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What Are People Saying About Your Restaurant?

The restaurant-specific internet marketing company BooRah announced recently they have developed a way for restaurateurs to track online reviews of their businesses, although this service doesn’t appear to have gone live yet.

Recent years have seen the exponential boom of user generated content online, or content posted by internet users to websites, from YouTube to Rotten Tomatoes to Consumer Reviews.

This wave of information, often posted anonymously, is starting to have a powerful effect on consumer behaviors.

Increasingly, consumers look to the internet for information on products, movies, books, and restaurants.  And while the reliability of the content can sometimes be shaky, and other content can be disingenuous or even malicious, internet users have learned to sift through the mountains of content to find gems of truth about a given product or brand.

Identifying trends and flagging problems culled directly from the masses can be an invaluable resource, allowing restaurateurs unprecedented access to exactly what their customer thinks after they leave.

It is vital that you know what people are saying about your restaurant online.

Invariably the anonymous nature of posting on the internet is going to lead to undeserved criticisms and smears, but by analyzing all the content that exists referring directly to your establishment, you can weed out the bull and uncover some truly valuable information.

Even if you don’t have the budget or the inclination to purchase BooRah’s service, take some time on a regular basis to go online and read reviews of your restaurant.

Don’t get offended when the ubiquitous jerk says something completely untrue and probably off-color about your beloved establishment.  Instead explore a range of comments, look for trends, and keep an open mind about what customers actually think.

The days of one professional critic coming to your restaurant and making or breaking your reputation are long gone.  Now you have to impress an army of customers and hope they give a genuine review online.

The internet doesn’t have to be your nemesis.  Use it as a tool to make your business better.  So the next time you’re on the internet, take a look around.  You never know.  You just might learn something.

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Do Public Smoking Bans Affect Restaurants?

Do Public Smoking Bans Affect Restaurants?

Smoking bans are coming to your restaurant. Are you prepared?

Despite the objections of many groups in the food service industry, public smoking bans have been passed with increasing frequency over the past five years.

Restaurants and bars are primarily concerned with losing business as a result of these smoking bans.  Advocacy groups claim that the health benefits of banning smoking far outweigh any other concern.

As a restaurateur, you are probably either already under a public smoking ban or will be soon, and it’s important to understand the pros and cons of these bans on your business.

For starters, research has shown that bar and restaurant revenue did not show an appreciable drop after the introduction of a smoking ban.

Smokers just don’t go home after a smoking ban is passed.  Instead, they cut down on their smoking and go outside when they need a smoke.  Some food service businesses actually saw a rise in business after the ban was passed as new customers ventured out because of the new smoke-free environment.

However, specific segments of the industry do not follow this general trend. In particular, blue collar establishments take the hardest hit when a new smoking ban is passed.  Bowling alleys and small local bars have seen as much as a 50% decline in business after the passage of a smoking ban.

While it is unfortunate that some businesses take a huge hit when a smoking ban is passed, the health benefits that are a direct result of banning public smoking are significant, and should really outweigh other concerns.

Heart attacks in public places drop as much as 40% after the enforcement of a public smoking ban.  The air quality of restaurants and bars goes from “dangerous” or “extremely unhealthy” classifications to “normal” and “good” overnight.  The body of evidence linking even small amounts of second hand smoke to short and long term health problems is now overwhelming.

For the food service industry, smoking bans are a reality that must be dealt with.

If you have the bad luck of operating in a segment that will suffer from the passage of a smoking ban in your area, start to develop a strategy for the day the ban arrives, because it will be here sooner or later.  If you have already found yourself under a smoking ban, tell us how it has affected your business.

What are the benefits?  The drawbacks?  Do you oppose or support introducing smoking bans in other states?

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A Manhattan Diner in Wyoming??

A Manhattan Diner in Wyoming??

The Moondance in it’s old New York home

The Moondance Diner used to be an 80 year old fixture in the trendy SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan.  Last year it was consigned to destruction by a new condo building.  The Moondance was up for sale, and the chic artists that had once frequented the little restaurant were long gone.

That’s when a couple from Labarge, Wyoming, spotted the Moondance for sale on the internet.  Within a couple weeks they had purchased the diner and shown up in Manhattan with a flatbed truck to haul it away.

That’s when the trouble started.  Permit problems and heavy rain delayed transportation.  The battered Moondance finally arrived in Wyoming after a long trip and landed on some stacked railroad ties next to Highway 189 with a view of the Rockies.

