Hashtags and social media. You see them constantly on you Facebook and Instagram feeds and even in advertisements that integrate #haveityourway and other hashtags into their campaign. But how do hashtags impact your bottom line in a positive way? By increasing the exposure and marketing reach of your business, quite simply. But let’s back up and take a look at what a hashtag is, and how it works to drive traffic and awareness to your company.
Hashtags, at least for restaurant purposes, exist primarily on Instagram. Facebook occasionally dabbles in hashtags, but for the most part, hashtags exist as a function on Instagram in order to search and find photos by categories. If you want to know how popular a hashtag is, type it into Instagram and results will pop up telling you how many times the hashtag has been used. Millions of uses are not uncommon for the most popular hashtags. Similarly, you can search by a specific hashtag – #food52 – for example, and all the pictures which have that hashtag in their copy or comments (we’ll get into that in a minute) will show up in the search. This is the power of hashtags in terms of boosting your image. The most popular search results will always show up in the first nine images (typically, the images with the most likes) and below that, they will appear in chronological order. So you won’t get much ‘staying power’ in terms of visibility from using a hashtag, but you will definitely boost your audience exposure.
When using hashtags, it makes sense to collect 20 or 30 that you can use in the comments section of every single Instagram post. Putting in the comments vs. the copy (what you write when you post your image) is crucial for several reasons. Too many hashtags will make your ad copy hard to read and look distracting/unattractive if you automatically cross post to Facebook. The comments have the same search power as the copy, so putting your hash tags in the comments, under a couple *** icons, makes your copy look more attractive. You can and should develop a couple hashtags which are unique to your restaurant – the name of your restaurant group for example – which you can put in the copy in order to allow your customers to know to use that specific ‘custom’ hashtag too. By using a custom hashtag, you also drive up the visibility of all your posts in one place. For the collection of hashtags, do some research. Chances are good there are regional ones used in your town or city, which is important as if you don’t geotarget your hashtags, you’ll draw an international audience. “Likes” and “follows” are great, but they won’t increase your ROI unless you’re targeting to a local crowd who can actually visit you. After that, look for hashtags from your favorite food and wine publications (#eater) as well as ones that are popular for food in general (#foodstagram). Once you have a collection, save them somewhere on your mobile device so that you may easily copy and paste into the comment of every single Instagram post you put up. Your likes, followers, and digital traffic will increase and done right, this will eventually lead to foot traffic into the door of your restaurant.
Summer may not “officially” be over for a couple more weeks, but chillier weather is in the air, and after the three day holiday weekend, consumers will be eager for everything autumn. In terms of food, pumpkin is king from now until Halloween, and there are many ways to incorporate pumpkin flavors into your menu. The pumpkin spice latte is one of the most famous of these trends, of course (no actual pumpkin involved – just the same spice mixture used in pumpkin pie), and some brands get downright gimmicky with this flavor profile (pumpkin oreos anyone?) But that shouldn’t stop you from taking a good hard look at the pumpkin recipes available and working with your chef to incorporate some seasonal favorites on your menu. Below are some suggestions:
Pumpkin ravioli: pumpkin or squash, fresh and seasonal, makes an excellent filler for fresh pasta. This dish works equally well with a touch of seasonal spices and sugars, or as a more savory option. Incorporate as either a starter or an entree if you currently offer fresh pasta at your establishment. Lobster works very well as a protein with this particular pasta, with just a little cream sauce to tie everything together.
Pumpkin cheesecake: this one is a classic for a reason. Creamy pumpkin works beautifully as the filler for everyone’s favorite dessert – cheesecake. The rich, burnt orange color will also be wonderfully evocative of fall, and you can dress this up with pumpkin seeds, caramel garnish, and plenty of fresh whipped cream.
Pumpkin flan: a quirkier riff on the classic pie/cheesecake dessert, pumpkin flan combines a classic Latin caramel dessert with the creamy textures of pumpkin. The flavor profile is universally appealing, and the ingredients are very cost effective. This works especially well if you happen to have a Latin fusion restaurant.
Pumpkin lasagna with swiss chard: this is an excellent vegetarian entree, and seasonal swiss chard will play nicely with the hearty pumpkin in this riff on a classic lasagna. Use plenty of fresh ricotta cheese to tie the vegetable medley together.
Ginger roasted pumpkin: as a side dish, pumpkin is a beautiful root vegetable to offer with a hearty protein, such as a rib eye steak. Roasting pumpkin with ginger will offer additional flavor depth and work well with the natural caramelized sweetness of the vegetable.
Congratulations. You’ve managed to open several (successful) restaurant concepts, and business is booming. The only issue is – these restaurants have very different themes. One is a seafood place, and one serves Santa Fe style food. Still another is a taco station which is more like the Santa Fe style restaurant – but not quite the same as it. With all these different brand identities, you want to be able to capture customer information to market to the entire group, and you also want to make sure your loyal customers at each location know about your different brands. But how do you cross market without confusion? Here are some tips.
