Tuesday, September 13, 2011

A Little Bird Told Me (Twitter for Restaurants)

A local restaurant recently used Twitter to do a very smart thing: it asked its followers how they thought the restaurant could more effectively use social media like Facebook and Twitter to better serve its customers. My response was perhaps a bit harsh:
More tweeting of daily specials, menu updates; less retweeting of every single tweet mentioning you, no matter how inane?
But it's a pretty accurate encapsulation of my thinking on what is a very worthwhile question to ask; worthwhile enough that I thought it was worth expanding upon.

Some qualifiers: I'm not a PR person. I make no claim to being a social media expert. In fact, I do my best to ignore and avoid stuff like Foursquare and really have never taken much of a shine to Facebook either for that matter. But I like Twitter.

So who am I to have anything to say here? I'm a diner. A diner who is on Twitter and reading your restaurant's Twitter feed. (In fact I've got a list with every Miami restaurant I know of that's on Twitter). For whatever it may be worth, I know what I like to see and don't like to see in a restaurant's twitter feed. So here are some "dos and don'ts" from one diner's perspective:

(continued ...)

Do use it – to describe daily specials, new menu items, happy hours, discounts, special events and the like. Consider: if someone is following you, you’ve already won half the battle. It means they’re already interested in you. Your goal now is to give them a reason to come in. Tell them something they may not already know about your restaurant; remind them of something they may have forgotten. Also: pictures are great. Pictures make people hungry. Hungry people come to your restaurant.

Don’t use it – to retweet every single time your restaurant is ever mentioned on Twitter. Imagine you had a friend who, every time she received a compliment, had to repeat it to you: “Zach said I’m pretty!” “Steve liked my dress!” “Bobby asked for my phone number!” Even worse, imagine if that was all she ever talked about. You’d quickly decide that your friend was vain, self-centered and boring. If you only use your Twitter feed to retweet every "Your food was awesome!" tweet, you will be perceived the same way.

Do use it – to create relationships with your customers. Of course everyone wants to be noticed and to feel special. That’s why they’re tweeting to you that they just reviewed you on Yelp or on their blog that has three followers. Just keep in mind, there’s a big difference between a retweet and a reply. If you reply, you can let that person know how much you appreciate them, without sounding like a braggart to the rest of the twitterverse.

Don’t use it – to pick fights. For example: in Houston, the general manager of a bar took offense to something a customer said on twitter, and - somewhat remarkably - managed to throw the customer out while not even at the bar himself. Even more remarkably, the silly little story managed to become national news. The whole brouhaha made precisely nobody look good. Keep in mind that Twitter is a public forum. Every petty, vindictive or stupid thing you say or do is out there for everyone to see. Unless of course you’re shooting for the “bad boy” persona and subscribe to the “any press is good press” theory. Then just rip everyone a new one; ideally, be funny about it. Chef Ron Eyester of Rosebud in Atlanta (a/k/a @theangrychef) can show you how.

Do use it – to manage customer relations. If someone has a complaint, try to address it and resolve it – ideally, politely and without rancor. You might turn someone around, and you’ll look like a mensch to everyone else. Of course, no matter how savvy you are with social media, there is no pleasing some people. For instance, some people are under the impression that if you use social media, you are thereby obligated to dole out freebies or discounts to every other shmoo with a Twitter or Facebook account. Don't bother trying to win over all the schnorrers.

Don’t use it – as your personal account. If your twitter account is "Such and Such Restaurant," you’re a restaurant. We want to know about your food and your drinks. We don’t want to know about your fantasy football team, your political views, or your sex life. Well, maybe. But most people don’t. If you’re the chef or the manager and you want to share these things with the world, by all means do so – just set up a personal account for it.

Do use it - to personalize the restaurant experience. Notwithstanding what I just said above, there is nothing wrong with showing a bit of personality in your restaurant's twitter account. There is a fine balance here. Twitter is in many ways the public voice of your restaurant, and the best accounts manage to convey a sense of the attitude and feel of the restaurant in their tweets. It is not an easy thing to achieve. Indeed, there was an interesting piece in last Sunday's New York Times about the notion of "authenticity," particularly in an online context. The money quote: "What you can't do is be told by a social media guru to act authentic and still be authentic."

So maybe you should ignore everything I just said.

What do you think restaurants do right and wrong on Twitter?


  1. Maybe every restaurant can now be as boring, brainless, and lacking in personality as this post. Why did my friend send me this link? Not surprised you're from Miami

  2. Sorry you didn't enjoy it. The good news is, every post on this blog comes with a money-back guarantee.

    Be sure to let your friend know how disappointed you are in him.

  3. I liked the post, Frod. Like the new look too.

  4. This past weekend, I was curious about the wait at this "anonymous" restaurant and found out they never answer their phones because "they are always super busy and they would need a full time staffer just to do so." This all came via twitter. I found it nice that they responded, but I found it equally stupid on their part for giving me that type of response. What is your take on a restaurant not answering their phone because they don't take reservations or do take out? We ended up at Pubbelly which is better IMO who also does not take reservations nor does takeout but who courteously answers their phone so you can gauge whether or not you can dine there that evening.

  5. I think I know the restaurant of which you speak and I think it's a lame excuse for not picking up the phone. There are all sorts of reasons people may call other than to request a reservation or place a take-out order: to check how busy it is, to get directions, to ask if its vegetarian-friendly, to find out about corkage policy, etc.

    But service is generally pretty consistently shaky at that spot so I'm not all that surprised.