Former employees Kirsten Dunst and Jonathan Larson were nowhere to be found.

Instead, Cheryl and Vince Pierce set to work refurbishing the old diner for its grand reopening in a remote corner of the least populated state in the union.

Things were going fine until a blizzard dumped 18 inches of snow and the roof crumpled in like a tin can.

Maybe the Moondance moving west wasn’t such a good idea after all.

At least that’s what people in New York started to think, and several articles were posted in city periodicals lamenting the poor, desolate fate of the hapless Moondance.  The condescension coming out of New York was hardly concealed and laced with an I-told-you-so subtext.

A Manhattan Diner in Wyoming??

The Moondance Diner lights up Wyoming

Cheryl and Vince were unfazed.

The Moondance’s classic front sign finally lit up on January 12, and the completely restored diner has been building buzz ever since.

Many natives of the Big Apple have stopped by to visit, and the locals love the place.  The celebrity waitstaff may be gone, but the Moondance has settled down to stay in its new western home.

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Boulder Has A New Top Chef

Boulder Has A New Top Chef

Boulder Chef Hosea Rosenberg Is THE Top Chef

As some of you may know, Tundra and The Back Burner are based in Boulder, CO so we were especially pleased to learn that Boulder chef Hosea Rosenberg claimed first place on Wednesday’s finale of Top Chef: New York.

Rosenberg is the executive chef at Jax Fish House in Boulder.  He graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in engineering physics before pursuing his true dream in culinary arts.  Rosenberg has worked with top chefs like Wolfgang Puck, Kevin Taylor, and Sean Yontz.

The Top Chef win garnered Rosenberg a $100,000 prize, and he is currently working on a food line with Whole Foods and a new restaurant is in the works as well.

Another Boulder chef, Melissa Harrison, was also a contestant on the show but was eliminated earlier in the season.

We would like to congratulate Hosea on his win and we look forward to enjoying his work in the Boulder area for years to come!

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The Obama Room Angers Restaurant’s Patrons

The Anaheim White House, a fine dining restaurant in Anaheim, CA, drew an unexpected amount of criticism recently after renaming one of 12 presidential-themed private dining rooms the Obama Room.

Irate customers asked to be removed from the restaurant’s email list and others swore they would never patronize the restaurant again as a result of the renaming.

The Obama Room Angers Restaurants Patrons

The Obama Room at the Anaheim White House Restaurant

The White House is located in a solidly Republican district, which may explain some of the anger.

But owner Bruno Serato pointed out that naming other private dining rooms after Democratic icons like John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter didn’t result in such a negative response.

The restaurant even rechristened the unpopular George W. Bush room for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis without much complaint.

And angry diners could always opt for the Reagan or Nixon room if the Obama room isn’t to their liking.  For some reason the Obama Room has really stirred up a negative response.

Regardless, Serato remains determined to keep the Obama Room.  He says the historic nature of the last election is too important to ignore, even if a few customers are angered by it.

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A Restaurant Survival Guide (continued)

The Back Burner’s Restaurant Survival Guide continues with some more tips on how to keep customers coming in the door in these tough economic times.

Take your product to the customer. You have already developed delicious entrees, trained your kitchen staff to cook them, and purchased all the equipment you need to produce on a large scale.

Yet your restaurant is seeing falling or stagnant visits every month.

You’re all dressed up with nowhere to go.  So go out.

Many large chains like Applebees, Chili’s, and O’Charley’s have developed very successful fast takeout operations to supplement sales of their core menu items.

Now some of these businesses are getting into full catering services as a way to boost sales in a gloomy economic environment.

Recent surveys of restaurant patrons have indicated they plan to stay home in record numbers in 2009, but that doesn’t mean they always want to fire up the home kitchen.

And small to medium sized get-togethers (of 10 – 50 people) still happen all the time, just not at your restaurant.  Customers see a great value in serving familiar foods from their favorite eatery right in their home, and you already have the staff and tools to service them there.

A little marketing, a slight adjustment in your menu offerings, and you’re on your way to finding your customers even if they aren’t coming to your restaurant as often as they used to.

Gift cards help. More and more chains are marketing gift cards, and smaller operations can do the same.  Not only are gift cards a quick and convenient gift for your customer, but they guarantee future sales that can help you through slow times.

They can also help bring in new clientele if they are offered as a promotion.  And best of all, customers who use gift cards tend to overspend the gift card amount, which means some added sales for you.

