Everything I Know About Social Media, I Learned As A Restaurant Manager

Ok, not entirely true. I’ve learned a lot from books, blogs, Twitter, webinars and practice. But once during an Awareness Inc. webinar David Carter said, “Everything I learned about social media, I learned as a waiter.” I don’t think he expected anyone to put as much weight into that sentence as I did. It dawned on me that part of the reason I took so wholeheartedly to social media is that I’ve been operating with its principles for years. I’m going to examine some of these principles in restaurant terms, but they apply to any organization.

Word-of-mouth marketing

It’s the most effective (or potentially destructive) marketing tool for restaurants, as it is for all companies and organizations. Being the hot new place is great, but the buzz will fade unless we back it up with food and service that’s worth talking about, for years. We want to be the place that tourists mention to others traveling to our city, that friends talk about at parties, and that colleagues discuss at work. We are also aware of the lasting power of negative word-of-mouth.

Integrity at all costs

Never ever lie or mislead your staff or guests. Be honest and trustworthy. If your salmon is farmed, admit it, don’t pretend it’s wild. If you anticipate an hour wait for a table, disclose it, don’t fool them into thinking it will only be 30 minutes. Don’t date your cocktail waitresses. Have high standards. Do what’s right, always.

(photo by staxnet/Flickr)
(photo by staxnet/Flickr)

The customer is right, even when they’re not

We cringe at that old phrase, but the customer’s perception is their reality. You have to start from there. If someone has a bad experience and isn’t satisfied with our response, we have just created a walking nightmare. However, we can turn them into a raving evangelist if we figure out the right thing to do for them, and then do a little more. This is no time for egos. It’s about them, not us. How do we fix it?

It’s all about relationships

What does every restaurant want? Repeat guests. One visit is appreciated, but we can’t succeed for long if they only come once. We can make that easier if we create relationships. Be a personality not a brand.

  • Welcome your new guests. They’re taking a chance on you — make them feel appreciated and comfortable.
  • Nurture your regulars — your evangelists. They will do your marketing for you –- reward them for that. Stroke their egos in front of their friends. Give them special treatment.
  • Treat everyone the way you would like to be treated. Even better, the way you would like your grandmother to be treated – the golden rule.

Look and listen

  • Scan the room. Are your guests happy to be here? Look at their faces, their body language, their interactions, and their tables. Anticipate their needs –- that’s the key.
  • Listen to what people are saying about you and respond to it, the good and the bad. Accept criticism and learn from it. Put your pride and ego aside and make things right.

Your staff determines your success

  • Trust your gut when you hire staff. Do they want to learn? Do they really like people? Are they positive personalities? Do they care?
  • Educate your staff. Create a culture of knowledge that they will share with guests. Encourage and recognize those who demonstrate that knowledge. We had oyster-tasting contests, wine and beer seminars, and fish school. We made it fun and ended up with the smartest and most loyal wait staff in town.
  • Trust and empower your staff. Give them guidelines to follow so they can make customer service decisions on the spot. If you’ve done right by them up to now, they’ll do the right thing.

Pay it forward

Be a good citizen. Give back to the community that supports your business. Join your local chamber or business group. Find a cause that you and your staff feel passionate about and partner with that organization to raise funds and awareness. Show the world that you are more than just a brand or a storefront; you have a personality and a heart.

Were you thinking about your customers or members when you read this? If not, go back and translate these restaurant scenarios into your organization’s perspective. Before incorporating social media into your culture, make sure you are comfortable with these principles. They’ve been around forever, but in the new Web 2.0 world, you can’t succeed without them.

Author: deirdrereid

Deirdre is a freelance writer for companies serving the association market, who after more than 20 years in the association and restaurant industries, is enjoying the good life as a ghostblogger and content marketing writer. Away from her laptop, you can find her walking in the woods, doing yoga, going to shows, journaling, cooking, or relaxing in a comfy chair with a good book and a glass of something tasty in hand.

15 thoughts on “Everything I Know About Social Media, I Learned As A Restaurant Manager”

  1. You are so correct about having to set aside one’s ego when dealing with a dissatisfied customer. I can’t being to count the number of times I’ve come across company owners or customer service reps who responded in anger when faced with a customer complaint and ended up shooting themselves, their employer and the company brand in the foot. It’s easy to say, hard to pull off in practice, and absolutely necessary.

    Thanks for an insightful post! 🙂


    1. Thanks for commenting. I think reacting wisely to complaints or other negative behavior requires lots of practice and emotional maturity, and it still can keep you up at nights!


  2. Hello,

    What a wonderful post and sharing. Really nice and to the point. I thought it was interesting that the posting was about ‘social media’ when I could have easily been reading about ‘customer service’ the essentials!

    There’s a lot of application here for IT folks (we are in the service business after all). The key points are simple and easy to understand!

    Thanks for sharing,


    1. That’s exactly it! Really good customer service and retention requires the same skills that social media requires. If it’s already in your company’s culture, you’re likely to be a good candidate for social media/marketing efforts. Thanks for stopping by!


  3. Good article. I’ve never actually worked in a restaurant, but I think this holds true to a lot of different business experiences that people have through their lives, including online community management.


    1. I think there are a lot of parallels between community management and association/membership management, and I often think that in some strange ways my restaurant management background helped me in my association career, so (still with me?) it makes sense that you would see similarities to your profession. Thanks for commenting, Jeremy.


  4. Of course you’re right! = )

    The hospitality business is the most in tune with social media & social media marketing. We’ve been doing it since the very first guest walked into the very first dining room, hundreds of years ago.It’s a match made in heaven – now if I can only get operator’s to realize this I’d be fine!

    As for ego – it has absolutely no place in business whether with an unsatisfied guest or even a satisfied one. (Is satisfied your standard?) The minute you allow your ego to surface you become complacent and then all hell breaks loose.

    Thank you for the really great post Deirdre.


    1. Amen, brother! I knew you would like this post. I think restaurants should be the social media/marketing case studies discussed at conferences but except for a few cases, they haven’t been attracting much attention. The ones doing social media well seem to be the exception, not the rule. Is it a management time and attention issue? Too busy to explore the opportunities? That wouldn’t surprise me. Thanks for taking the time to visit and comment.


  5. Nicely said! This is so true and the fact that since we all can relate to this supports instinct as a powerful social media tool. Social media are a lot f things. Instinct is based, I think on learned behavior.

    I started in this business as a busser, then moved on to become a foodserver. FOH experiences helped me understand customers. BOH experiences helped me understand how to work with people. This is an amazing industry and that is why I started FohBoh. Great going and thanks for this great post.



    1. Thanks, Michael, for stopping by. I just visited FohBoh.com. I wish that type of community existed when I was in the restaurant business. Lots of good discussion and posts. I bet it really helps restaurant professionals with professional development, networking and provides morale boosts when needed. You should be proud!


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