Time to Mobilize!

Article written by Michael Leaders, Hawkeye Foodservice Manager of Sales Training and Development for Weekly Profit, a publication of Hawkeye Foodservice, 11/7/11.

I am constantly pulling out my smart phone and looking something up on the Internet. My kids even tease me about it saying “Oh, no here comes the Droid” or “why don’t you just ask Droid”.    I am not alone.  People used a smart device (iPhone, iPad, iPod, Android phone, Blackberry, etc…) to search the Internet 4 times more often in 2011 than just the year before and it is estimated that more people will use a mobile device for search than their PC by 2013. What? Why would someone use a device with a tiny screen, no mouse, and only a virtual keyboard to do their Internet searching instead of a PC? Because it is MOBILE. My phone is where I am most of the day, and that means that I am seconds away from all of the information on the Internet anytime and anyplace.

So why do you care? Well, because 29% of all of those mobile searches are related to restaurants. People are looking for a place to eat while they are out and about. They want to know what you offer on your menu, when you are open, how to call for reservations, and directions to your location. What they get is your web-site with its fancy slow-to-load background images, tiny unreadable font, download only PDF menus, and address and phone numbers that are useless to the phone. What they do then, is find another place to eat. If I can’t load your web-site on my phone, or easily navigate it, I am going on to the next web-site. DON’T LET THIS HAPPEN! It is time to mobilize.

There are two basic ways to mobilize your restaurant’s web-site:

  1. Optimize your current web-site so that it is easily viewed on mobile devices.
  2. Create a separate actual “Mobile” website.

Because of the high usage of mobile devices for restaurant searches, I highly recommend that you have a complete separate mobile web-site, especially if you don’t currently have a web-site at all. However, I realize that many of you may want to just optimize your current site. Today I will cover what you need to do to accomplish that. In my next article I will cover creating a mobile web-site.
Making your web-site mobile friendly is not that hard, if you have followed my previous web-site rules. These are good rules for your web-site no matter if it is displayed on a PC or mobile device.

Remember these:

  1. Don’t use Flash (mobile phones can’t display it).
  2. Use easy to read font (remember this is being read on a tiny screen).
  3. Have address and phone number on every page.
  4. Address should link to map/directions.
  5. Have an HTML menu (PDF menus take longer to download and many phones can’t display them).

Now, here are a few more rules specific to mobilization of your current web-site:

  1. Optimize all graphics for the web so they download fast and display correctly.
  2. Make navigation links large enough to click with finger on small screen.
  3. Don’t use Frames.
  4. Make sure your phone number and address are text not graphics. This makes them clickable and usable in the mobile browser. So a phone user can click on your phone number and instantly the phone will dial the number, or click on the address and the phone will bring up navigation program to give directions to your location.

Your two main goals of optimizing your web-site for mobile are fast download, and easy to read/ navigate. Users will get frustrated if it takes more than 20 seconds to download your web-site, or if they can’t read it once it loads. It is also frustrating if they try to click on a link and keep hitting the wrong one, because the navigation is tiny and too close together.

Make sure that you test your site on a couple of different devices to see how it looks and works. If something doesn’t work or is hard to read, fix it. Don’t let frustrations with your web-site lose you potential customers. MOBILIZE!


Declassify Your Menu!

How do people know what food you have to serve? By looking at your menu of course. Once inside your restaurant you hand them out to everyone. For most restaurants the menu is the biggest piece of marketing that they have. You spend long hours and big bucks to perfect your menu so that it can drive more sales and higher profits. It is a great tool. ……Dramatic pause…. BUT, most of you are treating it as if it were a national secret.

………Cue the Mission Impossible theme song.

Yep, in order to know what is on your menu, I have to first pass the security at the hostess station. My electronic surveillance of your establishment (smart phone, computer, iPad) has all been blocked by you. You have successfully foiled my hi-tech information gathering devices by only having a hard copy of the document. Some of you have even gone so far as to disseminate misinformation electronically by putting a menu on the internet that is so old that Bill Gates was only a millionaire when it was created.