Meanwhile, the customer leaves full and happy, having spent less than he or she expected.

You can survive. The salient point here is that customers still want your product.  They haven’t forgotten how good it tasted two years ago.

They just don’t want to pay the same amount for it.

You have rising expenses to deal with, but that doesn’t mean a little repackaging and some clever marketing can’t help your customer realize exactly why they fell in love with your restaurant in the first place.

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A Restaurant Survival Guide

A Restaurant Survival GuideThe current economic downturn has affected every aspect of the American economy, including the food service industry.

The NRA has projected a 1% drop in all restaurant sales for 2009 (when adjusted for inflation), potentially making 2008 and 2009 the only two consecutive years where restaurant sales have fallen since the NRA started keeping track in 1971.

That’s sobering news for any restaurateur, and many restaurant managers can tell you after a quick glance over last quarter’s books that this NRA prediction isn’t coming as a huge surprise.

But there is silver all over the huge cloud bank of gloom that is our economy, and a smart business owner should be able to hang on until the ride is over.

For starters, the food service industry isn’t hurting as badly as other sectors of the economy (at least you’re not a UAW member, right?), and typically restaurants are the first to turn around after a slump.

The key lies in holding down costs while attracting new customers and retaining existing ones.  Sounds easy enough, right?  Right.

Here’s a few food service trends that can help you survive:

Comfort foods are rising in demand. Chicken, beans, and even spam all saw significant increases in sales in the last quarter of 2008.

These products can help your business manage costs while you portray them to the customer as a “value” menu item (well, maybe not spam), especially if you highlight them against perceived “luxury” items like beef.

Put together a value menu of comfort foods to bring customers in, then hope they decide on dessert.

Divide best sellers into smaller portions. Popular menu items are always going to be popular, no matter what the economy is like.  It’s just that when your customer takes his wife out this month, he doesn’t want to spend like he did in the freewheeling days of 2007.

Many restaurants are responding by taking popular menu items and offering an appetizer version of the same thing, or a two person value platter that can be shared.

Taking your core product offerings and making them affordable to your customer is a great way to retain your faithful base while enticing new customers who are searching for value.

Stay tuned for some more Restaurant Survival Tips from The Back Burner in the coming days.

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Is Yelp Helping or Hurting You?

If you responded to this question with a confused look and the response “What is Yelp?” then you’ve got a lot of catching up to do.  Forces have been at work that you didn’t even know about, and that can be a scary thing.

Yelp is an online review site for restaurants, bars, retail stores, and spas.  Users post their reviews of these businesses, and many others read reviews to help them decide where to eat when dining out.  Which means that Yelp could be helping or hurting you right now, depending on the nature of the reviews posted about your restaurant.

The problem is, your competition can also post a review about you that is probably less than accurate, hurting your chances of converting those increasingly scarce customers into visitors to your restaurant.

It’s a dog eat dog cyberworld out there and Yelp has become a key battleground for the hearts and minds of stingy customers.

Yelp takes advantage of this situation by allowing restaurants to pay to have bad reviews suppressed and good reviews highlighted.  These “sponsorships” start at $150 per month and comprise Yelp’s primary source of revenue.

Some restaurateurs love Yelp.  Their clientele use the site on a regular business and the favorable listings and review postings given to sponsors means a noticeable increase in business that more than justifies the cost per month.

Others view the monthly payment as necessary to prevent bad reviews from hurting business.

Regardless, less than 1% of the businesses reviewed on Yelp have become site sponsors, which is probably more a function of restaurateur ignorance than an unwillingness to pay for a sponsorship.

No matter what, anonymous, user-generated online reviews are the trend of the future, and the day is not far off when most potential patrons of your restaurant will learn about you through Yelp or a similar site on the internet.

It’s therefore up to you to at least know what is being said about your business online, and figure out how your customers are hearing about you.

Conduct a survey of customers to gauge how many came to you as a result of an online review site like Yelp.   Track reviews on the site and ask loyal patrons to post reviews.  You could even offer a free appetizer or other incentive for posting a review.

And if you find that a large portion of your clientele is using Yelp to find and learn about your restaurant, perhaps a sponsorship is the right route to take.

The younger and more urban the customer base, the more likely the need for you to reach customers through new media like Yelp.

Either way, take the time to learn where your customers are coming from and what people are saying about you on Yelp.  Knowledge is power, and you can’t afford to not know what’s being said about your business out in cyberspace.

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