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Social media fuelling diner appetites

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Australian diners are turning to technology for food inspiration, as one in three Australians admit to dining at a restaurant just so they can order a dish they’ve seen on social media.

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New Social Dining Trends research released by restaurant reservation platform OpenTable found 1.8 million Aussie diners are making decisions about what to order at a restaurant based on the information they find on social media. It proves that social media is now more powerful than ever before, and that there’s never been a more vital time for cafes, bars and restaurants to be digitally savvy.

Joseph Abboud, owner and executive chef of Rumi Restaurant in Brunswick, Victoria, says social media has been an extremely useful tool for the Middle Eastern restaurant.

“Back in 2006 we didn’t even have a website and I remember someone said to us if you aren’t on the internet you don’t exist,” he says.

Fast forward to today and Rumi Restaurant is active on social media, particularly on Facebook and Instagram, and uses it as a tool to connect with existing and new customers.

“As a marketing tool it gives us the marketing reach and opportunity that we may have never got waiting for the mainstream media to print more about us,” says Abboud.

OpenTable’s research reveals more than 20 per cent of Generation Y consumers use social media channels, hashtag researching and food blogs to decide what to order. Sydney food blogger Joe Tavella from 2HungryGuys says it is essential for venues to connect with their customers online.

“It’s very important for restaurants to get on to social media because it’s not only a way to promote their restaurant, it’s a way for them to actually connect with people, to connect with their diners,” he says.

“People are really enthusiastic about food and I think social media has had a really large part in that. What better way to promote your restaurant than to get it out there on a social platform and allow everybody to experience it. I’s a great way for people to be able to try before they buy.”

Rumi Restaurant. Image credit: Atlanta Bell.

Rumi Restaurant. Image credit: Atlanta Bell.

But the social media landscape can be a somewhat confusing, and with various platforms and a heap of social media jargon to navigate, it can be difficult to know where to start. OpenTable’s annual Tech and Dining Survey revealed Facebook is Australian diners’ preferred social media channel (59 per cent) to connect with restaurants or chefs, followed by Instagram (45 per cent) and Twitter (16 per cent).

The report also found nearly half of Australian diners check-in at the restaurant’s location via social media; two in five share their experience on social media with commentary or photos; and over a third tag the restaurant and/or chef on social media. These finding reiterate the importance for establishments, and even their chefs, to be active on social media, to ensure they receive the coverage diners want to give them.

For Rumi Restaurant, Abboud says while Instagram is a great platform to provide entertainment in the form of photos, Facebook is best used to share news, special offers and posts that include a call to action.

“Our vegan feast has been very successful through Facebook, getting the word out there and having it spread through Facebook,” he says. “Other than events like our vegan feast, it’s very hard to gauge what impact social media is having, but when you have a call to action it definitely contributes to the success.”

Abboud recommends nominating one person, either an employee or an external social media specialist, to take care of social media channels, to maintain “a baseline of content, regularity and tone”.

“That person could be within your organisation, but they need to be specifically thinking about the social media content as a whole not just random posts,” he says. “I’ve found that very beneficial.”

But even with a social media strategy in place, Abboud admits sometimes you just can’t pick what will perform well on social media; one of the restaurant’s highest ever performing Instagram posts was in fact a photo of Beyoncé.

“One of our most popular posts was when Beyoncé named one of her kids Rumi,” says Abboud. “I was just like, I can’t believe it, of all the beautiful food content that we’ve got, this one gained the most traction.”

 The Instagram post that proves social media is always somewhat unpredictable. 

But having an active social media presence is just one piece of the puzzle for hospitality establishments. Another major component lies within the restaurant or café itself. OpenTable vice president APAC Lisa Hasen says this new breed of “digital diners” are in search of not just delicious food, but a great overall experience as well.

“As a result, we’re seeing restaurants emphasise the way in which food is being plated up, as well as the design concepts and the styling of dining spaces to make eating out a very visual and memorable experience,” she says.

“As the digital diner continues to evolve, restaurants can make simple changes to help capitalise on the trend, from techniques such as creatively plating up dishes or introducing a quirky cocktail, to making sure restaurants hashtags and social properties are prominent. Even small changes like reviewing light exposure over dining tables to maximise photo content can help lure new diners into your restaurant and help amplify your restaurants’ brand within the digital community.”

Tavella says good lighting is great place to start for restaurant owners wanting to make their venue more “social media friendly”.

Rumi Restaurant. Image credit: Atlanta Bell.

Rumi Restaurant. Image credit: Atlanta Bell.

“I think that whole dimly-lit restaurant vibe is a bit old-fashioned,” he says. “People want to see their food and visually experience it. So having an Insta-worthy meal that you can actually see is very important.”

A restaurant’s atmosphere is now more important than ever, as live-streaming video is gaining popularity as a social media tool.

“A lot of people are starting to go from that single picture platform to actually videoing where they are and what they’re doing at all times of the day,” he says. “So you’re not just seeing one dish you’re seeing the whole experience of a restaurant.”

Tavella says, as a whole, the rise in social media within the hospitality industry is a positive thing.

“It’s made it a lot easier for diners to pick and choose where they want to eat. But at the same time it is a little bit of a catch 22 for the restaurants, because now they have to step their game up,” he says.

“It’s not just about the food anymore it’s about how it looks and feels, how the restaurant looks and feels, the vibe. I think social media has improved it because it’s allowed the industry to be pushed into stepping up their game to make things a lot more interesting.”

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