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Digital Media For Your Restaurant In The Digital Age

Digital Media For Your Restaurant In The Digital Age

As we get further into the Digital Age, restaurants can use digital media to their advantage.

TVs have slowly been creeping further and further into every restaurant’s atmosphere for years now.  It started with a small black and white television in one corner of the bar so guys could watch the game.  Now many bars have several HD flatscreens showing multiple games and news channels at once, and even dining areas have started to keep a TV or two positioned in strategic corners so customers can keep up on sports and information.

But as digital media permeates our lives more and more, a new era has dawned in how televisions can be used in the food service industry.  Those screens don’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, just used for sports and talking heads anymore.  That’s because the technology has advanced to the point where restaurateurs can engage customers in new ways, and because that technology is now widely available, customers themselves welcome and even expect to be engaged with digital media.

Consider some ways to leverage the digital phenomenon in your restaurant:

Advertise yourself and your specials.  Well placed digital media in your restaurant can become a great vehicle driving sales.  Not only can you promote daily specials and high margin menu items, you can drive brand awareness with digital media campaigns.  And because your medium is a flatscreen TV, it’s easy to change specials and rotate brand messaging often at almost no additional expense.  That means you can experiment with multiple advertisements and specials until you find the ones that work best.  You can also offer many more promotions without having to worry about changing menus, which give you the freedom to find new ways to attract customers.

Become interactive.  Because it’s so easy to load new content onto digital media, restaurants have a lot of leeway with trying new items and promotions. However, the only way to find out if these new promotions are working is through customer feedback.  Of course, analyzing sales is one way to discover which promotions are working and which ones are not.  But digital media can also be a great vehicle for getting customer feedback.  Interactive touch screen monitors can collect information from customers quickly and in a way that engages and entertains the customer.  Interactive digital media can even collect orders from customers and give them a direct line of communication to management.

Entertain while customers wait.  Digital media can also entertain customers while they wait for food or service, and studies have shown that customers who are entertained while they are waiting for service are much more forgiving about their wait times.  As we have already discussed, TVs have been used for decades to entertain customers in restaurants and bars.  Digital media takes this concept to a new level by allowing you to insert advertisements and branding messages about your specific location into more general entertainment.

This means you can not only advertise but intermingle that advertising with entertainment, which makes your advertising much more effective.

No doubt, investing in a digital media system for your restaurant can mean a hefty up front expense.  But if you leverage this technology properly, you can see very real boosts to sales, brand awareness, and customer satisfaction.  And boosting those three factors are vital to any business’ success.

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Can Google Improve Food Safety?

Can Google Improve Food Safety?A pilot project currently in development at Google will enable health officials to spot outbreaks of deadly food borne illnesses 7 to 10  days faster than the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) current system.

Google accomplishes this by tracking queries entered into its search engine by people who are trying to find information on symptoms and sicknesses they’re experiencing.  Google has already launched Flu Trends, which tracks search queries like “flu symptoms” and identifies geographic areas where those queries are spiking.

The data Google collects matches the flu trends published by the CDC, suggesting Google’s information is accurate.  Now Google is planning to apply this system to E. coli and salmonella outbreaks so that the source of the contamination can be contained much more rapidly than it is today.

Seems like a great idea, right?  Not everyone is so excited.  Privacy advocates have already raised the alarm, warning that any database that collects and tracks the behavior of such a large number of free citizens will inevitably lead to abuse.

Google counters that this information is for the greater good and that individuals will remain anonymous.  Of course, anonymity has been promised before when it comes to large databases and it seems like there’s always a leak.  Just ask the thousands of Americans who have had their financial information compromised by leaks and hacks in the past two years.

For the food service industry, Google’s trend tracker could be a double-edged sword.  Of course, food safety is always a primary concern for restaurateurs.  But what if Google, in the admittedly honorable process of identifying a contamination source, starts naming restaurants frequented by people who are getting sick?  Those businesses would be dead and gone in a matter of minutes, regardless of the level of responsibility they deserved for the outbreak.

So where should such a powerful tool draw the line?  And where is Google planning on drawing that line?  The technology is still so new it’s impossible to tell yet, but as the data  we enter into the world’s most popular and powerful search engine gets used to track our behaviors, the conflict between privacy and information seems more and more inevitable.

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The Pizza Vending Machine

The Pizza Vending Machine

The Pizza Vending Machine

Italian Claudio Torghele has developed a pizza vending machine, complete with dough, sauce, and toppings, all in less than three minutes.  The machine, called “Let’s Pizza,” will knead the dough, spread the sauce, and give you a choice of toppings, including bacon, ham, cheese and tomato, and vegetable.  Customers can watch their pizza being prepared through a window, and the average cost is about 4 euros or 5 dollars.

Torghele hopes to make the pizza vending machine available throughout Europe and North America.  The machine has already done very well in test markets and its novelty always seems to draw crowds of onlookers, which bodes very well for sales, especially as people begin to look for more affordable options in a down economy.

Not everyone is so enthusiastic, however.  Traditional pizzeria owners in Italy have criticized the pizza machine as a cheap gimmick that sacrifices taste and quality.  Torghele responds that sometimes people are looking for value, convenience, and fast delivery over top quality.

The verdict on the pizza machine will be passed in the streets, and so far, it appears the average consumer loves being able to watch a great little pizza prepared fresh by a machine quickly and affordably.

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Social Media Marketing’s Dark Side

Plenty of national food service companies have been eager to wade into the social media world as a way to engage and recruit customers.  Dunkin’ Donuts has tens of thousands of friends on Facebook.  Other restaurants, large and small, have pumped up their online presence in recent years and the internet has become a very important medium for advertising.

