Should Social Media Be A Part of The Restaurant Experience?

For most industries, technology makes the aspects of daily business easier, but how do we gauge if the restaurant business is one of them? We opened Martins West almost 8 years ago and there was barely any social media to speak of at all, but over the years I have seen that social media has become a prevalent source of media and messaging.

taking photos of food in restaurants

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There are different degrees of the use of technology and how it affects the business, for instance “They who shall no be named” have become the Go-to search tool for local business’. Even I have to admit, when I am in a city or town that I am not familiar with, I will use them as a guide as to where to eat or drink. They have become the new “word of mouth” which used to be considered such a valuable marketing tool for restaurants. The tried and true, someone dines at your restaurant, they tell you about their experience and from that, you either choose to dine at the restaurant and skip it. This is exactly what they are, except instead of a “reviewer” telling a group of friends, they tell over 2 million of their closest Internet friends. The reader then just has to understand that the reviews are subjective, and not only that, but they are sometimes inaccurate…

Despite all of the main concerns most business owners have with this certain review site is that guests use it is a menu when dining at the restaurant. I’ve seen many people come in and pop out the phone and search the reviews before they even look at the menu. Yes, in some places, this may work, but we have a restaurant where the menu changes very often due to seasonality. I remember just a few months ago one of my favorite servers had a table who continuously asked for certain items that they read about and had great reviews about in the past, “I’d like to try the chicken and waffles”, the server politely pointed at the menu, explained that we are a seasonal restaurant and that the items that we currently had, would be found on the menu. “Ok how about this pear cocktail?” Referencing a cocktail which had a review written about it in 2009. “Unfortunately we no longer carry that either, here is our cocktail menu to take a look at”. I appreciate that people are intrigued by reviews of dishes or drinks that we have once served, but we have a whole restaurant full of people who we are trying to take care of, and to avoid this back and fourth, please check out the menu provided as it (not your phone) has all of the information that you need. A few months ago there was a rant and rave on craigslist from an anonymous restaurant in New York City (it has since been taken down as it went quite viral). They are blaming customers’ use of cell phones for its slow service. Finding that it received an “increasing number of customers complaining about slow service in recent years” and so it hired a firm to investigate the problem. The restaurant then revealed the results on the now-deleted Craigslist post. Apparently, the biggest change was the increased use of cell phones by customers, which the restaurant believes distract customers and causes meals to last longer.

After comparing footage from a dinner service in 2004 to footage from a dinner service in 2014 — on a day that had “roughly the same amount of customers” — the restaurant found that a meal used to take around one hour to serve, but now it takes closer to two. It claims that in 2014 “9 out of 45 customers sent their food back to reheat,” adding, “Obviously if they didn’t pause to do whatever on their phone the food wouldn’t have gotten cold.” The restaurant also apparently found that in 2014 “26 out of 45 customers spend an average of 3 minutes taking photos of the food.” The use of cell phones also caused customers to take longer to look at the menu and order food. Plus, when “customers are constantly busy on their phones it took an average of 20 minutes more from when they were done eating until they requested a check.”

I don’t know how valid this is, but I do know what see is that instead of guests engaging with the servers, or even their companions, they are gathering information from their phones. There is so much information that guests can gather from the servers provided to them. Our servers are advocates for a restaurant. They are the ones that touch the public on a daily basis and help to form an experience. When quality and service are pillars of success, technological advancements can’t replace a personal touch and my personal opinion, is that part of the experience of dining restaurant has been lost without the interaction between guests and wait staff. I also believe that part of the overall experience at a restaurant comes from the company who is with you, and how can you enjoy the company of one another if you (or they) are constantly looking at a screen. As a restaurateur – I believe that everything unfolds to create a perfect dining experience, and I want people to enjoy each others company and have great conversation.

There are some aspects of social media and technology that I cannot, nor would I try to deny that are beneficial to the daily operation of a restaurant. As long as it doesn’t take overshadow the experience, please, take a snapshot of your food and post on your social media (make sure you’re tagging us!) Now our restaurant will show up in the feed of your countless number of friends and if we are lucky…they will then share with their friends. I like that restaurants can use social media as marketing, we can reach thousands of people to people on a daily and if you do it just right, it will actually grow your audience and online presence. Technology itself is on the rise, and if consumers are using apps and smartphones which can influence restaurant visitation, I’m all for it. Bottom line, as long as you are dining at our restaurant, and sharing your experience in one way or another, I am thrilled, I do ask that you try to keep your negative thoughts to yourself, and allow it is brief and subjective, and encourage others to form their own option. We are a small business, husband and wife team, who literally put everything we had into this business, and we did it for the passion of what we do and genuinely wanting to share it with others. I know that we have been formed as a society to think that we are all out to get one another, but really all we want to do is hear your laughter and enjoyment when choosing to eat at our restaurant.

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