to one positive customer experience after another. While it might be tempting to try and find a single solution that addresses all your needs at once, the likelyhood of that happening to your distinct liking is very slim.
Instead, focus on finding parts that work well together. Cloud software makes doing this easier than it’s ever been, as developers of complementary software have incentive to make sure their customers won’t have to compromise on features.
Point of SaleIt doesn’t matter whether you’re a tiny pizza shop serving meals by the slice, or a full service restaurant with five star food. A robust and customisable POS is an essential part of your digital strategy.
With minimal upfront costs, low monthly fees, and the ability to grow into a solution, there’s no excuse to put this off. A modern day POS is more than just a fancy looking way to cash customers out.It is your business’ operating system; The basic software on which every other operation can be run.
At a minimum, a point of sale should handle some of your bigger needs. Built-in inventory control that monitors ingredient usage as each dish is sold, tracks waste, and automates purchasing is huge and shouldn’t be considered a luxury.
Likewise, the ability to integrate credit and debit payments—instead of using a non-connected terminal provided by your processor—should be a necessity. If POS supports multiple payments, all the better.
Accepting credit cards and mobile payments can be an integral tool in growing your business, and these are features that shouldn’t be overlooked.
In truth, accounting software is something every business needs, but it’s too important not to mention here. This is something that should be investigated and decided upon at the same time as the POS; you’ll want to make sure that your different pieces of software play well together.
When your point of sale is automatically updating your accounting software with daily sales revenues, payroll information, and other important data, the time you save having to reconcile your money ends up can be a lifesaver.
If you plan on offering takeaway or delivery service, there are a number of mobile ordering apps that can make this so much easier for you.
And if you hadn’t planned offering takeaway or delivery service, you really should: there are a number of mobile ordering apps that will bring in entirely new revenue streams. Add to this that customers tend to spend more money (often to the tune of 20%) when they order with an app, and this becomes a revenue stream that’s tough to ignore.
Start Putting Together Your Plan of Action
You can see from this list that there’s a lot more to think about than you might have anticipated, but don’t let that dissuade you.
The extra effort you put into properly preparing yourself in the digital world means a lot less labour intensive work in your physical one.
Having all these systems in place automates the tedious administration—payroll, inventory, purchasing—that you’re going to have to do regardless of the tools you use. And a clear digital strategy on the marketing side will have you reaching more of the right people—in the right places and at the right time—for a minimal cost.