Extending Your Brand Beyond Your Restaurant

In a great webinar on extending your brand beyond your restaurant, the teams at Results Thru Strategy and Merchant Centric highlighted the importance of monitoring your brand in the digital landscape.

Results Thru Strategy is a strategic advisory firm that helps hospitality companies optimize their people, performance, and profits. Merchant Centric helps increase revenues for businesses by using data analytics and intelligence to determine meaningful business actions.

The presenters included Fred LeFranc, Founder of Results Thru Strategy; Adam Leff, Co-Founder of Merchant Centric; Connie Shelton, SVP of National and Strategic Accounts for Merchant Centric; Katie Milligan, Manager of Guest Services for Firehouse Subs; and Chris Artinian, CEO of Toojay’s Deli.

The webinar’s agenda focused on 5 key elements:

  1. Understanding the restaurant technology space
  2. Online guest engagement management
  3. The value in what your guests are saying
  4. Actions restaurant brands are taking and results
  5. Online guest engagement management checklist

While there are a lot of buzz words in restaurant tech, many of them don’t identify what’s going on. As such, Adam suggested that this quadrant analysis is more fitting:

All of the online media, online engagement, and targeted advertising components help enhance the in-store experience

The influence of online engagement and media is more significant than ever before. People no longer look only to expert food critics; they look to their friends and social media connections (84% of people trust online reviews in addition to their friend’s content).

Similarly, a diner’s experience with your restaurant doesn’t end when they walk out the door. They go home and create posts and other forms of content, and have conversations surrounding their experience. And restaurants need to identify how to best monitor, sift through, and report on all that content.

There are four main online guest engagement management solutions:

  1. Reputation monitoring
  2. Reputation management
  3. Data analytics
  4. Reporting & Dashboards

There are services available that make reputation monitoring more manageable. You ave to at least listen to what’s going on. If not, you’re at risk for having unfavorable information out there that you may not know about.

The next step in reputation management is to make the investment to interact with guests. Data allows you to actually understand and analyze what guests are saying. You can then say, “If we take this action, we’ll be able to better address what guests are saying.”

You will also then be able to better report and explain everything to your share holders. When businesses actually engage in online guest management, there are often favorable results:

  • More new and repeat guests
  • More reviews
  • Higher ratings
  • Increased revenue

The best organic way to get more reviews is to engage with your guests. They recognize this is a way to communicate with you and so they’re more vocal. Typically, you’ll get more positive reviews, too.

This is beneficial because guests tell restaurants how to increase sales:

Guests’ sharing habits have evolved, too. Online reviews across top sites like Google, Yelp, Facebook, TripAdvisor, OpenTable, and Foursquare contribute drastically to peoples’ decisions.

Restaurants now receive a massive amount of feedback!

People may also share at either the corporate or location-level. Katie noted that, at Firehous Subs, they monitor and respond to both corporate and franchise reviews. Since most are at the location-level, they’ll address the customer from the corporate level then send it across to local management to address. They’ll personally take ownership over anything that’s a brand issue, and relay it to any relevant departments to act on those reviews.

It used to be the case that only 3% of restaurants would reply to reviews. Now, restaurants lead the industry in replying to customer feedback. Why are customers replying? There are many reasons:

  1. More new and repeat guests
  2. More reviews
  3. Higher ratings
  4. Increased revenue

A Harvard Business School Study found that a 1-Star increase in online reputation results in a 5-9% increase in sales.

In looking at Toojay’s as a case study, they discovered they needed to better incorporate technology as well as develop some best practices. Expanding the team and connecting management with guest feedback were also actions items.

They began taking and displaying ownership in what they do by flushing out these priorities and managing guest feedback. They respond to all complaints within 24 hours and want to ensure any issues are completely resolved within 48 hours.

This resulted in higher overall ratings; increased guest satisfaction (monthly ratings higher than past); connected management with guests (real-time email reporting); and being better equipped to guide the brand.

The matter of ratings vs revenue was also addressed:

You think you may be doing well from a money perspective but if your guests aren’t happy, things may be heading downward.

Firehouse Subs was another case study discussed. They have over 1,000 locations and maintain and build brand relationships beyond stores. They manage multiple constituencies (franchisee owners, franchisor management, field marketing managers).

They realized a year ago they were missing the mark in terms of reviews. Previously, many reviews were unanswered and could lead to crisis.

By making it a priority to use sophisticated platforms and best practices, they were able to back and clean up old reviews. Now, they pro-actively respond and monitor all locations’ reviews – on a daily basis – and respond to anything 3 stars or below.

They base everything they do around their mission statement which is their culture. Thus, their star review goes up and so does business. They address it at the corporate level then it trickles down to individual managers.

Interacting became a magnet to get customers to be more vocal online in general, and produce far more positive reviews and feedback, which in turn, drives greater sales volume.

Firehouse Subs also shares information daily among the executive team so everyone has eyes on what’s going on. They also send reviews to the franchisees’ area representatives who share with their teams.

Understanding themes that work with your brand is also a critical step. You have to figure out the number of complaints you get and make sure there’s a balance between high reviews in order to maintain ratings and sales.

Discern what’s meaningful and not necessarily what’s noisiest.

In general, increasing star-ratings increases sales growth. Higher ratings attract new customers and indicate existing customers are satisfied. This means more new and repeat customers and more referrals.

Through proper social media marketing, you can know when your guests are upset about and fix it.

Firehouse was able to narrow down which locations got the most complaints. Most of the time, the complaints were about speed of service, so they decided this was an issue they needed to address.

Many of their customers are in for lunch and want to roll in and out in 30 minutes, so they rolled out a new labor platform to make lunchtime more efficient.

Similarly, Toojay’s also used reputation monitoring to identify exactly where to focus. They were getting great ratings on food but one venue was struggling with slow service and surliness. They focused on how to manage guest feedback in the four walls and figured out a strategy/criteria to resolve in-house issues. They were able to see immediate improvement after putting training behind their team.

In closing, it was recommended to assess the following questions for your brand: