DINING IS DIGITAL,
AND THAT'S NO BAD THING
12/10/2016 | BY AALIA WALKER
A GOOD RESTAURANT IS MORE THAN GOOD FOOD
What makes a restaurant? A great chef, great ingredients, good service, all spring to mind. However, restaurants are increasingly having to face up to the fact that brand is a key part of the recipe - a restaurant can have great food but uninspiring branding and those tables may remain empty.
Telling a restaurant owner that the food may not be the most important part of the business is tantamount to heresy, but the average restaurant-goer is not a food critic. They are tech-savvy, influenced by advertising and most likely after convenience and value for money. Jay Rayner may notice the addition of organic quinoa on the menu, but for the most part it will be your slick website, viral tweet, or 2-for-1 offer that gets bums on seats - the journey doesn't start with your starter, it starts online. From seeing online marketing, to finding the restaurant's website, to booking a table, through to Instagramming your meal and leaving reviews online, the restaurant experience is increasingly digital, and restaurants need to optimise that experience whether online, or at the table.
London's restaurant scene epitomises the problems faced by restaurateurs - countless good restaurants close each year whilst others flourish, and arguably some of the most popular don't necessarily serve the best dishes. Margins are tight and what happens outside the kitchen can make a huge difference. A good review from a critic, a PR disaster, and even good SEO can make or break a restaurant. Good food gets good reviews, good marketing gets their attention, and good branding gets you at the forefront of a diner's mind. Think 'steak' and a particular restaurant will no doubt come to mind. Try it again for 'family-friendly lunch', 'quality pizza,' or 'hipster burger.' The chances are you can't name an item on the menu, but the brand image is etched into your mind.
Although digital brand building may seem a world away from the kitchen, building a brand is not about logos and corporate slogans, it's about people. It's about giving people what they want. It's about showing diners that you're human too. Do things that get you noticed, do things that show your human side, do things that reflect what your audience loves right now.
"A RESTAURANT CAN HAVE GREAT FOOD BUT UNINSPIRING BRANDING AND THOSE TABLES MAY REMAIN EMPTY"
DO THINGS THAT GET YOU NOTICED
You may have a great spag bol recipe, but it's not going to stop someone scrolling if it appears in their Facebook feed. A brain burger might, however. MEATliquor's recent creation involving fried calf brain showcased their brand image of innovation and rebellion. With profits going to charity, it also showed they are more than just a burger joint - they are a brand who cares.
Using similar shock tactics, budget pizza chain Pizza GoGo got themselves noticed by doing the unexpected. A £500 pizza topped with caviar and 23-carat gold flakes may not have been a big seller, but claiming to sell the world's most expensive pizza earned them huge press coverage.
DO THINGS TO SHOW YOUR HUMAN SIDE
Diners don't want a restaurant to be a faceless logo. Rather than using the internet to sell, restaurants are starting to see the power of taking diners inside the restaurant before they've even booked - whether it's quirky staff shots in the image gallery, or a behind the scenes Instagram video. At Joe Allen in Covent Garden the resident pianist places the perspective diner in the restaurant, live-streaming the set through Periscope. Undoubtedly more enticing than some marketing copy on a website.
In a similar manner, our client Dishoom for whom we've just designed and built a new website (check it out), understand the importance of showcasing the atmosphere in the dining room long before the diner has arrived. With an entire section of their website dedicated to music, they create a story about their brand, using music to reflect their journey from Bombay to London, and the subsequent mix of cultures. There is even a Spotify playlist which recreates the sounds of the restaurant - if music be food of love, and all that...
And talking of love, Domino's Pizza have truly zoned in on the link between dining and human interaction with the Cheesy Chat Up Lines Generator we've built for them. It's worth noting that pizza is barely mentioned, it's all about planting that link in users' minds between eating pizza and spending time with your loved ones (or finding prospective loved ones in this case).
DO THINGS THAT REFLECT WHAT YOUR AUDIENCE LOVES RIGHT NOW
Give them what they want is an age-old marketing cliche, but a powerful one. Take Pokemon Go - a childish fad to some, a marketing opportunity to others. Maxwell's in Covent Garden saw it as the latter, turning their restaurant into a Pokestop and setting lures to attract Pokemon-obsessed diners. Truly capitalising on the zeitgeist, their Pokemon menu featured Pokemon-themed versions of on-trend items, including freakshakes, doughnuts and cocktails.
On-trend foods are indeed a marketer's dream - if it's a hit on Instagram, it's likely to be a hit on the menu. Joe's Southern Table and Bar noticed the proliferation of both avocado and burgers in foodie circles, and produced the peak #foodporn dish - the avocado burger. Unsurprisingly it didn't take long for it to be plastered all over social media.
The takeaway? (Pun intended.) Restaurants are about more than food. Dining out is a multi-sensory experience - the flavours, the smells, the conversations, and although it will upset the purists, the digital journey. Branding and marketing are often a restaurant's biggest asset - if a restaurant comments on your Instagram post of their dish are you more likely to go back? Admit it, the answer is probably yes. Food will always be the focus, but digital is now a vital addition to the ingredients list.
Find out how SMACK can help you improve your restaurant brand engagement and digital footprint