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Eat Your Own Dog Food, Restaurant Style

Last month, Rohit Bhargava published a post with a compelling title, “Forget Eating Your Own Dog Food – Just Try Buying It …” His premise is built around the adage that the best way to understand your customer is to experience your product as they would and he means every step of the customer acquisition process, from the initial awareness of the brand up until purchase.

Have you eaten your own dog food?

You have no doubt sampled every offering on your menu, evaluating it for taste, appeal and presentation.  Likewise, you’ve supervised the staff and guided them in providing excellent service to your patrons.  But to Bhargava’s way of thinking, you’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to understanding your clients’ engagement with your brand.  To take his advice, you must experience each stage of the diner’s interaction with your restaurant just as he or she would.  Here are some tips to consider in putting his theory in to practice:

1. Create a persona for your client base.   Really this is just marketing-speak for creating a portrait of a prospective diner.  Who are your guests?  Has she heard of or been to your restaurant?  Is he an out-of-town visitor or a local?  Is the meal likely to be centered around business or leisure?  Answering these questions and others like them will take you a bit down the road of creating personas for your target market.  Personas have many applications but for this exercise the primary use will be to uncover the various methods and portals a potential customer may use to find your business online.
 2. Seek out your restaurant online. This is where your personas will come into play, as a regular customer will have a wholly variant way of looking for your website than someone who has no familiarity with your establishment.  As we explained in our restaurant marketing whitepaper, the object of a successful internet marketing plan is to have visibility no matter how or where your potential clients are looking for you. Can your restaurant be found by those who may be searching? dog food in wine glass

* Search for “<your city> restaurants” in Google, Yahoo, Bing and Ask.  Is your restaurant listed in the top 20?  If not, the likelihood of someone unfamiliar with your restaurant finding it by way of search engines is minimal.  If it is listed in the top 20 results, are the title and description accurate, appealing and compelling? What other phrases might someone use to find your type of eatery? Compile a list of various search terms likely to be used by a potential diner and use that list to gauge your website’s search engine market reach.
* Do a vanity search in each of the engines as well.  Is your website listed first or are there competitors for your restaurant’s name?  What other web pages are displayed in the search results?  Is it easy for someone to find your website when searching for the business name?
* Look at your city’s CVB website and other tourism sites such as TripAdvisor to ascertain whether or not visitors can find you in those venues.  Do you have a direct link to your website from these resources?  If not, is your address and phone number clearly listed?  Do they provide a map so that out-of-towners can easily navigate to your establishment?
* Search for your brand on Twitter and Facebook to see if you have brand champions or detractors in the social media realm.
* Lastly, do some searches on CitySearch, Yelp, UrbanSpoon and the like.  Search generically (ex: Denver Italian restaurant) as well as for your restaurant’s name in order to determine what both new and returning customers will be presented at these sites.

3. Test Your Website’s Usability. Now that you have an idea of what it’s like to try and find your website, it’s time to evaluate your customers’ experience in using it.

* Are the address, telephone number and email contact visible above the fold on every page of your website?
* Can your website visitors easily find a map and/or directions to the restaurant?
* Is your current menu readily available and easily read in its online format?
* Are the hours of operation clearly displayed for the user?
* If you had never been to your restaurant, would you want to eat there based upon the appeal of your website?
* If you utilize an online reservation system, is the link to the reservation portal prominent on every page of the website? Make a test reservation and note any deficiencies in the procedure that may cause the user frustration.
* If you utilize online ordering, can a user place an order from any location on the website? Test the ordering process to its completion and note any areas in need of improvement.

Admittedly this is a pretty long to-do list, one that is perhaps best done in manageable doses as your daily schedule allows.  Once completed, however, you should be armed with a thorough understanding of what it’s like to be one of your customers.  Your job now is to ensure that regardless of the online road your potential guests may travel to get there, your brand is visible at every opportunity and you have removed any obstacles along their way to your front door.

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