Driving restaurant sales through online ordering and social media can yield positive results, but experts caution that it takes commitment to the task and a sharp focus on marketing the service for the investment to pay off.
Executives participating in the webinar titled, “The New Social Order (ing): Monetizing Social Media Investments Driving Customer Loyalty,” acknowledged that some successful operators are indeed reaping benefits in the form of increased sales and higher check averages.
However, Geoff Alexander, vice president and managing partner of Wow Bao, a division of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises in Chicago, advised that it takes time and planning to make the service work.
“Online ordering is a business, and you have to commit to it every day to grow that business,” Alexander told the webinar’s more than 500 participants. “You have to push it and market it.
“You have to get it out in front of people’s faces,” he continued, adding it is imperative for a restaurant’s online ordering program to be promoted on multiple platforms — from menus and websites to signs and even bag stuffers on trays.
The webinar was sponsored by Exit41, an Andover, Mass.-based food-ordering social media provider, and presented by Nation’s Restaurant News.
Joining Alexander on the webinar panel were:
• Chet Barnard, chief executive of Exit41
• Jim Anderson, chief operating officer of Atlanta-based Vitrue, a social-marketing software firm based in Atlanta
• Wendy McReynolds, director of marketing for Bravo/Brio Restaurant Group, a 48-unit company based in Columbus, Ohio
• Matt Schultz, marketing and social media coordinator for Bravo/Brio.
The experts concurred that online ordering through social media — whether it is Facebook or an iPhone app — potentially is a money-maker for restaurants. At Bravo/Brio, for example, 8 percent to 10 percent of sales are generated by online ordering and the goal is to boost that number to 15 percent to 20 percent, McReynolds said.
Wow Bao’s Alexander also noted that the average check for an online order is three to four times higher than a check in the restaurant. “It’s people buying for the office or multiple orders coming in,” he said.
Barnard told webinar participants that online ordering is growing because it allows customers “the ease of doing business … It’s about convenience. It’s about speed.”
Facebook, with its 500 million members, is a popular online tool, but Alexander pointed out that “technology is constantly evolving.”
Anderson agreed with Alexander regarding the importance of committing the time and manpower to the online ordering service if the service is provided. He said it’s vital to “pay attention to fan pages and listen to commentary and use the feedback. The raw materials are out there to get meaningful feedback.”
Alexander said Facebook is “my billboard” and Twitter feeds come nonstop to gauge customer feedback.
The one hurdle that McReynolds cited is that customers must be educated about how to order, especially the older demographic. “We’re educating guests on the conveniences,” she said. “It’s one of the trickier aspects we have seen.”
Alexander said the top questions an operator should ask before diving into online social media ordering is:
• Can it be run as a business, with focus and commitment
• Does it fit the restaurant’s concept
• Do the restaurant’s customers use computers and apps
• Does an operation’s food travel well
And while technology clearly is changing rapidly, Alexander advised restaurants to not worry about the next phase in its development. “Instead of looking 10 yards down the field [consider] how you’re using what you have now,” he said.
Contact Alan Snel at [email protected].