Are digital promotions worth the investment?

How F&B outlets can increase covers using online strategies

From digital loyalty programmes to online review systems, and social media - what works to increase covers?
From digital loyalty programmes to online review systems, and social media - what works to increase covers?

It’s the world of digital and F&B outlets need to quickly realise this and get on the social bandwagon. It’s not just about a presence on social media platforms to raise awareness about your brand - rather, how do you translate this existence to getting ‘bums on seats’?

Using digital promotions and social media like loyalty programmes, promoted tweets, table booking systems, Facebook offers, and review websites are the ways in which restaurants directly engage with its customers — but whether it is beneficial or not is another story.

Atlantis, The Palm online marketing director Euan Mitchell says the hotel has a robust and active presence on social media, where it uses Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, YouTube, its blog, and more, on a daily basis.
Giving an example of where the hotel has used the digital world to its advantage, Mitchell reveals: “We stepped-up our focus on F&B in June 2013 with the launch of the Atlantis Foodie Facebook page. Dedicated exclusively to drive day visitation from the local community to our restaurants and bars, Atlantis Foodie has gained over 4700 fans (the majority of which are from the UAE) in the last year alone.”

Náis Italian Kitchen owner and director Marianna Rescia says her outlet has active Facebook and Twitter pages, which keeps its customers informed and engages with them on a regular basis — through showcasing food, recipes, education, as well as sharing press and success stories. Rescia adds that because the restaurant also offers catering for both private and corporate events, a strong social media presence is beneficial in reaching out to potential clients.

She points out that giving away discounts and freebies on social media platforms could be detrimental to the perceived value of the product. “I prefer talking and engaging with our followers to show our appreciation. I believe that is more valuable than giving something away.”

Rescia reveals she had previously done promotions on social media platforms, like Facebook, Foursquare and Twitter, but found them ineffective, as the brand didn’t get the engagement estimated.

Table management and reservations firm Table4Me managing partner Tiina-Maija Bergman says: “In general, any restaurant would be clever to have a loyalty programme. Before they launch it, they should define their identity, their USP, and the reason for which they believe they deserve loyal customers.

Are they the most welcoming venue; serving the most authentic food; have the friendliest staff; funniest entertainment? Once they know who their customers are, and what their specific message is, they are ready to step onto the platform and start interacting.”

She notes that it is great that there are many options out there today for restaurants to reach the online marketplace in real time. “I do believe they should always make the best attempts to make that communication and interaction focused, and purposeful. This can be achieved by understanding their own business and understand it as the customers perceive it; this may or may not be same as what they themselves think.”

In addition, restaurants must know their customers: habits, preferences, and so on. She explains: “A database of customers is like gold dust — the most efficient way of collecting customer data in this day and age is by adopting a system to track that data automatically. Systems such as ours will automate the data collection for customer details, including personal information, likes and dislikes. With point-of-sale integration, it could also automate collection of spend data to add to visit statistics the reservation system would already collect.

Having this information is vital for any restaurant wanting to effectively ‘blow the marketing horn’, as they must understand where their customers are coming from, what they like to hear about, and on what platform.”

Tabling Profits

But do these efforts translate to profit or ROI for the outlets?
Bergman says: “As far as the investment, software is definitely the way to go — much less initial investment, thus faster ROI, and no big hardware purchases to be made. What the expected return would be depends on the angle for the measurement a restaurant chooses to look at. We cannot simply look at increase in covers or revenues in a restaurant for ROI as a one-dimensional baseline, although this seems to often be the main focus.”

Marketing on social media platforms is very budget friendly, agrees Rescia. “That’s great for small businesses. With some creativity and a little know-how we can spread the word and make a big impact without blowing our budget. However, we feel that more traditional mediums such as newspapers and radio remain the most effective ones,” she explains.

She continues: “We calculate our ROI on some investments, but because it can get complex, we don’t attempt to measure it at all times. Bigger investments are always calculated against the total revenue — so the top line sales generated. We have a general idea of how our investments perform relative to each other, but we can’t pinpoint the exact return generated.”

Bergman suggests another way of evaluating results: “We must also consider the ROE — Return on Effort. What is the value of having 24/7 bookings available on all digital platforms? How about the simplified and more cost effective way of the marketing team to reach the customers, and to easily measure their response right down to number of feedback and comments received, and bookings generated? These type of measures in the past have been mere guesswork; now there is an effective way of automating the data collection for same and that, in our view, is a considerable value add.”

Snapp Mobile Loyalty Solutions FZ-LLC co-founder and COO Leith Matthews says his firm benefits its restaurant partners by creating a tangible connection between them and their most valuable customers. “Metrics of success we measure are increased frequency of visits. For example, customers that would usually have lunch at the restaurant once a week being converted into multiple times a week, once engaged with the loyalty programme.

“Greater referrals, through the application sharing is made cool, fun and rewarding, thus users are telling more people about their favourite venues through SnappCard. The information that SnappCard provides to our partners is extremely strong and can be used to better understand their customers and act accordingly to connect with them (directly to the mobile) and bring them back to the restaurant more often.”

CROWDED NATURE

Some of these methods can definitely give results, and there are a lot of ways in which to attract customers — from social media promotions to apps, and from reward features to online marketing. But do these different elements tie together, or has the digital landscape become too muddled, making it harder to target customers?
Rescia says: “The diversity of social networks, languages, social elements and habits presents a highly fragmented landscape. So to be successful marketers, you have to work harder to understand and find the target customers.”

