This article was published on August 8, 2011

How mobile, apps and social media have changed the restaurant industry

How mobile, apps and social media have changed the restaurant industry
Niall Harbison
Story by

Niall Harbison

Niall is a social media advocate and co-founder of digital marketing agency Simply Zesty. He helps small brands get their message out to the Niall is a social media advocate and co-founder of digital marketing agency Simply Zesty. He helps small brands get their message out to the world and engage with their customers using the free tools available to them.

10 years ago the restaurant industry was simple. Once every couple of months a food critic would come along and you would cook your best food and await the review in the newspaper with baited breath. Then restaurant review sites came along and changed all that. Anybody could leave a review but they were mostly biased and for the most part the system didn’t work that well. Now things have changed completely.

It’s all down to mobiles, apps and social media and restaurants are faced with a new wave of reviewers sitting right there in their restaurant every single day of the week. Add in the fact that improved Internet connections and an increasing amount of restaurants, cafes and bars now offer free WiFi and consumers are sharing all sorts of things on their mobiles to their social networks. What is important for restaurants to realize is that this sharing is not always going to be to one particular network, meaning that unlike the old days where they could reply to every review or fix it with a free bottle of wine, every consumer could now be reviewing their main course in real time and sharing it with thousands of people on multiple platforms. The best way to fend off bad reviews is of course to cook amazing food and provide superb service and the upside is that restaurants doing that will benefit from massively powerful word of mouth like never before but the challenges remain…

Traditional Social Network Apps

Most people share their experiences both good and bad from restaurants in a very ad hoc basis on traditional social networks. Load up Twitter or Facebook and it wont be long before you see somebody either sharing a photo of their lunch or a mini review of the restaurant they are sitting in. Although many venues will have their own Facebook page most of the conversation will happen away from that page on users’ own profiles. The important thing to remember here is that users trust their friend’s reccomendations more than anything so a good or bad review on these sites could instantly shape the opinions of hundreds of people. I’ve seen people say certain things on Twitter for example that has made me instantly boycott that restaurant.

Photo Sharing Apps

People love sharing photos of food. There is a certain amount of “Hey look at the delicious food I’m eating and you are missing out on” and also that food photographs especially well. Add in the fact that most people in a restaurant will now have a high powered camera on their phone and people are getting snap happy every time they go out. Log on to the likes of Instagram and you will instantly see a huge range of food dishes from all the people you follow. When done correctly these can act as little advertisements for your restaurant but yet again the restaurant will probably have no idea who or when photos are being taken so the only real advice here would be to make the food as presentable as possible at all times.

Location Aware Social Review Sites

It wasn’t not that long ago that people used to have their meal and wait until they got home to leave a review once they had time to let it all digest. Now with apps like Yelp and Foursquare people can leave reviews in real time from within your restaurant. Serve up a lousy starter and somebody could have left a review with a picture before the waiter has even cleared the plates. With more and more apps allowing you to tag reviews to specific locations this is going to become an increasingly important channel as consumers trust their peer’s reviews more than anything.

Food Specific Apps

These are still very niche outside of the USA but you’ve likely heard of Foodspotting, an app which allows people to take photos of food, share them with friend, leave reviews and find food to eat nearby all based on location from your mobile. These apps are for more hard core foodies but are starting to be used as a way to discover new places to eat.

A Billion Restaurant Reviewers

Restaurants used to wait with baited breath for the well known local restaurant reviewer to turn up and there used to be a handful of them per country who would influence the opinions of many via magazines and newspapers. The world has changed and now anybody with a blog, Tumblr, Facebook account or Yelp app is a restaurant reviewer and the pressure is always on. Their audience might not be as big as a traditional restaurant reviewer’s but with billions of people carrying around smart phones within the next couple of years restaurant reviewers will be everywhere. For the end consumer this will only be a good thing. The cream will rise to the top and instead of restaurants producing their very best food for VIPs and restaurant reviewers they will have to be on their guard every single second of every day. Once again technology is bringing a whole new level of transparency to the world and that can only be a good thing.

For more on this topic, check out:
Dinevore’s epic restaurant lists blend social and critic’s picks.
Stylish Technology Entrepreneurs: SinglePlatform’s Wiley Cerilli.
Interview with SeamlessWeb’s CEO on his shiny new website: “Seamless

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