The question is why? If your menu is your biggest marketing tool and it can drive more business and higher profits, I would be sharing it with the world. I would plaster it on every street corner, in the places that people gather to talk about food and on everyone’s desk so that when they are hungry and deciding where to eat, BAM there it is. I would put it on the internet, on Facebook, on search engines, on my website.
I know the excuses, “I don’t know how”, “It is too hard”, “I can’t keep it up to date”, “I have to maintain it in 10 different places and I don’t have time”. These are all valid reasons, if you don’t do it right. So let’s make sure you do it right.

Let me introduce you to a little known internet site called OpenMenuTM ( OpenMenu is a free service that allows you to easily create your online menu. During the creation process you can give details about your restaurant including hours of operation, location, description, phone number and website. You can create menus for each of your day parts (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and arrange the menus into the proper sections. You can highlight certain items as being Special, add heat indexes, allergy warnings, calorie counts, descriptions of the items, prices, etc… In short you can create a professional looking menu.

Now comes the cool part. Your new OpenMenu can be used on your website, your Facebook page, your blog, and can be uploaded to several search engines including OpenMenu’s own search. You get a free QR Code that links smartphone users to a free mobile website of your menu. As cool as that seems the best part is, when it comes time to update your menu, all you have to do is login to your OpenMenu account and make the changes. Within seconds all of the places that use your OpenMenu are automatically updated as well. Change the special every day and all of your internet menus can broadcast what you are serving.

Your menu can be put on every desktop, every smart phone, every street corner, and gathering place. It can be easily maintained and provide timely information to those hungry people that want to know what you have for them. You just declassified your menu and shared it with the world.
…………Cue the applause.

Deleting Bad Comments = Bad Idea

It’s going to happen, probably already has. You are going to have someone post a negative comment on one of your social media sites (Facebook, Blog, YouTube, etc..) or even your website. They are going to say something about your restaurant that you don’t like and that you don’t want everyone to see. So you decide to hit the delete button and get rid of it. Bad Idea!

This is the deal… you are not perfect. Your staff is not perfect. You will have off nights or times when your service or food is not up to your normal expectations. That is a fact. So if one of your customers comes in on an off night and gets a bad meal or bad service and leaves feeling disappointed or even upset, there is a good chance they are going to want to vent. So they fire up their phone or computer and go to your site and post a comment to tell you just how they feel.

So how do you handle it? I am sure that your first instinct is to delete it before anyone else sees it. But think about that. The customer was upset enough to take the time to write you a message about their experience. They are hoping that you are listening to them. This is social media, so that is exactly what you are supposed to do, listen. Deleting the comment will show that you aren’t listening and that you don’t care about their problem. By deleting the comment, you just made the customer even more upset and it’s a customer who knows how to use social media. They know how to post additional, stronger comments that will reach more people and that you can’t delete.

So what should you do? You should thank them. Yes, thank them. Lots of customers would have the bad experience, tell all their friends about it, never let you know about it, and never come back. You may never know what happened. By posting the comment, they have given you a perfect opportunity to show them and everyone else on your social media site that you care. You have the chance to resolve the poster’s problem and win them back as a customer. So post something like this, “Thank you Mr. Customer for letting us know about your bad experience. We are sorry for the problems that you had while dining with us, and would like get all of the details of what happened. Please email us at …”

A post like that will do several things for you. Primarily it will show everyone else that sees it that you are interested in correcting the situation and care about your customers. It will make the upset customer feel that you care about them and probably take away some of the anger. It also takes the conversation off-line (going to email) where you can resolve the problem, or not, without everyone watching.

Sure there are times when you should delete a comment. If the comment contains profanity, threats, or inappropriate subject matter, you should delete it. Also it is o.k. to delete comments from habitual complainers or someone who is intentionally trying to smear you. You don’t have to take everything that anybody wants to dish out. But remember to keep your side of the online conversation professional and clean.

Lastly remember that social media is about listening. So make sure you take the time to listen to posted complaints. See if there is any validity to them. Is there something that you can learn from the complaint, or change, so that you don’t have the same situation come up again? You can’t see everything and be everywhere. So if your customer lets you know something isn’t right take the criticism and turn it into a positive. Or as I always say, “if life gives you lemons, make margaritas.”

