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Make your restaurant mouth-wateringly irresistible with great food photos

CNN has a great blog post by Derrick Chang on taking mouth-watering photos of food. This is critical for restaurant marketing. Customers respond to images of food. Having no images, boring images or sloppy images of your restaurant are missed opportunities — or worse, active turn-offs to browsing potential customers. 

  • Start with great looking food.  Not everything looks good in pictures. Pay attention to colors, contrasts, and moisture (seriously, no dried out veggies). And please arrange the plate nicely. Brown stew in a bowl 30 minutes from the pot isn’t going to look good.
  • Pay attention to lightEven without fancy lighting you can take great food pictures. Avoid flash which can be harsh; natural light is often best. Experiment with time of day, move from table to table. Keep at it until the light is warm and bright. 
  • Get in close. Food details including texture bring the item to life. Don’t be afraid of your camera’s macro setting to get right…up…close.

And now two of my own tips:

  • Use them. Once you have your best pics — and only use your best — post them on Facebook, tweet them, pin them, post to Foursquare and Yelp.  Create social media contests by asking customers to guess the menu item. This isn’t art, it’s marketing.
  • Refresh them regularly. Taking great pictures of food can take a little time but is a great investment. New images are instantly engaging to customers and can help your website and social media profiles. I recommend a few new pictures every month, especially when you release new menu items. 

Need some inspiring examples? Check out our Pinterest boards on food styling and restaurant design.

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Twitter for Restaurants: A Guide to Getting Started

Ordr.in is in the business of simplifying digital life for as many restaurants as possible. With that goal in mind, we’re launching a new series of social media guides for restaurants: How-to guides for restaurants to understand how to make social media work for them to build their brand, handle customer service with care, and attract new customers.

Our first guide is Twitter for Restaurants — an overview of how a restaurant can get up and running on Twitter. The rewards for the restaurant that does Twitter right can be so worthwhile in the long run, so take a look at these Tweeting best practices and make sure your restaurant is maximizing its impact on Twitter.

Our Twitter guide for restaurants is short and concise — easy to print out and tack onto your wall. We hope restaurants everywhere trying to understand the art of the tweet will find our guide to Twitter a useful resources. So share and share alike!

image credit: Twitter ad for @pancheros at their ames location. by Brood_wich, on Flickr

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Get the Right Data to Manage your Restaurant Effectively

Let me guess: You have a full house, you think you’re making money for your restaurant. Diners are cleaning their plates, you think you have your customer base under control. Your servers are pulling in the big tips, you assume you have a successful staff.  All of this might be true – or it might not. Using these metrics to run your restaurant means you’re missing key facts to help you make smart decisions for your restaurant.

Do customers recommend your restaurant? Word of mouth recommendations tell you so much more about your customer cultivation efforts than a clean plate. Your consistently full house? It doesn’t mean you’re maximizing profit per turn.  And tip percent? You are measuring how much your staff earn, but not how much your staff are earning for you.

Successfully tracking restaurant operations metrics like guest satisfaction, profitability and server performance means putting in place a data capture and reporting system — not a hard integration but one that does require work. Sadly, few independent restaurants bother.

If your POS isn’t helpful, try services like GuestMetrics and Avero. Or see how much help OpenTable or other restaurant-specific CRM tools might be. There are no excuses for ignoring key metrics to help manage your restaurant!

Every restaurant needs a loyalty tracking system that tells you how likely your customers are to recommend you and how often they dine with you. You should also know the gross margin per item and have tactics to promote high margin items. And you definitely should track your servers’ success in driving high revenue, high margin turns in addition to tip percent.

If you know these numbers you’ll make smart decisions for your restaurant based on the right metrics. 

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Quick Serve Leader calls Ordr.in a “top 10 technology to watch in the restaurant industry”

Restaurant professionals will want to take notice of this one: Quick Serve Leader has a write up of the new Ordr.in online food ordering app for the Facebook timeline. The key takeaway is that the restaurant technology we’re hard at work on building is really the future of online food ordering.

