The Death Of The Restaurant Reviewer, Food Porn And How To Win Customers For Your Restaurant In 2014

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We made a very conscious decision when we started this website not to screw restaurant owners. I used to work as a chef and cash is very thin on the ground with most restaurants facing a weekly battle to pay the wages, rent and keep the doors open. Along with cafés, bars and nightclubs they make up a large part of the economy and the service industry that employs so many young people especially here in Ireland. The main goal for all restaurants is to attract customers but the way they do that has changed forever in the last couple of years with the rise of technology.

Tell Your Story Don't Sell Yourself

Social media was the silver bullet that restauranteurs needed when it comes to marketing themselves and not having to worry about expensive ads or outsourcing the task to a 3rd party. All you need these days is a smartphone, a Twitter account and a healthy dose of imagination. The very best places (in Dublin I'm looking at the likes of Whitefriar Grill, 777 and Crackbird) are good at telling their story, interacting with their customers and adding value. The places that don't do well at social media come out and shout non stop about their special deals looking for you to buy something from them instantly. 

Your Customers Are Mobile

Have a look around the streets outside your restaurant. Do you see people carrying around desktop computers as they walk down the street? Do you see them stopping to look at their laptop as they wait at the lights to decide where they are going to eat? The answer is no. Customers are all making their decisions on their mobile phones. On the bus, in work, laying on their couch, on the toilet or sitting having a pint in town. Despite the fact that probably over 60% of people visit restaurant websites on their mobile device most of restaurant websites you visit look like this...

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Images Are Everything

You'll probably have noticed that our whole website is pretty much dedicated to photos. We write lots of content too but the vast majority of people come here to drool at the photos we share. Its called food porn and it is so popular now because of the fact that most of us carry around a super powerful camera in our pockets that we can take amazing pictures with. People go and eat out so as they can have something they wouldn't normally be able to have at home. They want to be wowed. It blows my mind that at least 50% of restaurants I go to check out have no photos in this day and age. You can take pretty decent ones yourself and a couple of hundred euros will get you a professional photographer for a few hours. You eat with your eyes so take some photos and get us excited about what you have to offer.

Baked-Eggs

Stand Out With A Video

I get sent about 20 pitches a day to try out different new places. They all look the same and claim that they are "the next big thing". I ignore 99% of them because they come from PR companies and decide to eat based on my own gut. One way to stand out is to make a video. When I opened my inbox this morning I had this video of a new high end food shop in Dalkey. I immediately saw that they were passionate about what they did, their produce was super high end and that it was somewhere I wanted to visit. That's how I first discovered 3Fe and Bunsen in Dublin by seeing their videos online. Its no accident that they are two of the best spots in town and are always packed. A video won't cost a fortune but it allows you to tell your story. 

Roberts of Dalkey - A day in the Life. from Peter Roberts on Vimeo.

Forget The Snooty Elusive Restaurant Critic

In the old days as a chef or restauranteur you used to wait with baited breath for the restaurant reviewer to come along. Once they did you'd invariably recognize and try and blow them away with your food and service and cross every finger and hope the fucker would write something good about you. That still happens but those days are dying. How many people between 20-40 do you know who reads a paper every day? Once a week? Barely. Far more important is the 100 odd critics you have in your establishment every single night of the week. Your customers are all now your reviewers. They go home and write reviews on Yelp, Tripadvisor and their blogs. Even better than that they are writing live reviews as the food hits the table on Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare and taking posts that reach thousands of people instantly. Never mind the restaurant critic who comes once a year because you are now being reviewed by everybody and only as good as your last dish. 

Ignore The Nutters On Review Sites

There have been a few examples recently of people leaving reviews that have been so poor that you'd imagine the establishment would have to be closed down the very next day. In some cases the managers or owners of the places have actually answered and I admire their courage for doing so. When a Dublin restaurant received a scathing review, the owner decided to stand their ground and respond with an honest account of that customer and their outrageous behaviour.

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Sack Your PR Agency

PR was a great tool about a decade ago. The idea was that you could pay an agency or an individual to get you coverage in the media. The media is changing though and fewer people are reading newspapers or magazines. I've never written about something a PR agency has sent me here on the blog and never will. PRs are gatekeepers who are offering you access that you don't have to a certain medium but they have less access than ever because the eyeballs of consumers are leaving traditional media and are glued to their Twitter and Facebook feeds. You can still get a bang off your buck from PR but it is dwindling in a traditional sense and you'd be better doing it yourself. 

Give Your Chef A Smartphone

Turn on any TV station and you'll be bombarded with shows about food. Same if you walk into any book shop with wall to wall cook books. People are obsessed with food these days, but despite that when we eat out we only see 50% of the restaurant. For the most part the kitchen remains hidden (sometimes for good reason). I've only seen a few places do it but by sharing pictures and even better videos on a platform like Instagram of the food coming out of the ovens and final touches being added you are creating your own TV show or book and reaching thousands of people. Look at this video and tell me how would you not want to eat there?

Get Rid Of The Stupid Plaques - Who Do You Think You Are Fooling?

There is absolutely no reason to have a plaque on the wall of your restaurant. It is an absolutely ludicrous pretend show of fake awards that have clearly been paid for to either appease and organisation or worse still paid money to a reviewer directly to keep on their good side. When I walk past a restaurant and see about 10 of them I vow never to go back there. Its a scam and if you buy them as a restaurant you are falling into the trap. You may as well pick up your money and throw it out the door. 

Is A Restaurant Website Even Necessary?

Barely. If you have the money to build one by all means do but keep it as simple as you possible can. All that people really want is... 

  • Restaurant name 
  • Photos 
  • Address with Google maps link
  • Phone number 
  • Menu (absolutely not in a PDF because we no longer live in the 90s) 
  • Opening hours

Anything else apart from the above is a bonus. We don't want any big flashy graphics. We certainly don't want music automatically playing when we load your website. Nothing will make me leave your website quicker.

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Be Fantastic

As you can see above the restaurant business is harder than ever but it is also getting wonderfully transparent and better for the end consumer. The only solution now is to be absolutely fantastic at what you do. If you remain fantastic then you will get great reviews and people will spread the word across social media and you'll be packed every night. Just be fantastic!

Written By

Niall Harbison

Niall founded Lovin' Dublin with a few fairly simple aims: discover new places to eat in Dublin and share simple recipes cooked up in his kitchen.

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