* This article was inspired by a blog post by Kristen Daukas that was posted on . The post was entitled “Deleting Comments — Bad Move” and is an excellent read. I encourage you to read her post at and join to read other great posts concerning the foodservice industry.

Swimming with Sharks

Let me give you some free advice. The best way to protect yourself when swimming with sharks is to not get in the water. If for some reason you feel you have to get wet, make sure you have taken every precaution you can before jumping in.

You know I am not talking about swimming in the ocean. No the sharks today come in the form of Daily Deals websites. You know sites like Groupon, LivingSocial, and BuyWithMe. These sites offer people who sign up huge discounts at spas, service businesses, retail stores and restaurants. The only catch for the customers, who buy the deals, is that they have to pay upfront. So who wouldn’t want to get $25 worth of batteries for $10, or $20 worth of pizza for $10(these are Groupons that I actually purchased)? These sites sell thousands of the coupons each day in your city.

So customers are getting half price products, services, or food, what are the businesses getting? Well if you believe the sales pitch, you are getting exposed to hundreds of new customers that will love your business and become regulars. When customers redeem their coupon they will spend additional money in your store. The customers pay upfront so if they don’t redeem the coupon you get to keep the money. You can stop your regular advertising and rely on the Daily Deals to drive traffic to your doors.

Sounds good, but there are a number of catches to this side of the deal? The biggest catch is the split of the proceeds on the deal. Groupon typically takes 50% or more of what the deal sells for, so for example: You offer a get $20 worth of food for $10 deal. Groupon collects the $10 from the customer then deducts the credit card fees, then gives you half of what is left probably around $ 4.50. Then Groupon pays you this amount in three installments over the life of the coupon, typically a year. So if you sold 1000 coupons you would receive about $4,500 over the next year for $20,000 worth of food. This is not a solution for a business with cash flow problems.

If paying people to come out to eat isn’t a big enough catch, here are a few more. This type of deep discount often attracts the wrong type of customer. Many of the new customers would never eat at your restaurant without a deep discount and won’t be back. You also devalue your food and service. When people hear that you can sell your food for half price, they wonder why they have been paying full price, and they will expect you to continue deep discounting. You also run the risk of upsetting your loyal customers. You are now offering the same meal to a new customer at half the price the loyal customer has been paying for years, how would you feel?

So why would any restaurant offer a daily deal? I can only think of one reason, EXPOSURE. If you are a new restaurant with no reputation, no loyal customers, an UNKNOWN, a daily deal may work to get customers to try you out. The money you spend on the daily deal may well be less than lots of print advertising, signs etc. to get the word out that you are open for business. If this is something you are considering, please make sure that you take these precautions before you sign the deal.

  1. Do not advertise your Daily Deal in your restaurant, on your website, twitter, Facebook etc.. That is only alerting your regular customers to buy them. This is about new customers. If you wish to offer deals to regular’s do it another way.
  2. Prepare your staff. Let them know all of the details and restrictions of the deal, and make them aware of how to handle problems.
  3. Do everything you can to make sure that your new customers love your restaurant. You paid a lot of money to get them to try you out, don’t waste it by treating them poorly so they never come back.
  4. Limit the amount of deals to be sold. The deal site won’t want to do this, because they make more if they sell more, but you are the one on the hook to fulfill all of those coupons.
  5. Encourage your waitstaff to do their best sales job to add on desserts, drinks, bottles of wine etc… to increase the check average while the customer is there. They may be more willing to splurge since they are already getting a great deal.3

These waters are certainly dangerous and I don’t recommend that you swim in them. If you already have, I would love to hear how it worked out for you (good or bad). Meanwhile let’s explore other new social media tools to attract new customers with less risk.

The Deal $20 of Food for $10





$ 10.00

$ 10,000.00

Less Groupon’s cut including credit card fees


$ 5.50

$ 5,500.00

Total Income from deal


$ 4,500.00

Value of Food at full price



$ 20.00

$ 20,000.00

Less 20% Non-redemption rate



$ 20.00

$ 4,000.00

Total Value you provide


$ 16,000.00


$ 16,000.00



$ 4,500.00

Total Spend on Promotion


$ 11,500.00


New Repeat Customers 22%






Divided by

$ 11,500.00

Total Cost per new customer


$ 52.27



How many times does the new customer have to come back to offset $ 52.27 spent to attract them?