Matthews says: “It has been proven through many recent surveys and studies that customers respond well to good quality loyalty programmes. In a market such as Dubai, where a lot of people are choosing where to eat each and every day, their belonging to a loyalty programme will bring the customer back more often.

The fact that it’s located on the mobile phone ensures that the guest will never lose or forget their loyalty card and won’t lose interest. The ability to quickly share and effectively recruit friends through the app towards their favourite venues also works to increase business for our restaurant partners.”

Bergman says it is challenging to keep up with all of the different elements without having a dedicated focus on them. She adds: “Effective database management will certainly help understanding what channels work best, which work better for some things, say a flash sale of something might go down really well on social media where the rate of response is typically almost instant; whereas an online marketing campaign might reap better results for a New Year’s Eve function where the target audience wants to be reached well beforehand.”

One of Table4ME’s clients is Atlantis, and Mitchell says the hotel has found success through their strategic partnership to reach its target audience. He says: “Our guest’s digital experience covers all elements when it comes F&B. For instance, potential guests may see a delicious food image on our FB page which grabs their attention, and then click the link on the post, which drives back to our website for more information.

From there, they have the option to book a reservation on both desktop and mobile. This comprehensive and holistic approach has seen a noticeable rise in restaurant bookings from the digital/mobile side, resulting in increased revenue.”

He adds: “While we have the largest following on Facebook and Twitter, we have seen that when it comes to F&B, Instagram is one of the most effective social media tools for interaction and engagement. When making the choice to dine outside of the home, people want to see a visual, not necessarily read about it.

With Instagram, we drive photo competitions, the use of specific hashtags and captivating images. As a result, we have seen people coming to our restaurants and requesting specific dishes that we, or our previous guests, have posted online. It doesn’t get more engaging than that.”

Rescia says that the social network that gets most response for her restaurant is Facebook due to follower numbers. However, she concurs Instagram is her favourite for sharing pictures. She adds: “It’s easy to engage and we always get a fair number of hits.”

According to Matthews, loyalty is more important than ever before because 80% of revenue is generated by 20% of its customers — making a loyal customer base very profitable. And while social media is a hit, the consensus is that without really understanding the target market and investing time and money, restaurants can fail at attracting new customers and turning them into repeat guests.

How Snapp Works:

Snapp Mobile Loyalty Solutions FZ-LLC co-founder and COO Leith Matthews says restaurants usually reach out to the company when they are considering their approach or strategy towards customer appreciation and retention. He describes the process further: “We will first listen to their business conditions and objectives, and then offer consultancy as per our research and experience in consumer loyalty and digital consumer engagement.

The cost of the platform is extremely attractive to quality restaurants, as it’s comparable in terms of cost, to operating a traditional paper-based system. Together with the restaurant management and our input, a customised loyalty offer is created to be featured through the SnappCard platform. We create customised collateral for each venue, which maintains our partners’ premium positioning and passes on the message to their customers that the mobile loyalty programme is now available.”

The company works with independent venues such as Tom & Serg, established larger brands like The Noodle House, and has also recently expanded into working with hotels like the Media One Hotel.

Matthews adds: “Another key advantage that we have over our few competitors is our dedication to clean design and brilliant user experience. This being said, we are comfortable in our position and see the few similar concepts entering the market as verification that the F&B industry is keen to innovate towards digital solutions.”

Náis Italian Kitchen has tied up with Snapp for its loyalty programme. Its owner and director Marianna Rescia explains: “We liked the concept of using smart phones to collect points rather than the usual printed cards. Also, the branding and feel of the product was very close to our own style. It’s also engaging for our regular clients and they are so happy when they get their reward.”

How important are online rating platforms for restaurants?
Marianna Rescia: “Zomato is a popular portal in the region and it is vital to be listed on it. We have received some fantastic reviews from our diners and I am thankful. Customer feedback helps us understand their expectations and improve our offering and service accordingly. We read all reviews and share them with the team. We celebrate the success stories with the team, and when we have feedback and criticism we take actions towards improving them. We always respond to constructive feedback.”

Tiina-Maija Bergman: “The rating platforms are a reality today that restaurants should embrace; customers want to read other customer comments over what the restaurants have to say about themselves. True feedback on customer experiences should be considered invaluable input back to the restaurant on how they are doing.

There are an increasing number of restaurants bombarded by ‘professional complainers’ hoping for a free meal and restaurants must ensure they have accurate information about the customer experience before responding; after all, perhaps the customer isn't always exactly right.

Authenticated feedback would be key in achieving this; it is great when a restaurant can know which table has submitted comments, and to have the ability to respond having maximum information about the customers’ experience. Our partner restaurants using this feature find it hugely beneficial as they can then discuss received feedback internally before responding.”

Euan Mitchell: “In addition to the direct interaction on our brand social media pages, we believe that trusted review sites such as TripAdvisor and Zomato are a highly effective way to communicate with our audience. We actively work with these sites, monitor reviews and flag comments — both positive and negative — for response and follow-up as needed.

Our attention to these details, taking into consideration customer feedback and making necessary adjustments, have helped us achieve considerable results, including Yuan, our new Chinese restaurant, bar and lounge being ranked in the top five restaurants in Dubai.”

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