Print, TV and radio no more: Restaurants turn to social media to boost business

A photo Walden's Coffeehouse in Reno posted to its Instagram account of its pancakes and bacon.

A photo Walden's Coffeehouse in Reno posted to its Instagram account of its pancakes and bacon.

RENO, Nev. — Some time ago, Dave Holman, executive chef at Campo, was poking around the “Reno Foodies” Facebook page when a group member’s post grabbed his eye.

“Someone was talking about wanting steak tartare,” Holman said in an interview with the NNBV.

The raw ground meat dish wasn’t even on the current menu at Campo, a restaurant with locations in downtown Reno and Sparks. No matter — Holman was champing at the bit to cook for a new customer.

“I was like, ‘I can make that for you here,’” Holman said he commented to the tartare-craving poster. “Two days later, that person came in.”

Additional new business soon followed. After all, the closed Reno Foodies group has nearly 9,000 members and counting.

“Within the next week, there were three other couples that came in — ‘I heard you have the steak tartare’ — just for that dish,’” Holman said.

Pausing, Holman tacked on: “It just goes to show how powerful social media is.”

A powerful trend, indeed

Whether it’s through Facebook groups, Instagram posts or Yelp reviews, restaurants these days are reaching and engaging with customers — from the loyal regulars to the curious newcomers — through social media more than ever.

All the while, restaurant-goers are relying on social networks to guide their dining decisions. Consider the following statistics:

3 out of 4 customers (72 percent) have used Facebook to make restaurant decisions based on comments and images that have been shared by others, according to InMoment, a customer experience management company.

Millennials, most commonly, crowdsource opinions before making restaurant decisions. And, according to the Food Institute, Millennials are expected to feed an additional $6 billion annually into the restaurant industry as they move into the 35- to 44-year-old bracket.

37 percent of social network users polled use social media to research brands, products or services before making a purchase, according to a study by eMarketer, a market research company. In other words, Google search is often bypassed for social media browsing.

A study by two UC-Berkeley economists discovered that as little as a half-star difference in a restaurant’s Yelp score could swing business up by roughly 27 percent.

No doubt, social media is a “driving force” for the restaurant industry, said Holman.

“Someone is at their desk and taking a break, checking out their Instagram account,” said Holman, offering another example of social media’s impact. “Boom … here comes the special at Campo. They say, man, I want to have that tonight … boom … they make a reservation. Next thing you know, people are coming in because of it.”

Out with the old, in with the new

This, Holman said, is why many restaurants are moving away from traditional marketing methods — such as TV, print and radio — and cultivating success using social media.

“I think social media is the only way to get your brand out there,” Holman said.

He’s not alone. According to Toast, a cloud-based restaurant software company, the most common platform for restaurant advertising in 2018 has been social media, which is used by 63 percent of all restaurateurs.

Holman pointed to the rise in cord cutting as a big reason why the social landscape is a better place to roll out advertising dollars. To wit: the number of cord-cutters has tripled in the last five years, according to the Video Advertising Bureau.

“I’m not saying TV is dead, but I don’t have TV,” Holman said. “How else are you going to reach those people? They’re not watching the news; they’re not watching sitcoms; they’re not getting a TV commercial (for a restaurant).”

Michael Barone, chef of Reno-based Walden’s Coffeehouse, agreed. Over the past couple years, Walden’s (with locations in west Reno and Midtown) has put more stock in promoting itself on social media, skirting traditional marketing outlets.

“The opportunity to market ourselves, and the cost to promote yourself on Instagram and Facebook, is really cheap compared to a lot of other things like radio or TV or billboards,” Barone said. “Instagram just reaches a limitless amount of people.”

Spencer Shea, owner of Homegrown Gastropub in Midtown, said he mainly uses Instagram to help build his costumer base. Shea, whose restaurant opened less than a year ago, said it didn’t take long for posts of their food to bear fruit.

A prime example: Homegrown Gastropub’s July 16 Instagram post showcasing its organic brick oven pizza (topped with a fried egg, drizzled with avocado crème), with a plate of chicken and waffles peeking into the frame, has a whopping 289 likes.

“We get a lot of people going, ‘Oh, hey, I saw you on Instagram!’” Shea said. “That seems to help get the most attention for our business. That’s my favorite method of advertising.”

With that, Shea also pointed to the power of Yelp.

Yelp — ‘a necessary evil’

Every month, Yelp averages 178 million unique visitors, according to Yelp’s metrics as of June 30, 2018.

Seventeen percent of the reviews posted on Yelp are for restaurants, which is second only to shopping businesses (21 percent).

Many of the chefs who spoke with the NNBV said they use Yelp reviews as an extra set of eyes on their day-to-day operations — from the quality of the service to the preparation of the food, and everything in-between.

“I don’t know the full experience about what’s going on in our restaurants all the time,” Holman said of Campo. “I think it’s a great avenue for communication.”

Though negative reviews are often taken with many grains of salt, Holman said Campo reaches out to costumers who have complaints about their dining experience.

“(Yelp) gives our team an opportunity to reconnect and tell them that not what we were shooting for and ask them to come back and give us another try,” said Holman, adding that in certain occasions they’ll even offer a complimentary appetizer or meal. “I like the fact that we can find out who’s not having a good time and invite them back.”

In addition, Holman said negative reviews centered on the quality of service give him an opportunity to sniff out which servers aren’t yet up to snuff.

“We find trends,” he continued. “For instance, if Server A always has a problem, it helps me see, ‘Oh, Server A has a need for training.’”

Mark Estee — chef and owner of Liberty Food & Wine Exchange in Reno; chez louie in the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno; and The Union in downtown Carson City — said Yelp is a “necessary evil.”

“I use it as a tool — it doesn’t run my business,” Estee told the NNBV. “I take the information out of it. Even the stuff I don’t necessarily believe, I’ll look at it to see if it’s true or not.

“It’s something that needs to be monitored and used to your advantage.”

Holman added that one of the biggest challenges regarding social media reviews is the strength of the “bandwagon complaints” — in other words, when a complaint strikes a chord with the social media masses and the digital pitchforks come out.

“I call that the ‘next generation word-of-mouth,’” Holman laughed. “Back in the late ‘90s, it was just word of mouth. Someone comes in, and then later they’re going to tell 10 people they had a great time, and 50 people they had a terrible time. It’s the same thing, just exponential in the social media world.”

This, one could argue, is why having an active and engaging presence on social media is crucial to growing a restaurant business. Otherwise, with an endless river of content flowing through everyone’s social feeds, it’s too easy to drown in all of the digital noise.

Estee said roughly a decade ago he didn’t foresee such a shift in the marketing landscape coming.

“I think back to when I had Moody’s (Bistro Bar & Beats) in Truckee, I remember our PR company was like, ‘hey, you should join this Twitter and Facebook and do a page,’” Estee recalled. “I was like Facebook, Shmacebook; Twitter Schmitter.

“And I knew I was wrong. Presences on those sites have become really key.”


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