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Restaurant Marketing, Customer Acquisition, Automation

The Most Damaging PR Mistake Your Restaurant Can Make On Social Media

Social media is a powerful marketing tool for businesses, especially for small and medium-size enterprises. You can get maximum bang for your buck as it gives you the freedom to reach a large crowd in countless locations, or drive targeted traffic to your campaign based on categories such as demographics, locations, interests, connections and behaviours.

Facebook is the leading social network as of September 2016, with 1.71 billion monthly active users, according to Statista. Photo-sharing app Instagram had over 500 million monthly active accounts, while blogging service Tumblr had more than 555 million active blog users on their site, a Statista report said.

The number of users of social media just keep getting bigger and businesses are increasingly finding it an enticing platform to market their goods and services. Restaurants, for example, are one of the beneficiaries of social-media marketing as it doesn’t tend to require as much capital outlay as traditional print or TV media, yet provides potential to reach a massive number of customers.

But drawing a large crowd has its pros and cons. On a good day, it is fantastic and your business will benefit immensely from the positive exposure on social media. But does the saying “all PR is good PR” hold in terms of social media? Unfortunately not. If something goes awry, a huge number of people will witness it and, worse yet, will comment on it, snowballing the negative affect.

Why social media is so important

To get an idea of why social media is so important, let’s look at some statistics.

On the consumer front, of the 7.2 billion people on earth, 3 billion have Internet access; 2.1 billion are active on social media; and 1.7 billion use social networks from a mobile device, according to a report by Link Humans. About 90% of young adults (ages 18 to 29) use social media while 35% of those over age 65 do, according to a Pew Research Center social media usage report. These figures make traditional marketing platforms of print and TV pale in comparison in terms of the sheer number of users.

On the business front, a Social Media Examiner report showed that about 96% of small business owners/marketers around the world use social media marketing, with 93% percent of those businesses using Facebook. A CMO Survey in August shows current levels of marketing spending have witnessed a 234% increase from 2009-2016, rising from 3.5% of marketing budgets in 2009 to 11.7% in 2016.  This growth rate attests to the importance companies place in these new marketing-strategy tools, it says.

Why do consumers find social media so relevant?

It is pretty straightforward why consumers find social media so important and relevant. Nowadays, we can’t fathom going to a restaurant or staying at a hotel without checking out online reviews, first. Media reviews are all well and good but hearing from “real people” about their experiences at a restaurant or hotel is what gets us over the line to make that commitment to book.

Social media is allows you to have a bit more security in your decisions, as it enables you to find out what your connections think about a certain product, restaurant or service. For example, if I wanted to go to a Mexican restaurant in San Francisco, I’d be able to search on Facebook, look at the landing pages of various restaurants and browse through the reviews left by people about their experiences. Some of my Facebook connections may have even been to these places, making the decision even easier. If any of the restaurants had terrible reviews, then I’d steer clear and that venue would lose my business, probably for good.

Social media: a boon or a bane for restaurants?

For restaurants, social media is a double-edged sword. The positives are pretty obvious. The social media leader, Facebook, is a restaurant industry favourite for online marketing. With Facebook allowing users to aim marketing/advertising strategies at specific target groups through their filtering system, restaurants can reach out to custom audiences or focus on what they call “lookalike audiences,” which lets you find more people similar to your best customers.

Create an enticing landing page with a clear marketing and advertising strategy in mind and a restaurant may stand to gain a lot of exposure to potential clients without hemorrhaging too many marketing dollars.

But what happens when things go wrong? Have a look at some of the following and take heed.

Taco Bell had a social media disaster in 2013 after an employee posted a photo of himself licking a stack of taco shells to his Facebook account. The photo went viral (obviously) and when Taco Bell finally released a statement, the damage had already been done and the restaurant chain’s reputation for cleanliness was severely damaged.


In January 2013, an Australian teenager posted a photo of a footlong sub from Subway, clearly showing it measured 11 inches, not 12. He posted the photo on Subway Australia’s Facebook page but Subway responded by saying that “Footlong” is merely a trademark and “not intended to be a measurement of length.” Predictably, people around the world started measuring their footlong Subway sandwiches and claims of false advertising ensued. Several actually filed a lawsuit against the chain, which has seen been settled, according to the Daily Meal.


Top 3 things restaurants should remember to avoid PR disasters

  1. Always respond in a timely and polite manner, no matter how infuriating and damaging comments on social media are about your restaurant. Angry, defensive rants have no place in business, especially those in the service industry. And make your response immediate –  the longer you wait, the worse it’ll be. Don’t be a victim of doing too little, too late – be prompt, proactive and try to diffuse negative press by offering solutions, if any.
  2. Always be honest. This may seem rather obvious but big global chains such as Subway have gotten into massive trouble, so no one is immune. Be honest about all aspects of your business. Do not try to embellish, if it means that you have to massage the truth in any way. For example, if your ingredients are not 100% organic, do not claim to be an organic-food only restaurant.
  3. Remember it’s quality, not quantity. Don’t try to be on every social media out there unless you have the energy and time to engage/maintain them properly. Choose the right social media and make sure you put enough time and effort into it to make full use of its potential as a marketing tool for your business. Read more on the best practices on Facebook for restaurants.

Social media marketing is expected to rise in the coming years. According to Statista, investments in social media advertising worldwide are forecast to nearly double in a two-year time span, going from around USD16 billion in 2014 to nearly USD31 billion in 2016. The United States is, by far, the largest social media advertising market in the world, as more than USD9.4 billion were spent on social media ad in the country in 2015 alone, Statista says.

Small and medium-sized enterprises such as restaurants have much to gain from using social media appropriately, as long as there is a solid marketing strategy in place. Be prepared for negative comments – it is inevitable as the business opens itself to the public – it may smart for a while, but how you react will determine how much of an impact they will have on your bottom line.


Digital marketing strategist and co-founder of Chatobook. He consults client in digital marketing and business strategies. A poker expert if he can maintain his poker face.

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