The article points to our new Facebook timeline app, ready-made for restaurants to plug into their Facebook page to serve current customers and attract new ones, as a breakthrough marketing and branding tool for local restaurants.

Also mentioned in the article is the discouraging reality that restaurants are often sorely pressed to keep finding new customers, and the struggle to know where to put marketing dollars to attract new customers can be a significant challenge. Quick Serve Leader sees the Ordr.in partner network as a big win that helps restaurants “access a typically hard-to-reach customer group” without a lot of effort.

And yes, as we’re quoted, Ordr.in is indeed “thinking very big.” Quick Serve Leader dives into some of the features and new tools our API makes possible – check out the full article to find out more.

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Restaurants Pick Up the Social Media Gauntlet — But There’s Much More on the Way

It’s becoming increasingly clear that restaurants need to push their marketing further out from their restaurant to capture and retain customers. According to a nifty infographic from the National Restaurant Association, 28% of customers use social media to choose a restaurant; 27% use consumer-driven review sites.

Frankly these numbers seem low, and are low I am sure when you look at younger demographics- the customers who could be with you for the long haul. But even these suspiciously low numbers paint a powerful picture.

This means the decision-making process is happening long before customers walk into your restaurant for dinner.  They did it before they left their office or while surfing their phone. They did it while chatting or texting with their dinner companions while checking restaurant listings and reviews.

Restaurants are not blind to what this means — 9 in 10 restaurant operators say social media will become more important and 95% expect to be on Facebook within two years (if they are not already).

But the percent of diners who are driven by social media and consumer reviews is not the most important data point for restaurant operators. There’s a new digital landscape for restaurants to take advantage of emerging, just as they begin to master social media.

Any guesses? We’ll be posting part two with the answer later today. 

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NRA Trade Show Report: Better Tech, Happier Customers, Fatter Margins

Most years there is a dominant tech solution at the NRA Show. Not this year. This year we saw a range of technologies clustered around a common theme: guest experience.

Wait list management apps, tablets for table top ordering, customer guest loyalty solutions. New solutions for old problems — not just incrementally higher-tech versions of the same solutions. Rajat Suri from E La Carte, a tabletop ordering tablet company, said it best: The modern concept of the restaurants started in Roman times and has barely changed. But change is coming.

The new tech and what it does are fundamentally different from the last generation’s tools: less expensive, more functional and easier to use and maintain. This means for the first time restaurants are not swapping cost elements; they are replacing heavyweight legacy tools for margin-enhancing, operationally better solutions. I’ll repeat to make sure you didn’t miss it: margin-enhancing, operationally better solutions.

Technology and hospitality are no longer separate. Through deep integration, we’re seeing restaurants improve the guest experience in ways we never imagined before now. The restaurant you grew up in and trained in is not the restaurant you can run today, and is definitely not the restaurant you will run in a few years. And this is a good thing.

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Before, During and After the National Restaurant Association Show. Six Tips to Make it Pay Off

The National Restaurant Association trade show is massive: 58,000 attendees, 1900 vendors, more than 135 educational seminars. And away from the convention center are hundreds of other events- receptions, parties, seminars…. Months of things to do crammed in to four days.

It is easy to get overwhelmed and waste time running around. To take full advantage you need a plan. I spent years as an exhibitor and now more as an attendee. Following six easy tips can make the difference between wasted time, money and energy and a business-defining event.

Before

1. Have a Focus.  Well before the show figure out what is most important to you. Are you primarily there to meet new vendors? Learn about trends? Build a personal network? Use this focus to make schedule decisions before and during the show.

2. Make a Schedule. Make appointments with the people you most want to see; don’t assume you’ll find them on the convention floor. Know when the important seminars are. If you don’t, you will miss opportunities. 

During

3. Ask Questions. Collecting brochures from vendors is nice, but then you are only learning what they want to tell you. Ask questions while you them there, and you’ll learn what you want to know.