Watching Paint Dry

So you have taken the plunge. You set up a Facebook page for you restaurant, and why not? It was easy to do, only took you a few minutes, and it was free. You even put a link to the page on your website and have promoted the page on your menu and other printed materials, right? I noticed that you had a Facebook fan page, and I love your restaurant so I “Liked” your page. Now for the past 5 months I have been watching the paint dry.

Your page hasn’t changed since the day you created it. You haven’t posted anything. You haven’t created any events. You didn’t upload any pictures or videos. And you didn’t even respond to the few posts that your followers put on your wall. Your page is dead, and it is probably doing more harm than good. That’s because Facebook is a social media, emphasis on the social. This means that to work as intended you must participate and you must encourage others to do the same. This isn’t your website where it is more acceptable for the information to stay relatively the same.

Facebook pages take work. To create a real social feel to the site you have to post something at least 1-2 times a week. This doesn’t have to be anything big or elaborate. Actually short succinct posts do a better job of capturing your follower’s attention and more often engages them than long rambling posts. Also the posts don’t have to be just about your business. Once again a funny (tasteful) joke or an interesting tidbit is often better than a dry rendition of what the special is tonight.

It is also important to encourage others to post on your wall. This keeps new fresh posts coming to the page without you having to do all of the work, and it lets everyone know that you are listening. A new restaurant in Des Moines set up their page before they were even open. One day they posted a competition for their followers to post their definition of “Swagger”. Then encouraged the posters to have their friends go to the page and vote for the best “Swagger” post by “Liking” it. The top two posters received a $50 gift certificate. The restaurant got 100’s of posts and gained almost 1,000 Friends in a matter of a few days. I heard opening night was a success.

Remember that you can also post pictures, videos and upcoming events. Take for example a sports bar that shoots a quick little video of a bunch of fans cheering, eating and drinking during a game. They could post that video along with a schedule of big games and specials that are coming up next week. That would be a great way to show people how much fun they are missing out on by watching the game at home.

Along with posting to your page a couple of times per week it is also very important that you are looking at your page daily and reading the other posts. Sometimes you will get spam posts, or posts that are inappropriate and you will want to make sure to take those off your wall right away. You will also want to respond to any posts that are made so that your friends know that you are listening.

I said it before, Facebook pages take work. But they don’t have to take a lot of time. Spend 10 minutes a day checking your posts and responding to them. Do it religiously to keep new fresh content streaming through your page and people will be excited to see what is coming next, rather than being bored watching the paint dry.

“Bing” your problems are solved

Today I have a solution for two problems you probably didn’t even know that you had.

Problem #1:  There are potential customers out there looking for a place to eat tonight.  These people are searching the internet to find just the right place that is going to please everyone.  The search results come back…are you in the number one slot?  Top ten?  Fifty-ninth?

In a previous article we’ve discussed optimizing the search results for your restaurant by simply claiming your business on Google Places. That is still very highly recommended as Google is the largest search provider, but they aren’t the only game in town. The second largest search engine in the U.S., Bing, just released their version of Places this past week. It’s called the Bing Business Portal (BBP) and it has some very compelling reasons you should use it as well.

Both Google Places and the New BBP allow your business to rank higher in local searches.  They give you a space to tell everyone on the internet who you are, when you are open, what makes your place stand out, and what others are saying about you.  To do this you must claim your business, a process that takes less than 10 minutes. Once you do you can post a link to your website, pictures, videos, payment options, and delivery area if that applies.  Both allow you to post a printable coupon or deal for those who found your listing by searching. They are both free and easy to use.

This is where the similarities end and Bing takes the lead.  The new BBP also allows you to post a link to your twitter address and your Facebook page, and you can publish the coupon or deal you create to your Facebook page.  You can create and post a profile of your chef and post a link to your menu if you have it online. BBP also gives you option to choose several keywords in the areas of Cuisine, Atmosphere, Features and Entrée Price to describe your restaurant which will greatly help get you found when a customer searches.

