If you look at the restaurants and bars that are most successful over the long term in your community, they are likely doing very well in 4 key areas. Some places can get by with 3, but anything less virtually guarantees a place that won’t last.
Ridge Road Media has been fortunate to work with a lot of successful bars and restaurants since our launch in 2014. We have learned a lot from working with them closely, most importantly a set of criteria that are a great predictor of a restaurant’s long term success.
Even the most effective marketing plan cannot replace the key pillars of success in this challenging industry. Social media marketing can maximize your success by accentuating the positive and overcoming failures in one of these areas. It can even prop up a failing restaurant for a time, but it won’t last.
We think of the four pillars as a stool with four legs. If all four legs are sturdy, you have a solid foundation for success. You can get by with three legs or a wobbly leg or two, but that’s not a guarantee. Take away any two and your stool collapses. Social media reinforces each leg and evens out wobbles, but it can’t fully replace any of them.
60% of new restaurants fail within their first year and 80% fail within the first five. That’s 3 out of 5 and 4 out of 5 that won’t make it. It is a massive challenge to survive, let alone thrive. Think about the places you’ve seen come and go in your community. Now think about the ones that have beat the odds and stayed successful over the long term. What does each group have in common?
Through experience, observation and expert knowledge gathered from experienced restauranteurs, we believe these are the four pillars of long term restaurant success:
- Customer Service
Your restaurant needs a clear identity. This can include the right name and logo, but what is most important is that your restaurant has an easily understandable, clear and focused identity. You know who you are and so do your customers.
A well-conceived brand identity grabs attention and tells people what kind of food, aesthetic, and atmosphere they can expect before they ever set foot in the door. Social media is a great way to take advantage of a smart brand idea and build up a clientele before you ever open your doors.
This is not just about the name, logo and signage outside of your restaurant: it has to carry through to your interior design, your staff, your menus, everything. This doesn’t have to be something conceived by a marketing agency. It just needs to be a coherent idea that is carried consistently through every aspect of your place.
Case Study: Ugly Brisket
This brisket and BBQ joint recently opened in Edinburg, TX and has one of the best branding concepts we’ve ever seen, especially for a non-corporate, non-chain restaurant. They have a unique logo and word mark that is used on everything from their social media and signage to the paper that lines their food trays and branded apparel.
Beyond the logo, the branding includes slogans like “ugly is the new pretty,” an idea that expands into customers sharing selfies of their “ugly” faces that fuels social media engagement. It is essentially a philosophy that guides their approach to everything.
Our friend Erik Cavazos, the pitmaster & chef who was also behind our former client Q’in It Up BBQ & Catering, is part of the team that brought this idea to life. The “ugly” logo is a drawing of his own visage. He always had big plans and ideas when he started out with a single food truck, but this concept is so strong it could easily grow into a national chain.
This kind of brand can be fully exploited and built upon with social media, but you don’t need branding at the level of Ugly Brisket to succeed in this area. You just need a clear understanding of who you are and what you have to offer.
Social media plays a massive role in amplifying your brand identity. The cohesive strategy that guides your tone, content and calls to action on social is critical to maximizing the potential of a great brand. When executed successfully, customers will be excited and know what to expect before they have ever experienced the other 3 pillars.
Location, location, location
It is not just a cliche to say that location is everything for restaurants and retail stores. Of course, not every place can be located on a high traffic street in a well populated area with ample parking, good visibility and easy access for customers. Yet plenty of bars and restaurants succeed despite a less than ideal location.
We must also including the building or suite itself as part of the location criteria.
- Is it conducive to a restaurant or bar?
- Are entrances and exits easy to access?
- Is the restroom the right size with the right accommodations for your customers?
- Do sounds or smells from your neighbors bleed into your space?
- Is it properly ventilated, heated and cooled?
- Is it appropriately lit inside and out?
You can have a spot on the busiest street in town with great parking and signage outside that simply doesn’t work on the inside. What makes a good location? It depends on your brand and your identity:
- What are you selling and who are you selling it to?
- Is your place designed for takeout and counter service or is it a sit down restaurant?
- Are you relying on foot traffic, cars or mass transit?
- Should you have a drive thru? Is it possible in this particular space?
A good location can prop up bad restaurants—corporate chains and franchises take full advantage of this fact. A bad location, one that’s not easily visible from the street and inconvenient to get to is a huge detriment to any restaurant or bar, even when the food, service and brand are on point.
Social media can help mitigate the problem of a bad location. Giving customers directions is a basic job of social managers (even when the location is easy to find). Here are some best practices for highlighting your location:
- Help customers navigate by referencing landmarks, letting them know where to park safely and what routes they can take to find you in your posts.
- Post photos and videos featuring your storefront from both close up and a distance to give customers a visual reference as they are walking or driving by.
- Create a simplified tourist map using major streets, intersections and landmarks to guide customers to your location.
- Tag the location in your posts when appropriate.
- Include the street address in posts regularly (but not too frequently).
Case Study: Hacienda Las Mariposas
This restaurant, bar and event venue is one of our clients and faces a challenge in their location. It is a beautiful place that looks more like a hotel or historic building than a restaurant and bar, especially while driving by during the day. It is located on a busy street but in a dense residential area a couple of miles away from the most commercialized areas of the city.
Social media allows us to share the exact address both in regular posts and when answering the frequent questions sent in by direct message. We also share the relative location (“we’re just down the street from X”, “find us between Y Ave and Z Street”) and highlight that this oasis is close by and actually in the city even though it’s just a hair outside the most bustling areas.
Customer service is a key tenet of social media, but it can’t replace the service customers get inside the restaurant. Friendly, knowledgeable, and skillful servers, hosts, bartenders and kitchen staff can bring customers back again and again even when other areas are lacking.
Social media managers often have the unfortunate job of dealing with unhappy customers. They have to tackle bad reviews and complaints about service through comments and direct messages. While we can help mitigate the damage, the customer service received in person is what will ultimately decide whether or not a patron will return.
Besides damage control, social media can be used for proactive customer service:
- Turn FAQs into content with clear answers.
- Head off common complaints by addressing them directly.
- Apologize for major problems and mistakes.
- Share customer stories (with approval) where a problem was avoided or solved by your team.
- Explain policies and procedures before there is a problem.
Your food, drinks and the other products you sell is the final and arguably most important pillar of restaurant success. Great food and drinks can trump a bad location (because it’s worth it), bad customer service (your food can still be delicious if your server isn’t particularly helpful), or bad branding (a bad name or logo doesn’t change the quality of the food).
However, it is unlikely you can be successful if you’re failing more than one of the other areas, no matter how good the food is. The flip side is also true: you can probably name a handful of examples off the top of your head of restaurants that have average or bad food that have been around forever. They are probably doing well in the other 3 areas.
As explained above, a solid social media strategy can bolster you in each area, but it can’t replace the things you can’t or won’t execute properly. For your products, you can use social media to:
- Highlight your best dishes, cocktail and specials
- Show your customers enjoying them
- Share customer-generated content and reviews
- Provide updates on menu changes
- Pull back the curtain to show ingredients, process, and the team behind it all
Conclusion: Not Just Restaurants and Bars
If you’ve read this far, we’ll let you in on a secret: these four pillars don’t just predict restaurant success. Replace restaurants and bars with retail store and these key levers would still remain true.
For businesses without a brick-and-mortar location, we could tweak that pillar to mean your location online. The idea that you have to help your customers find you remains true.
This means that ultimately these four pillars are key to the success of nearly any business. With all four firmly in place, a business is set up to survive and thrive. Take one or more away, and the proverbial stool starts to wobble and might just collapse.