Online Commentary = Valuable Insights into Your Restaurant

By now, you have realized that your restaurant or brand needs to be active on social platforms, that you need to be monitoring conversations about your brand online and that you need to be building relationships with your guests on social sites. If you didn’t know any of these aspects, or understand the importance of them, let’s have a side conversation about the importance of social media.


Today I want  to talk about why your restaurant needs to be evolving in to a social business, one that values social and the insights you can receive from your guests or customers. We, as an industry, need to move beyond thinking that just by using Facebook you have an effective social media strategy or that social media is simply a marketing function. These are the most basic thoughts in social media, but I encourage you to move past thinking of the immediate use of social and think how social data can shape your brand and provide you with valuable insights into what your brand ambassadors (most active users online) are saying.


We have come to realize that the biggest way we all; not just restaurants, but any brand; can utilize social media is paying attention to the data, data, data.


In his April blog entitled, “Don’t Ignore Social Media’s Research Value,” Jay Baer and his guest blogger, Kyle Mensing, provided this statement: “We need to start moving beyond basic-level interactions such as clicking “follow” or “like” and instead start activating fans and asking them to provide richer insights that can help us build wow-worthy products and services.”


Think about it like this, everyday online social users are evaluating experiences, products, services and brands. Each one of these social objects is an insight in to your company. These insights should be harnessed to produce and improve on products and services, resulting in more sales and customers in the door.


As an industry, restaurants spend millions of dollars each year on focus groups, mystery shopping reports and guest surveys. We weigh heavily on these sources to provide us with insight on what items are doing well on our menus, how can we improve service or wait times and how clean our restaurants are, etc. You can gather these same insights by crowd sourcing social data about your brand from online communities and social sites. Social objects provide the best kind of insights because they are un-biased and unsolicited information. There should be a higher value placed on Consumer feedback that is offered up via social sites. When a guest is surveyed or asked for feedback their responses are not organic. They know their answers are being reviewed thus organic social objects heed more unbiased and relevant insight.


Obviously, I’m not saying that if one time a guest in one of your locations says they received horrible service that someone should be fired. What I am saying is that if you notice that month over month your negative Yelp reviews at that location note that poor service was the root of their bad experience, maybe you should have a class with your FOH team to develop and teach better customer service. If a certain dish is always sent back saying the guest did not like it, wouldn’t you think about making a change? The same scenario can happen through social insights. If I notice that several tweets over the last few months state that my guests did not enjoy a certain salmon dish, I think it’s safe to say maybe we should make some adjustments to that recipe.


We are in the industry of serving others and dealing in face-to-face interaction. We’re used to making table touches to check up on our guest’s experiences, and saying goodbye when they are leaving our restaurants. Now, with the emergence of social platforms, these same types of interactions can happen online. Just because they are virtual conversations, does not mean we should place less weight on the severity of the feedback and the immense opportunity to learn from them.


So, I ask you, is your restaurant active on social sites? Are you keeping track of notable comments from guests? What social tools are you using for analytics?


Let's continue this conversation on FohBoh or on Twitter: @FohBohGem. 



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Tags: Emerald Reilly, FOHBuzz, FSMU, FohBoh, FohBohGem, analytics, netnography, restaurant, restaurant social media, restaurants, More…social analytics, social data, social insight, socialmedia


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Comment by Emerald Reilly on November 15, 2011 at 12:11pm

Hi Matt, 

Thanks for reading my post and providing feedback. I agree with a few of your points, but I still stick my argument that harnessing online data and commentary can lead to deeper insights. 

I do agree that more often than not social media is a retention, rather than acquisition tool. But I don't think there is anything wrong with that. Any restaurant can acquire a new customer, but only their experience at the restaurant is going to keep them coming back. You are indeed right that social media is not a solution to the bad food or service your restaurant currently has but it can help you find insight as to why your guest defected or how you can improve. Like I mentioned, restaurants need to pay attention to trends over time. If most of your one or two star reviews over the last few months cited that food was brought out incorrectly or cold, then you probably have an issue with your kitchen staff. If reviewers mention that poor service from a particular employee was the cause of their issues, then you need to provide better customer service training. The restaurant has to be willing to make changes for the better based on insights. Those insights can be acquired from social media or focus groups. I'm simply saying social is offering us a new way to think about things.  

