We've walked you through a number of ways you can enhance your restaurant's reputation online on OPEN Forum, but if you're just joining us or want all that info in one place, we've gathered this step-by-step guide to building your restaurant brand on the Internet.
1. Build a Website
It may seem obvious, but it bears repeating: Your restaurant needs a website. You have a sign on your brick-and-mortar space, right? Think of this as your online signage. It acts as your official home on the Web and gives you a URL you can link to in the various social media account profiles.
But isn't a Facebook fan page good enough, you ask? It'll do in a pinch (we'll get to that later), but an actual website, even a simple one, tends to rank higher in search results -- and that's where you want to be when someone Googles your name.
Serious Eats's Ed Levine has already gone over the do's and don'ts of building a restaurant website, but it all boils down to keeping it simple (you're already busy enough). Even a one-page placeholder with the proper info is better than nothing. And what info is that?
The bare minimum:
- Your address (preferably with a link to an online map) and phone number
- Hours of operation
- An e-mail address to contact you
- Links to any social media sites you've set up
- An "about" page that gives customers some sense of what you offer and about the principal players
- Links to favorable reviews
A good example is Brooklyn pizzeria Paulie Gee's, which has all the bare minimums and some of the nice-to-haves. (It also includes the restaurant's logo and a small, tasteful photo.)
Notice how it doesn't play music, use Flash (which won't work on iPhones or iPads) or giant slow-loading photos, or require you to download PDFs to find out what you want to know.
A bonus is that a simple website like Paulie Gee's loads beautifully and quickly on mobile devices -- a boon to folks looking for a place to eat while on the go.
2. Set Up a Facebook Page
We know it's an added burden to update your website (or call your Web designer to do it) every time you need to tweak something or update your menu. And for folks who aren't technically inclined, website-building tools can be intimidating. Enter Facebook.
Setting up a fan page for your restaurant and updating it is easy. (Here's our guide on optimizing your Facebook page.) You can include all the same info as your official homepage but also post updates on your restaurant's Wall, share photos of a new dish, and even include menus with applications such as MenuTab.
If you've set up a "bare minimum" website as detailed above, you can essentially use Facebook as your primary way of informing your customers. Just make sure to link from your official website to your fan page. In fact, at Serious Eats we're seeing more and more restaurants and corporations releasing news and announcing new products on their Facebook pages first and updating their official sites days later, if at all.
If this is all you do to promote yourself online, you'd be fine in stopping here. But if you want to go the extra mile...
3. Become Social
Once you've got your website up and are comfortable updating your Facebook page, consider branching out into other forms of social media. Twitter is the next most visible sphere to move into, and there are already chefs, other restaurants, and food writers galore on the service.
Even if you're not ready for Twitter and don't intend to tweet, it's smart to sign up just to grab a name before someone else does -- just remember to fill out the account profile page and link back to either your official homepage or your Facebook page. (If you are up for tweeting, go catch up on our Twitter do's and don'ts.)
Other social media sites to check out and/or claim your restaurant's name on include:
Again, if you've done Steps 1 and 2, Step 3 is only if you have the time or inclination to go further. And if you want to go furtherstill, check out our other posts on using the Web to respond to negative restaurant reviews, publicize without a publicist, and pitch news to food bloggers.