But social media also has a dark side, because once you throw your brand out into cyberspace, anyone can praise it.  Anyone can also tear you down.

Take the Jack-In-The-Box example.

The national chain ran a Super Bowl ad this year in which their long-time mascot, Jack, was hit by a bus.  Jack-In-The-Box followed the ad up with a social media marketing campaign that allowed users to post get well cards for Jack.  The chain leveraged several social outlets, including YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr.  Thousands of people responded, and a good portion were great for brand-building.

However, a significant percentage were vulgar, brand-bashing, and downright offensive.  In the “old days” (read: anything more than 3 years ago) relinquishing power over what could be said publicly about a brand was pure marketing sacrilege.

But progressive marketers these days have recognized a couple key sea changes, especially as the Millennium Generation gains buying power.

First, people 30 years old and younger in this country have been bombarded with advertising since birth.  They know when they are being pitched and they are likely to be skeptical.  Second, anything that lacks authenticity is Dead On Arrival, and a waste of marketing dollars.

Hence Jack-In-The Box’s willingness to let consumers drive their campaign, even if it meant allowing Jack to get beat up in the process.  In the end, the ultimate authenticity is a surrender of control over a brand.  The most authentic marketing is word-of-mouth, and in an era of unprecedented connectivity, word-of-mouth can travel at lightning speed.

Campaigns like the “Get Well Jack” one are ways to harness the powerful, if unpredictable, world of electronic communication.  Just be ready to experience the dark side of social media marketing, where brands are passed through the ringer by anonymous pranksters.  Luckily, most brands come out the other end bruised but truly “authentic.”

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Yelp Has Restaurant Owners Suspicious

The online restaurant review site Yelp has become increasingly suspicious to the small business owners who the site supposedly supports.  The website is based in San Francisco, where it is also the most popular, although Yelp does post reviews about restaurants in 24 cities across the United States.

Restaurant and small business owners in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York have complained that Yelp employees use bad reviews as a way to cajole them into becoming a sponsor of the site, which costs anywhere from $300 to $1,000 per month.

Many owners have reported receiving repeated phone calls from Yelp representatives, particularly after a couple bad reviews appeared on the site’s entry for the owner’s business.

Since it is known that Yelp employees and third party contractors hired by the company have written reviews for the site, suspicion runs high among restaurateurs that Yelp is posting bad reviews as a way to get them to sign on for the monthly sponsorship fee.

For its part, Yelp denies manipulating bad reviews as a sales technique.  But the main problem is that the review ranking system on the site isn’t transparent.  Nobody really knows how Yelp decides which reviews go to the top of an entry on the site.  Sponsors paying the monthly fee are able to decide which reviews appear in the top 5, and this is the primary motivation for them to sign up.

But restaurants that refuse to shell out the money and have many positive reviews seem to be dogged by unfair reviews that consistently appear at the top of their Yelp entry.

Others pay the money, but only because they feel they have no other option to preventing bad publicity.  This is especially true in San Francisco, where Yelp is used by a majority of customers searching for restaurants and other service based businesses in the city.

One popular San Francisco restaurant, Delfino’s Pizza, has fought back by taking some of the more ridiculous negative reviews posted to their Yelp entry and printing them on T-shirts that staff wear while at work.

This subversive tactic has stimulated some good response from customers, and it raised another question about the site: how much do anonymous, unqualified reviews help or hurt a small business?

Either way, Yelp clearly has a customer relations problem, which they have begun addressing in earnest on their blog.  It remains to be seen if Yelp will be seen as a valuable asset or an annoying liability to the small businesses it covers.

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Restaurant Marketing: Can Facebook Help Your Sales?

Restaurant Marketing: Can Facebook Help Your Sales?As social media matures and becomes one of the leading elements of Web 2.0, business owners, including those in the food service industry, have started to look for ways to engage customers through sites like MySpace and Facebook.

But just how effective is it to make a Facebook page for your restaurant?

Dunkin’ Donuts launched a two-day Facebook event recently that allowed fans to weigh in on the national chain’s new line of healthy menu options, including bagels, lite specialty coffees, and healthy breakfast sandwiches.

The purpose was to engage customers, boost email signups for Dunkin’ Perks, which runs promos for local markets and reinforces national Dunkin’ Donuts messaging, and get feedback on new items.

Their Facebook page has been up for a year and Dunkin’ has 370,000 fans.  They won’t reveal how many people are on the Perks email list, but it’s at least that many.

Those are some pretty impressive numbers.  Independent restaurants are starting to get in the game as well, with more and more pages popping up for local eateries across the nation.

So are sales going to go up the minute your Facebook profile goes up?

Well, maybe, maybe not, but the bottom line is having a profile definitely can’t hurt you, and may very well help.  If you don’t start bringing in loads of new customers, you’ll at least improve retention among existing ones.

That’s because you can easily keep a conversation going with loyal customers through social media like Facebook.  A Facebook profile can be a great way to collect information about your customers and get feedback about your restaurant.  You can leverage this information to connect with customers in new ways and expand your email marketing and other campaigns.

You’ll also have a direct way to find out what’s wrong with your establishment and what needs fixing.

And as your restaurant’s Facebook page gains popularity and fans, more people are bound to find out about you as friends of your friends end up on your Facebook page.  This form of marketing is still in its infancy and remains an inexact science.

The beauty is that Facebook costs nothing but your time, and at that price a little experimental marketing is too cheap to avoid.

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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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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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