Problem # 2:  A recent study found that 50% of people searching the internet for a restaurant did so using a mobile device and your website is not optimized for mobile and therefore is probably driving these people away.  Let’s say I search for your restaurant on my mobile phone.  I find your website and want to take a look at your menu, but your site has lots of graphics so it is slow on my phone, and the links are tiny so I can’t click on them to get to your menu, or if I get to the menu it is so small I can’t read it. Worse yet I get to your site and it has flash and my phone doesn’t support flash so I can’t see your site at all.  Maybe I will try another more mobile friendly restaurant.

Now you can easily make your restaurant mobile search friendly with Bing Business Portal. The new BBP can automatically create a free mobile website from your listing.  The basic website gives you access to address, map and directions to your location and a button to push to call your restaurant. It displays the hours of operation, cuisines offered and features.  The biggest advantage though is you can enter your menu with category headings, names, descriptions and prices if you like, and Bing will optimize this to be displayed on the customer’s phone.  You can also have the coupon or deal you create to be mobile friendly so the customer doesn’t have to print it.  They just show their server the deal on their phone.  BBP also offers a free QR code you can use to promote the mobile website to customers who scan the code with their mobile phone.  An example of a QR code is displayed here and will link you to my page.

The Bing Business Portal is very easy to use, and offers some great features for your restaurant.  I encourage you to take a little bit of time this week and claim your listing on BBP and Google Places.  Now that you know that you have the problems and the free and easy way to solve them, what’s stopping you?

Where Are You?

I have been looking for you. I want to take my family and friends to your restaurant for dinner tonight. We are in the mood for exactly the type of food that you serve, we like the look of your place, your prices are right, and you are open when we want to dine. But we can’t find you. I guess we are going to that other place tonight.
How do people find you? If someone has never been to your restaurant, or maybe they have but not for some time, how are they going to know where you are? Well from that big Yellow Pages ad of course! NEWS FLASH nobody has used an actual phone book for anything except a booster seat in years. Actually when people are looking for products to buy, places to eat, caterers or other service providers, 82% of them use the internet. Surprised? Probably not, because that is probably how you find those same things. The question is, when people are looking for you, can they find you?
I can see your heads nodding, because you think the answer is YES, but is that really the case? I am pretty sure that if a potential customer gets on the internet and pulls up their favorite search engine, probably, and then types in the name of your restaurant or business, then they do indeed find you. But what if they don’t know the name of your restaurant? What if they forgot about you? What if they never heard of you or the fantastic food that you have to offer? The deal is when people are looking for places to eat, they don’t type in the name of the place they are looking for. If they know your name chances are they already know where you are.

People who are looking for restaurants or certain types of food actually use keyword searches to find places they don’t know already. For example: I might go to Google, and type in “deep dish pizza”, or “BBQ”, or “Steak Restaurant”, and boom right there is a list of places that offer those types of foods, that are “Local” to me. Google actually knows where you are, and when you type in the keywords it searches its huge database of places and gives the searcher the results that most closely match what they typed in.

I see a lot less head nodding, some uncertainty, and a couple of heads shaking. It’s o.k. I am here to help you out. No you don’t have to be a computer genius, or web master, or SEO (search engine optimizer). You actually have one ready to go to work for you, and it’s free. I am talking about Google Places . Google Places is a free service that allows you to enter lots of information about your restaurant into a simple form. Things like what types of food you serve, average dinner prices, hours of operation, specialties, your website address, additional phone numbers, and service area (great if you deliver). It also allows you to upload 10 photos and 5 videos so you can show people what they have been missing. The service is free and easy; you merely have to sign up for a Google email account to get started.

Once you fill out the form and verify that you are the owner, (either by phone or a post card mailed to the business address) Google takes all of the info that you entered and indexes it in their database. Then the next time someone searches for something you offer, your restaurant information is displayed.  And it gets better, Google Places allow you to see analytics about who is searching for you, how they found you, and where they live. This information may be very helpful in planning additional advertising or even menu development. To find out more watch the short video provided by Google below .
Now that I and 82% of everyone else looking for you know where you are, maybe you better stock up. I think it’s going to be a busy weekend.