So I wanted to try something new.

This week, I spent a lot of time reaching out to about three dozen local restaurants in Des Moines and Central Iowa talking to them about their digital and social media use. I came away with some interesting notes. I thought they were worthy of sharing. 

Here are a few themes from these calls:

Image: Blu Toro Cantina & Grill, West Des Moines, Iowa

Image: Blu Toro Cantina & Grill, West Des Moines, Iowa

1. People are nervous about the economy. This is the first time I’ve encountered this in the past few years. Look, I don't know much about the intricacies of the economy as a whole. I pretend that I have a decent pulse on things nationally, but all I really have is my own work and the people I talk to. And restaurants are a nice barometer for how things are going in the rest of the world. It's one of those businesses that people need to survive, but can also live without when times are tough. 

So when I hear that restaurant owners are asking for solutions for discounts and coupons, I start to get nervous.

And I sense an opportunity.

Where I live in Central Iowa, this discount phenomenon is a common theme. First, I think there are probably too many restaurants around and with the rise of the themed chain restaurant with their enormous marketing budgets and focus grouped menus, this isn't going away. What local restaurants are going to face here in the coming months is that they're going to sense that there isn't much room for another location. 

Yet there is. There almost always is room for another restaurant.

For the restaurant owner ready to contribute in a real and positive way to the ways of new media, there's always a way. So to these people, I simply offer my solutions as a means of creating more raving fans and building your digital assets in case the economy really turns south. 

2. Restaurant owners and managers still don’t trust digital. They see it as a necessary evil. This is troubling. Why? Because as the ads on the platforms get more and more expensive, you're missing out on what Gary Vaynerchuk calls the "land grab" for digital attention. Here are just a couple stats from Strata. 

  • Any one of the apps owned by Facebook is used once per day by 1.6 billion people and Facebook has 2 billion monthly users. 
  • Snapchat has 171 million daily users. 
  • Instagram has 800 million monthly users. 
  • LinkedIn has over 300 million monthly users. 
  • Twitter has 336 million monthly users. 
  • YouTube will soon take over television.

    So trust it or don't trust it... But don't pretend that it doesn't exist or it's some sort of fad. It's time to build those digital assets.
So trust it or don’t trust it... But don’t pretend that it doesn’t exist or it’s some sort of fad. It’s time to build those digital assets.

3. Review sites are a concern. The number one concern for digital media with restaurateurs in Central Iowa continues to be review sites, responding to bad reviews and online reputation. ‪This is fair, but in my experience that doesn't mean you should give up on social media just because someone wrote something mean about you online. Instead, restaurant owners need to take the time to create a strategy to become their brand's community manager. That's either through hiring it out to another source, using a remote community manager or having someone on your staff respond to these things.

Some tips for dealing with review sites and responding to reviews:

Social and Digital Media for Restaurants in Des Moines, Iowa
  • Create Google Alerts for your restaurant's name. This will allow you to get reviews directly to your inbox. 
  • Set up email alerts on the top 5-10 online review pages (Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor, Facebook, OpenTable, Bing, etc). Then when a review is written, you can respond to it directly. 
  • Create a response list for various items and give your social community managers some leeway to respond to bad reviews. Respond to them with the intent of creating a new fan. 
  • Highlight the best reviews in your own social posts. If you get a great review, don't be shy. Create a video highlighting some of your best reviews. Post those to your social channels. 
  • Use a messaging bot to generate online reviews. This is one of my favorites. More on that in another post. 
Image: Chef Sean Wilson, Proof Restaurant, Des Moines, Iowa

Image: Chef Sean Wilson, Proof Restaurant, Des Moines, Iowa

4. They accept digital media as a reality. Overall, restaurant owners and managers in Central Iowa accept the reality of digital media even if they don’t know how to monetize it to get customers. That's a good first step. Most just have no idea how to begin. So given the solution for how to see sales, they become receptive to paying an expert or training a staff member for its use.

5. Chatbots for Restaurants. Most still haven’t been introduced to the power of chatbots and messenger marketing or were even aware of its existence. This has been my favorite marketing trend over the past year. What bots are able to do is automate much of the sales process, online reviews, contests and private event contacts. I'm sure I'll take more time in a future post to talk more about this. But in the meantime, ask your friendly neighborhood social and digital media expert how to set one up and create leads after they're set up. They're a huge moneymaker if done correctly. 

Image: Proof Restaurant, Des Moines, Iowa

Image: Proof Restaurant, Des Moines, Iowa

6. Cable TV. I was shocked to learn of a restaurant owner with one location spending $64,500 last year on cable TV ads without any means of either a.) capturing leads or b.) tracking conversions. (!!!)

Look, I'm not going to use this as a time to rant and hate on TV ads.

Okay maybe a little.

There's a time and a place for that and I'm sure I'll have more time to discuss it in the near future. That said, this is absolutely freaking nuts. These are the same people who would scoff at spending $1000 per month to hire a digital media manager to get manage their online ads and their content. $1000 that could triple the outcome that they're receiving from Cable TV ads. So here's a bit of advice for those of you hell-bent on spending your restaurant's money on cable TV.

Image: Gusto Pizza Co, Des Moines Iowa

Image: Gusto Pizza Co, Des Moines Iowa

  • Have a means for tracking your leads. What I mean is something truly unique that your customers can ask for when they come into your restaurant. Think about a specialty drink that they can get for free that you're only advertising on Cable TV. Call it the "CABLE TV DRINK." Then create the exact same drink with just a different name that we'll call the "FACEBOOK AD DRINK" and boost it for $100 within a two mile radius of your restaurant without any targeting whatsoever. Offer that drink for FREE with the purchase of an appetizer for a limited time on both the TV spot and the digital ad. Tally up the results. For the $2000 you spent on TV ads, you're going to get better results from the Facebook ad. I'll bet my modest Beaverdale house on it.
  •  Follow up. When those leads come in the door, make sure you're capturing their email address for follow up and also give them some sort of coupon to return. Start using your marketing as a means of gathering more regular customers. 

7. Facebook Pixel Use. Only one of the restaurants I called on this week understood what a Facebook pixel was or how to use it for remarketing to customers who visited their site. So... learn how to install the pixel on your website and landing pages, but also learn how to retarget them with Facebook and Instagram ads. 

Some restaurant owner in Central Iowa is going to figure all this digital media stuff out and crush it. Let's just hope that's you.