How 3 NYC Restaurants Are Breaking Through the Social Media Clutter

By Kristen Hess, Foodable Contributor

Most restaurateurs are beginning to understand the power of social media and online marketing.

Running a print ad or spending money on television ads is expensive. Smart operators realize the importance of connecting with consumers and influencers, and how positive online engagement can affect their brand, business, foot traffic and reputation. Social media can be an effective communication tool to inform customers of daily specials, promotions, events, menus and more. But in a crowded online marketplace, how can you break through the clutter?

The three New York restaurant owners/marketers below give us real-world examples of what’s working for them, what tools they’re using, and successful campaign ideas they’ve implemented to increase online visibility and engagement. 

Want to build customer loyalty and brand buzz? Here’s some inspiration.

Tavern on Jane

The bar at Tavern on Jane | Tavernonjane.com

The bar at Tavern on Jane | Tavernonjane.com

Michael Stewart, owner of Tavern on Jane in NYC, wanted to effectively amp up his social media and online marketing efforts, but was looking for a way to do it inexpensively. For the past few months, he’s been using MailChimp to send out a monthly email blast to over 1,700 current subscribers. Stewart uses this platform to announce changes to the restaurant’s design and menu, as well as news like landing new Executive Chef Josh LaBadie, who has worked at some impressive NYC restaurants including Central Park Boathouse and Terroir.  

Stewart also started using Groupon’s Breadcrumb POS system, which captures customer information and demographics when credit card transactions are processed. Tavern on the Jane also uses ChowNow, an app that allows customers to click and order food from the app to go (no delivery at this point). The app also collects customer information, which Stewart uses in addition to the Breadcrumb POS data to market via email and social media.

Shoestring Burger at Tavern on Jane | Foodable WebTV Network

Shoestring Burger at Tavern on Jane | Foodable WebTV Network

Tavern on Jane has an ongoing Instagram photo contest called #tavernonjanephotocontest, a $50 gift card giveaway to the person who takes the best food or restaurant photo. Facebook is also used daily to post specials, menus, restaurant news and events, and the same information is posted on Twitter daily for consistent messaging and additional reach. 

Stewart used to do a lot more offline marketing and print advertising, but now limits his ads to a local West Village paper with a new ad each month. He also has a deal with the Whitney Museum, where visitors can receive a 10% discount at the restaurant by showing their ticket stub from the museum. 

Duke’s | Big Daddy’s | City Crab

A lobster spread at City Crab | Credit: Instagram, @Projct33

A lobster spread at City Crab | Credit: Instagram, @Projct33

Julie Zucker, Director of Marketing and Promotions for Branded Restaurants in NYC, which includes Duke’s, Big Daddy’s and City Crab, implements a robust social media and online marketing initiative, which has proved well for the restaurants. They have done some fun things for brand engagement, and post daily on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. All posts are tied to current internal promotions and current events going on in the city.

One of Duke’s most successful campaigns is the day after the Super Bowl, where they ask customers to guess and post how many chicken wings were sold on Super Bowl Sunday. The winning guess, or closest without going over, wins free wings for a year. Zucker sends out the contest via email using Fishbowl, and customers must post their guesses to either Facebook or Instagram.

Photo Courtesy of Duke's

Photo Courtesy of Duke's

This past year, there were over 350 contestants. But even though there’s only one winner, all participants receive a comment on their posts with Zucker’s personal email address, and are told to contact her for an additional prize. The result? Over 50 people emailed her back for their extra prize of a $10 gift card for their next visit. 

Zucker notes that they target their messaging to the different demographics of the three restaurants. Big Daddy’s tends to have a younger audience and thus a more active Instagram. Duke’s, a sports bar, is more male-based, and there tends to be more Twitter check-ins. City Crab attracts a mix of people, so the restaurant tends to get a lot of food posts on Instagram, and shares family photos at the restaurant on Facebook. 

Zucker says that daily engagement is important not only to reward positive posts but to mitigate any negative posts as well. She responds to every single comment on Facebook and Instagram, and retweets everyone who mentions them on Twitter. For negative posts, she asks guests to send her an email so she can get more information about the situation and invite them to come back, which 8 out of 10 times, they do. Any anger-driven or nasty posts are simply deleted.

Zucker's advice to other restaurant marketers? “Know your audience. Know your medium. Respond to guests.”

Fatty Crab

Rick Camac, owner of Fatty Crab in NYC, asks his chefs and general managers to handle day-to-day social media activities. They’ve found that bombarding Instagram and Facebook feeds with daily events doesn’t seem to garner much attention, so they have taken a much more selective approach and only post what’s really interesting and relevant to cut through the clutter. For example, they only post shots of Fatty Crab menu items if it’s something they’re making or promoting at the moment — they don’t just post all their food shots randomly. They’ve found that posts getting the most attention are photos of events, anniversaries, chefs in action, or just people having fun at the restaurant. 

For years, Camac stayed away from most online marketing partners because of image concerns, perceived demographic, and poor representation of restaurants in general. Because there are so many options today for managing online content, he believes that restaurateurs need to stay on top of new technologies. Many of them offer a multi-faceted approach and overlap what other competitors are doing, so it’s hard to know who to partner with and trust. 

In the past, Camac used Gilt for its online marketing programs, which usually received a great response. But he recently ran some campaigns with Groupon, which offers great demographics, and it has proved to be a success, selling over 1,000 units. Two-thirds of them were new customers, mostly over 40. Fatty Crab was also pleased to discover that the average spend was near or at their usual check average.

In terms of managing negative online comments and posts, Camac makes an effort to personally respond whether through notes in OpenTable or otherwise, and he also rewards his regular followers and customers with a free pickleback shot or t-shirt.

His advice to others that want to amp up their social media game? “Stay on top of what’s out there and know your options. There’s some amazing technology out there. And now, whatever outside company you engage with, you need to play a PROACTIVE role in the content.”

Final Thoughts

Social media is a highly conversational marketing tool and is very different from traditional marketing 20 years ago, where a restaurant owner could just buy some media space, create a print ad or billboard, and wait for customers to come into the restaurant. Customers today are looking for engagement both in-store and online.

There are a lot of things involved to effectively maximize social media platforms, but the most important thing for restaurant owners is to remember it’s all about building relationships and engaging in two-way conversation — talking with customers, not at them. People are more internet savvy now, and demand more from the restaurants they frequent. They want to have their voices heard and share content that excites them with their friends, fans and communities. 

Build it, and they will come.