4. Write things down. Take a break every hour to write notes to yourself or your team. What did you learn, who did you meet? This is especially important for business cards: “wants info kit”; “like our logo”. Otherwise you’ll end up with a jumble of cards and no idea who wanted which information. 

After

5. Follow Up. I am amazed at how many people make connections at trade shows and then never follow up. Even if there is no specific next step, a simple “it was great to meet you and talk about XYZ” can create a powerful connection.

6. Share with your team. It will make everyone understand why they covered for you while you were out, make them smarter about their jobs, and organize the team to take advantage of new opportunities.

The NRA show is huge but these lessons apply to all trade shows. I hope everyone really enjoys the amazing coming together of the restaurant industry, takes advantage of the opportunity.

Bonus Tip: Wear comfortable shoes and drink plenty of water!

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Better Restaurant Websites: 3 Dos, 3 Don’ts

For those of us who sit in front of a computer all day it can be hard to remember that much of the world does not. They stand in front of customers or pace around work sites. The computer is secondary to how they work.

Mobile is changing this. People who previously engaged tech briefly (if ever) at the end of the day are now consuming content and information continuously via their phone. We’ve blogged about this before. But while restaurants are learning to consume information via technology, creating engaging, helpful content is another story.

A study by Restaurant Science, a restaurant data provider, reports that only 5% of restaurants have a mobile-optimized website, and only 40% have their menu online.  TechCrunch has a good synopsis.  Get with it, people! Such a loss to not have quality restaurant marketing for such a vital channel.

A good restaurant website can be built in a day by following a few simple rules. Some quick Dos and Don’ts:

Dos

  • Contact info: It ain’t sexy but many site visitors just want to know where you are or ask a simple question - an address, map and phone number should be prominent. 
  • Menu: You should have a menu on your website and it should be up to date. If you have the holiday specials listed in February, you fail.  And no PDFs! Downloading a PDF is an iffy proposition. The menu should be regular text.
  • Content management: You should be able to update and change the content on your site easily. If it isn’t easy, you won’t do it.  And definitely make it readable on a phone.

Don’ts

  • Music. Many people search for restaurant info from their job. When your carefully chosen playlist launches automatically, they’ll get annoyed, close the browser window in half a second, and never come back. 
  • Flash: Flash was sexy in the 90s but is slow to load and unsupported by some technologies. Unsupported means visitors can’t see flash elements. It is like putting a big, expensive blank hole in the middle of your site. Bad.
  • Text: Be to the point and stop. You wouldn’t camp out at a table and chat up a customer throughout their whole meal. You’d make quick, warm contact and leave them alone. Same online.

These Dos and Don’ts should simplify your restaurant website, making it easier, faster and less expensive to build and maintain. It is easy to do online restaurant marketing right. So do it right.

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The Old Thing Better v. The Old Thing New

Most companies fight each other on price or product. Price is easy- sell the same thing for less. I will blog about price issues another time. Product can mean many things. A feature, service, delivery schedule… GM famously surpassed Ford by offering similars cars in different colors. They changed the product.

For the most part this kind of competition leads to incremental change. Company A offers a feature “new and improved”. But what happens when someone completely re-imagines what the customer wants? When one company changes the concept of the product? 

Corporate catering, a space largely dominated by traditional caterers and delivery services, is undergoing that kind of change. Companies like ZeroCater, Cater2.me, and Eat Club, led by techies not caterers, are doing just that.

These startups understand that consumers are increasingly picky about online shopping- dated visual design and user experiences are out. The catering product they deliver is high-quality and geared toward a younger, foodie customer. The result? New and influential customers are excited, buzz is generated, growth is off the charts and they can charge a premium. Suddenly office catering is hot. 

If you’ve been doing corporate catering for years and think you have it figured out, ask yourself how a much of techies can go from $0 to $1M+ in sales in a year. Hell, Cater2.me is less than a year old and reportedly serving 40k meals EACH MONTH. You have to wonder how are these guys doing it. This isn’t the result of incremental change. It’s the result of entirely new thinking.