First, create a strong corporate group identity. If you’re big enough, it makes sense for your core brand to have its own logo, website, social media, etc. This core brand can then share information on all the groups and tie everything together, so to speak, for the different restaurant concepts. In terms of a brand name, choose something that speaks to your own personal identity in order to have a strong cohesive group name and concept. Use the core group’s social media to share images from all your restaurants, and develop a hashtag with the group’s name to be used in all Instagram posts to tie everything together.
Next, consider offering a loyalty program which can be used at any restaurant location. By tying a loyalty program together for all your locations, you can also create a database of email addresses for email marketing. In terms of emails, it probably makes sense to have some sent to the entire group and some to individual per restaurant. For example – selling gift cards at the holidays? A good pull for the whole group. Beer dinner or farm dinner or wine dinner? Send to the whole group. Happy hour deals for a specific location? Send to one segment only. So save your list in ‘segments’ and have the ability to market across as broad or as narrow of an audience as you’d like.
Finally, keep your social media separate for each concept. It may be confusing for visitors to understand why you’re sharing photos from a (competing – for all they know) restaurant on your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Snapchat pages. So unless it’s a very specific reason, use each separate social media channel to market that restaurant and concept only.
Fast casual doesn’t have to be fast food. It can be gourmet, food truck, ethnic – really anything that involves a cheaper price point and quick turnaround time. But your fast casual concept can definitely benefit from some universal marketing ideas. Here are some to get you through the (sometimes slower) summer months – unless you’re in a lobster shack by the water, in which case you’ll probably be using these tips in the cooler months to come.
Kids eat free! Consider offering a free kids menu for little diners. Kids meals are almost universally simple – a hot dog, a burger, or a couple chicken nuggets. These cheap items carry a very small margin and offering them at no cost can entice in parents, who will spend considerably more, looking to entertain kids over the school break.
Live music – do you have an alcohol license, outdoor seating, or any other amenities that may cause people to want to sit and mingle at your restaurant? Then live music may be a good bet. Cover bands and acoustic acts are available for booking individually or via a booking agent, and offering live music will set you apart as an entertainment destination, particularly outside when the weather is warm. Guests are more likely to linger at tables, but also more likely to order multiple drinks and drive up their cover charge, and you will be busier on the live music nights if they are advertised properly as well.
Trivia nights - have a slower Tuesday or Wednesday night? Consider setting up trivia! It’s fun, free to play, and will attract large crowds of competitive teams to your location on nights that may otherwise be seriously slow for business. Another alternative – or addition – is paint nite. A great date activity, pain nite will also attract couples and girls groups which are likely to come back and frequent your establishment again. Advertise on your Facebook and other social media channels and also consider drink specials or extended happy hour for these special events.
Wifi – lunch is not necessarily a time to sit and relax during the week. If you have cheap lunch items, capitalize on the ‘working lunch’ crowd who travels with their laptop by offering complimentary wifi to your guests. You can always turn the wifi off during dinner service in order to ensure that your tables are used for service vs. people looking to work for a couple hours like they would in a coffee shop. But in the digital age, everyone takes their work everywhere, and having free, fast wifi will attract a valuable 9-5 customer for both lunch and the slower afternoon lull in your restaurant.
Share our Strength is a great, national food based charity for those looking to connect.
What is social capital? It’s: “the network of social connections that exist between people, and theirshared values and norms of behaviour, which enable and encouragemutually advantageous social cooperation (DICTIONARY.COM).”
But in a broader sense than the literal definition, social capital speaks to the intangible, non-monetary, but still incredibly valuable ‘capital’ a business can build by supporting the community around it and giving back to those in need. Warby Parker is a famous, and very successful, example of a business which gives back heavily of itself by donating a pair of glasses for each pair they sell. Newman’s Own is another, food based socially minded business, which gives “all profits to charity” and focuses as a non-profit.
Both of the above mentioned businesses build tremendous social values by giving to those in need with every sale they make. For restaurants, the charity model is possible on a much smaller, scaleable, and easy to manage scale. No matter your neighborhood – there are good causes which need help and support. And it doesn’t have to be monetary based – literally everyone has to eat, and food donations are always appreciated. Bakeries can donate day old bread to homeless shelters. Pizza places can sponsor their local little leagues with fun pizza party fundraisers.
For higher end restaurants, sampling opportunities abound, especially in big, metropolitan areas. Almost every museum and major charity, whether arts based or social needs based, hosts a large fundraiser every year to provide vital funding for their various initiatives. Many of these fundraisers take the form of galas with a silent auction, where you can donate gift cards, but even better are those which have stations where chefs cook food in small portions for guests. The food costs for these events is usually not terribly high, and the marketing impact is very good as it brands your establishment as a socially conscious establishment whilst simultaneously showing off your goods to a large crowd of typically affluent and entertainment focused individuals. So get out in your community and look for chances to do good. It will help you connect with potential customers and make a positive impact at the same time.