If you've ever worked in a restaurant you know that usually if a guest complains about something, the manager will make an effort to get them a different meal or comp something off their bill. They make an effort to listen to their issue and make a correction. That is the reason why your guest will come back. You can make the same effort online as well. If you see a tweet about a negative experience, you have the ability to reach out and ask what happened, even take the conversation off line and talk with the guest and learn how to correct the issue.

I completely agree with your statement that,  "retention is best addressed when real customers answer important questions at the point of experience, the data being analyzed in real-time and made available to the restaurant so they can fix the issue or salvage the customer." I just believe that you can effectively gain the same insight from social data and commentary. We offer reports and analytics for restaurants that they can receive on a quarterly, monthly or weekly basis. These reports can offer you positive and negative topics that are trending over time and insights in to your online reviews. It helps you gauge how your guest perceive you online and offers you action items to improve your social score. These FOHBuzz reports can offer insight as to why they saw a decrease in sales or why guests defected in almost the same manner as a guest survey or shopper report. 

Comment by Sarah on November 11, 2011 at 3:41pm

Matt, good points. You're absolutely right social media wont solve a restaurant's problems. If your pizza sucks the best Facebook in the world wont fix it. But I don't think that's what Emerald is saying here. I think the importance she's stressing is on the data. It's taking those insights and data from the social web and putting solutions into action. 


There are tools, including the FohBoh CIS, that do drill down to the individual location. So that check in that says "service was poor" absolutely does mean something. Further, the fact that this was a non solicited social object rather than a guided "shopper report" question makes the information that much more valuable. They were upset enough to take time out of their life to share that information with their network. As a restaurant owner, you bet that means something.


In addition the collection of this data allows the restaurant owner (and the industry as a whole) to see trends over time. Those insights are invaluable for the future of our industry.

Comment by Matt Selbie on November 11, 2011 at 1:05pm


I disagree with you and think that to have unstructured feedback as a determinant of decision making is unwise. I also think that that we need to be really careful before we assume that social media can solve business problems that it was not designed for.

Here are the issues when it comes to the use and importance of feedback in hospitality:

  • Most businesses have customers who defect.
  • Some industries have huge defection issues eg. restaurants at 35% annual defection
  • Most customers never complain, so the defection is a surprise to the restaurant
  • When a customer defects the cash flow impact is large
  • Defection by definition, clearly shows that the business is NOT delivering on the needs of it’s customers
  • No amount of social media will fix this (too little, too late, too skewed, too bad)
  • In fact social media that focuses on customer acquisition and drives new customers or discounts to all, is simply accelerating the rate at which these customers will visit once and leave – having garnered the offer!

1) My main point is that too much of the time, social media is trying to solve the wrong problem. The main issue is almost invariably retention not acquisition.
2) The second major issue is that social media is largely unstructured free text – easy to say, impossible to analyze. Consider this: “the service was poor – 2 stars” – what does this mean and what ACTION can a business take from this. None, zip, nada because its non specific and hence non actionable. Insights comes from analysis or a customer base, not open speech.

3) The third issue is of course representation. Not everyone has a social media account, not everyone uses theirs, and not everyone is keen to see their name in lights.

We think that retention is best addressed when real customers answer important questions at the point of experience, the data being analyzed in real-time and made available to the restaurant so they can fix the issue or salvage the customer....fortunately technology allows this to happen (FULL DISCLOSURE - this is what my company does)


Social media is here to stay, but will only be harnessed for the good, if the blocking and tackling of the business is in place first - social media is at best a feedback froth, not a diagnostic or a decision making tool.

Comment by Emerald Reilly on November 9, 2011 at 9:46am

You're most welcome, Dave! Social is much more than Facebook, it's all about the insights. Cheers! 

Comment by Dave Dronkers on November 9, 2011 at 6:32am

Great comments and advice.  It is so much more than just putting up a FB page.  We preach that content quality is so important .....just as you have illustrated. Thank you!




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