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By Jackie Prange
The digital age has tricked us into thinking traditional word of mouth doesn’t matter.
But it still does – 87% of diners agree that they take recommendations from friends more seriously than online reviews or popularity on social media.
While it can be easy to think you just need a killer Instagram following, an active Twitter feed, and a bunch of stars on Yelp to get customers in the door, you can’t stop there.
It’s time to make word of mouth a crucial part of your referral and recommendation strategy.
Let’s go back to the basics: here’s how you can ramp up your word of mouth referrals so your restaurant’s reputation speaks for itself.
First, you’re going to want to ask some basic questions:
Look at your menu, critically and objectively, through the eyes of a potential referrer and ask yourself – do my cocktails, entrees, or brand new mains make my customers want to run and tell their friends about it? If yes, great. If not, how can you improve?
Once you’ve taken the time to create top-notch offerings, don’t let your hard work go to waste by falling short on service. A patron who has experienced great food and great service will shout your restaurant’s name from the rooftops – so give both equal attention.
The restaurant market is saturated, and good restaurants fail all the time. The truly great restaurants offer diners something they can’t get anywhere else – so what can they get from you that no one else is offering?
Whether you have a breathtaking patio, a unique concept, or ever-changing seasonal fare, craft an experience that will help promote what makes you unique. Once you nail down your differentiating factor, host an event at your restaurant that amplifies your concept. An event will give you the opportunity to entertain some new faces and – if done well – create some highly coveted referrals.
Whether it’s hosting a “Buck-a-Shuck” night for National Oyster Day or a “Make-Your-Own- Caesar” weekend, create an experience your customers will remember (and recommend!).
Establish an emotional connection with your patrons. Whether your customers realize it or not, emotions play a big role in the restaurant selection process, so start showing off your venue’s heart.
Start small by creating and promoting timely specials that speak to the heart. For example, drive traffic to your restaurant on Mother’s Day or Father’s Day with a prix-fixe menu made with love.
Once you’ve mastered that, think big. Consider giving back to your community by partnering with a local charity. Host an event on behalf of the charity, create a designated menu item from which they’ll receive all proceeds, or dedicate a day where 10% of all tabs will go to their cause – whatever your restaurant’s BIG heart desires!
If you can successfully create an emotional connection with your patrons, you’ll be creating conversation that positively highlights your restaurant in the most favorable way possible.
If your end goal is to increase word of mouth referrals – it doesn’t hurt to ask! Whether it’s a friendly nudge when you present the bill or a nicely crafted note in the bathroom asking them to tweet about their experience with a curated hashtag, asking your customers for a referral after an A+ dining experience can’t hurt.
Bonus points: leverage your POS’s customizable receipt capabilities to include a little note that reads, “Refer a friend for 10% off your next visit!” If they had an amazing time at your venue, they’ll be happy to oblige!
If there’s one takeaway from this article, it’s this: give them something to talk about! By acting on one (or all) of these four tips, you can help make your restaurant the talk of the town and watch the referral traffic roll in.
Jackie was a Content Marketing Specialist and Social Media strategist at TouchBistro before moving into business development role. She covered the latest food, dining, and technology trends for the restaurant industry. A lover of all things coffee, Jackie’s hobbies include breakfast, lunch and dinner.
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