If there’s any aspect of the business that has gotten easier, say some operators, it is marketing, thanks to the explosion of social media. In a social world driven by food porn, many of the Top 100 operators who play in the fine-dining realm have an edge—the focus on in-restaurant plating. “I attribute a lot of our success to ‘other people’ marketing, because I don’t do it,” says Chefetz, who admits restaurant marketing has shifted. “If I have 800 reservations on a Friday night, it’s possible 400 are taking pictures of the food. They’re all personal marketers for me.”
Jacobs says his first task of the day is to check what’s being said about his restaurants on social media. “A New York Times review in print used to be important, but it’s all changed,” he says. “The one thing that is important today is what the guests are saying day to day.” Every morning, he gets a report of anything said the previous day on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Yelp, plus other social mentions.
The speed of social media can be both jarring and disruptive. A guest at a restaurant can have a picture of their dish up on Instagram in minutes. “Sometimes it’s too real-time, but they’re not shy about voicing their opinions,” says Jacobs. They may still even be in the restaurant, he adds.
So paying attention is a non-negotiable for those who want to succeed, a challenge for a lot of independents who have lean staffs and don’t always have someone dedicated to watching the web. “In today’s environment, there’s so much competition, so many great operators out there, that if you don’t stay on top of it and use that feedback and pay attention to it, you’re missing a great opportunity to stay in touch,” Jacobs says.
Rosie Davenport, director of sales and marketing for Harris Ranch Inn & Restaurant, says it brought control of social media in-house last year. The result: a 55% increase in consumer reach and engagement, she reports.
Prime 112’s Chefetz says he’s always concerned about competition, but ultimately this consumer commentary makes him focus even harder on what’s going on within his four walls. “I’m aware that you’re only as good as your last meal, and I go on Yelp and TripAdvisor and the others to check feedback. I always say, ‘Strive for perfection, settle for excellence,’ but it’s difficult. There are so many variables. I hope we deliver on most of them.”