If you're a restaurant owner and have ventured onto Twitter, are you using it effectively? At Serious Eats, the food community site I founded, we follow a large number of restaurants, chefs and food-obsessed tweeters. We know what works — and what doesn't.
I asked the various members of the Serious Eats team what advice they'd give to restaurateurs wanting to use the medium. Here's what they said:
Tweet Your Daily Specials
If you're like many restaurants, you have a number of daily specials that aren't on the regular menu. In the pre-Twitter world, the only way to advertise these dishes was on a sandwich board outside your restaurant or through your wait staff's tableside spiel. It seems obvious to point it out, but if you're not tweeting your daily specials, you're losing out on an easy way to promote those items far beyond passing and walk-in customers.
And think of this: Your Twitter followers are already fans of what you do. They're the most likely to bite at a daily special — particularly if they're looking for something at your restaurant beyond what they already know.
Location, Location, Location
Food trucks. We don't need to tell you that this trend, which has been on the upswing for the last couple of years, has reached full-blown phenomenon. Many trucks, like the now famous Kogi BBQ truck in Los Angeles or the Big Gay Ice Cream Truck in New York City, are absolutely dependent on Twitter for getting the word out about where they'll be parked during business hours. If you're thinking about getting into a mobile food-vending business as your sole operation or as a sideline to what your restaurant already does, it's imperative that you get on Twitter and use it to broadcast your location at all times.
Tweet not only your whereabouts but, like above, your daily specials, if you have any. If you have popular items that tend to run out, update your followers as soon as you do — it may turn them away on a single occasion, but you'll build goodwill and trust among your fans for keeping them in the loop. Last, don't forget to tweet out when you're done for the day and closing up shop. There's nothing more frustrating for street-vendor fans than trekking to your supposed location only to find you've packed up shop and gone home.
Contests and Giveaways
The tips above assume that you already have followers on Twitter. But if you don't, how do you get them? Fellow OPEN Forum author Steve Strauss gives some smart advice here. Following food lovers in your area on Twitter will likely get you some follow-backs. And from there, an easy way to promote yourself is with contests and giveaways. Offer a free lunch or dinner to a random follower who retweets your message. Hold a trivia contest and give coupons or gift certificates to the first person to answer correctly. Tweeters will notice and add you to their follow lists.
Humanize Your Feed
If all you're doing is talking about specials and promotions, though, followers can get turned off. At Serious Eats, we've found that our friends on Twitter enjoy hearing about the day-to-day things that happen at SE HQ. So when a community member mailed us some crackers from a recipe she made recently, we took a photo and tweeted it out. When a team member says something particularly funny or has a great insight, we'll post that too.
The public's interest in chefs, food and restaurants is only growing. Feed it and humanize your tweet stream and your restaurant by posting about the ephemera of daily behind-the-scenes restaurant life.
As the saying goes, you eat first with your eyes. Posting beautiful photos of your restaurant's food to your Twitter stream will help draw in customers. If you're tweeting from a smartphone, use a Twitter app that supports photo posting. If you're posting from a laptop or desktop, you can use a photo service like twitpic or yfrog to upload and tweet photos.
Easier still is to retweet any photos that your followers take of your food. It helps get strong visuals of your dishes out there and helps make a connection with a patron.