Americans eat almost one-third of their caloric intake at restaurants, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. That is almost twice the amount than the average intake in the 70’s, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The number of meals eaten out increases significantly during the winter holiday season, starting before Thanksgiving and continuing through New Year’s celebrations. This bump in sales, when handled correctly, can do a world of good for a restaurant’s review volume, score trends, and overall social media buzz.
If you are a restaurateur looking to take advantage of this season to boost your online reputation, you still have time to roll out a plan aimed at enhancing your image. To get the most out of the season, you can’t depend exclusively on the goodwill and festive mood of your patrons; nor can you do business as usual and expect to see significant changes in your pattern of review acquisition.
To get the best and most online reviews, you would do well to focus on delivering unique, holiday-themed culinary experiences worthy of sharing or bragging about. The most bang for your buck will come from seasonal menus that cater specifically to the festivities. Let’s review best practices for holiday menu development.
Bank on Trends (#PumpkinSpiceEverything)
Get the seasonal ingredients out, and create menu items likely to trigger a share. A few minutes looking at social media will be enough to persuade you about the value of pumpkin spice when it comes to getting customers to talk about your venue. A seasonally relevant ingredient or two are great on the front-end of marketing, giving you an extra tool to invite customers to try out your venue and a fantastic way to trigger post-transactional conversations.
Many restaurants take advantage of seasonal products and menu items by sending personalized coupons or emails to their most loyal customers, and conducting follow-up internal surveys that also encourage engagement on the most popular review sites, should the customer feel inclined to do so.
Roll Out the Deals That Make Happy Hour Extra Happy
By maximizing free promotional tools available in check-in and location-based apps that also collect reviews, such as Foursquare, restaurants can turn holiday deals and special offerings into an avalanche of engagement.
Expect great success with bar items that are holiday-themed, such as cranberry bliss martinis, eggnog-based beverages, and spiked and spiced ciders. Don’t forget the visual and plating aspect of your holiday items. A beautifully garnished beverage stands a great chance of making it to Yelp and TripAdvisor galleries, or getting a shout-out via Instagram.
Offer Catering Options: Because Saving the Cook Matters
When it comes to holiday celebrations, time is of the essence. Make it easy for your customers to present a restaurant-quality meal at home, or support their cooking plans by including side dishes that will make the festivities extra special. It is not uncommon to spot reviews from customers that felt both relieved and rescued by a restaurant with special holiday offerings designed to help the home cook cheat.
Include tips on how to make the dish look homemade, and facilitate presentation by providing your customers with additional garnishes. Finally, include an extra-special note asking customers to share their holiday meal photos on relevant websites such as Facebook or Yelp. Another great advantage of catering is having the opportunity for extra revenue even when you have maximized your total number of covers. Let us share with you other avenues to increase revenue and reviews by thinking outside the box.
Go the Extra Mile and Give Gifts That Trigger Shares
Everyone loves to feel special, and when it comes to food, treats do the trick. Consider sharing a complimentary amuse-bouche or petit dessert with your customers. Make the extra treat holiday relevant, and watch the reviews pour in. If your restaurant has a menu item that is highly mentioned on review sites, why not include a note that indicates the complimentary item is “highly rated” on OpenTable?
When It Comes to High Volume, Be a Hospitable and Cheerful Host
If your restaurant is expecting a significant traffic increase that results in people having to wait for tables, then consider setting up a small hospitality table. A little hot apple cider and homemade sweet cranberry bread will lighten up the mood and reduce the chance of grumpy customers voicing their dissatisfaction via a “ranty” review. Some restaurants have gone as far as setting up craft stations for children, specifically if they are hosting holiday meals such as Thanksgiving or Christmas.
Host a Party (or Many)
Hosting one or more parties facilitates engagement with your local community and allows you to feature special menus at special pricing, and even extend your business hours to those wishing to partake. You can incorporate parties in your sales and marketing strategy by offering your private dining rooms to small companies looking for a location to host the office celebration.
In addition, you can have a special party for your most loyal customers. While hosting, you can boost engagement by having photo contests and asking your customers to upload their best to social platforms. A well-executed party always results in social buzz.
Setting the stage for online social interactions is not as difficult as it seems. Deliver products and experiences that are memorable and shareable, and before you know it you will begin to see your popularity needle move up. Savvy restaurant marketers are always on the lookout for relevant opportunities to engage regulars and invite new customers to experience their products and services. Holiday-themed dining is a tried and true way to garner new business and get people talking about your venue in a positive light.