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Word of Mouth Marketing: How Smart Restaurants Get People Talking

Posted by Cameret Bannister on 1/12/17 1:00 PM in Restaurant Marketing

6 minute read Print

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When I’m looking for a new place to go out to dinner, I almost always solicit the advice of friends and family for recommendations. And not-so-surprisingly, I’m not alone in this sentiment. 78% of restaurant diners said they are likely to base their choice on a friend’s recommendation, according to Toast’s Restaurant Technology Industry Report.

Word of mouth marketing, often referred to as WOM or WOMM, is one of the trickiest concepts to understand since it often seems left up to chance.

Similar to going “viral,” there isn’t one specific set of steps to guarantee success. Still, there are definite tactics to spark the flames to get the people talking.

And, let’s face it, everyone wants their restaurant to be the talk of the town.

To better understand WOM, let’s go on a journey through the traditional marketing tale.

Shifting From the 4 Ps to the 3 Es

Traditional marketing practices originally revolved around the 4 Ps: product, price, promotion, and place. What did those mean to the business? Well, you had to sell something great at the perfect price while inspiring sales through exciting deals, all while being in the right place at the right time.

While those tenets are still at the core of any successful business, the shift towards a more interactive approach to marketing is an increasingly importance force in the decision-making process. Consumers are seeking information from friends, family, reviews, and other sources of information that you can’t necessarily directly control in your restaurant.

Still, there are various ways to influence those sources of information. Forbes contributor Kimberly Whitler described the process of moving from the 4 Ps of marketing to a word of mouth marketing approach. Whitler and Forbes outline this process with the 3 Es of word of mouth marketing.

The 3 Es of Word of Mouth Marketing: Engage, Equip, Empower

1. Engage:

"Give your fans the gift of you. Engage with them. Listen to what they are telling you. Be part of the conversation about your brand. Be a presence in your fans’ lives.” –Whitler

In simple terms, let your customer base know that their opinions matter, get to know what they are looking for from your restaurant and menu, and make the conversation a two-way street.

At first, the Internet wasn’t the first place people would go to share information with each other. Now, it’s become a behemoth, creating news ways for people to interact, even if it is behind the screen of a computer.

Social media for restaurants has become a huge platform for interactive discussions between restaurants and customers. For example, Paris Creperie in Boston has done a fantastic job of addressing countless Yelp reviews that they receive, both positive and negative. By taking the time to interact with individual people, they create a transparent and honest brand that gives the feeling that they are more than just another restaurant.

marketing by word of mouth

2. Equip:

“Give them reasons to talk. It can be amazing products, great service, insider knowledge, social elevation, incredible stories, unbelievable facts or even funny disclosures.” – Whitler

Equipping customers with reasons to start talking should be the core mission of your restaurant.

Why are you passionate about the restaurant industry? What made you decide to own, manage, or work in your specific restaurant? What makes you different?

It is important to take some time to reflect on those concepts, because they often translate to the “reason to believe” that so many diners seek.

Related Post - Restaurant Branding Ideas: How to Build Your Restaurant Brand

So, how is your restaurant different from the one down the block? Here are a few ways you can cultivate that sense of uniqueness:

  • Food/Menu Offering: It almost goes without saying, but at the heart of your restaurant is something that everyone loves… food! Arguably the most foolproof way to generate buzz about your restaurant is to deliver mouthwatering, attention-grabbing food.  Focus on flavor innovation, craveability, authenticity, or sustainability, for example, to deliver something special to your guests.

    Poke-Poke harnessed word of mouth marketing by bringing the power of a fast casual poke restaurant to Austin, Texas, according to Eater.  The poke trend has been named one of 2017’s food trends to watch, and it was this innovation that led to increased hype about Poke-Poke’s opening.

    word of mouth promotion
  • Events/Specials/Offers: Draw more diners into the restaurant by hosting special eventslike office parties, concerts, prix-fixed date nights, and more! Giving people a reason to show up not only brings in more guests, but also provides more of a reason to share the entire experience with friends or family that might attend too.

  • Decor/Atmosphere:  While you may like to think that diners judge a restaurant solely by its ability to serve up delicious food, we all know that people tend to judge books by their covers. Some of the most attractive restaurant interior designs draw in customers based on the sheer elegance and panache of the atmosphere. 

    Mad Men inspired Leo’s Oyster Bar in San Francisco was recently named the Best Designed New Restaurant in 2016 by Bon Appetit. With rose-colored onyx bartops, vintage glassware, shell-shaped wall sconces, and tropical palm wallpaper, there’s no bad table to sit at. 

    As Bon Appetit put it, “There are well-designed restaurants, and then there are restaurants that are such fully realized worlds, they transport you. Those are the ones we want to go back to again and again.” Coupled with fantastic cocktails and exquisite seafood, Leo’s definitely proved out that concept.

word of mouth advertising

3. Empower:

“Give consumers different ways to talk and share. Let them know that they are important to you and that sharing their opinions is important to you.” – Whitler

Alright, by now you’ve given diners reason to talk, but what’s next? In order to conjure up the best word of mouth marketing for your restaurant, you’ll need to provide them with different avenues to share their opinions.

Related Post - 3 Strategies for Restaurant Guest Feedback That Actually Work

Lays was one of the first companies to come up with a creative platform for empowering with their “Do Us a Flavor” contest.  Consumers were asked to submit their flavor suggestions which would go head to head in competition for actual creation. According to AdAge, in the first year of the campaign they had over 3 million submissions, and “Garlic Cheesy Bread” emerged as the winner against “Chicken & Waffles” and “Sriracha Sauce”.

Your Word of Mouth Marketing Tips

The 3 E Framework is just the start to help conjure up some word of mouth marketing for your restaurant. Have other ideas to get the mouths moving? Share below!

Restaurant Marketing Plan 2019

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Written by: Cameret Bannister

Cameret (pron. Cam-er-ay) Bannister is a Marketing Manager at Toast. She enjoys geeking out to pivot tables, formulating marketing strategy, and long walks on the beach with the love of her life – her schnauzer-bichon mix named Blue. She loves the food business so much that she once dressed as a spicy salmon sushi roll for Halloween.


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