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Social Media Serves Up Sales

As far as stomach share is concerned, hotels are finding social media is feeding the bottom line. Here’s how.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013
Francine Cohen
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For some the jury is still out. But for others there is no doubt that social media is actually driving business to hotels.

The importance of social media technology’s value in driving in restaurant traffic and sales at hotels is showing real effect. And, while many in the industry are talking about tablets and apps that provide individualized concierge services in the lobby or right on a smart phone, when the hungry diners’ search for apps of the digestible kind begins numerous hotel based restaurateurs are utilizing a combination of high tech, like social media outreach, and low tech (i.e. personable and successful server on-the-floor up sells).

Embracing technology in the hotel restaurant business is a fine balance of messaging, channeling resources to disseminate the messaging, and doing it in such a way that it pays off.

Andy Labetti, General Manger, The Benjamin Hotel, NYC notes, “There’s lots of talk about social media. But it still has to be connected to performance. High Yelp scores correlate with high year over year sales in restaurants.”

While Labetti believes, having seen a direct correlation between sales upticks and money spent on thoughtful hi-and lo-tech efforts at his on-property dining spot, The National, not all hoteliers are as easily convinced.

Troy Clarke, Director Food & Beverage, Royal Sonesta Hotel, notes that getting folks on board is sometimes a struggle. Particularly when it means adding a staffer to handle those social media endeavors. He comments, “Convincing to owners you need to add layers isn't easy to do.”

His approach to adding those layers was a minimal investment that takes a page from old school PR tactics and marries it with the new social media world; he reaches out to local media to help tell his story and use their influence to keep his tables turning. Clarke explains, “What we did was we looked into the community on who had great clout and who could reach the community; it was the food bloggers and food writers.

The restaurant can't survive without the community because you go through peaks and valleys as to when it's full. So we bring in influencers, bring them in each season and get their feedback before it even happens. Doing this has brought a huge level of engagement.” So much so that he confirms, “Our top 5 bloggers in the city are our top 30 followers and referrers.”

Referral and/or repeat business is only possible when you can connect with your guest in a way that they want to engage with you. Labetti and his team spend 45 minutes of their weekly restaurant meeting discussing social media and how guests are responding. He notes, “We like to shoot out in first person to pique interest. When you engage like that they’ll retweet it and post it on Facebook and it becomes viral. That’s so important to our business.”

Well before the advent of technology creeping into restaurants the ubiquitous paper comment card was as expected as a pen in the end of meal bill presentation. For some the check presenter comment card is an asset, for others a useless waste of paper. The need for information is still there, but hotel-based restaurateurs have been exploring new ways to obtain it. Damian Mogavero, chief executive officer /founder, Avero explains why he advocates for technology, “ I don’t think comment cards can stay in paper form. The more you use social media the more you get to know your customers and drive revenue.” He continues with a solid example, “We work with casinos and were using comment cards and got incredibly low yields. We started putting those comment cards on iPads that go into check presenters and got 40% yields - 40% of customers were doing comments.”

Not only did Mogavero’s clients see more interaction from their guests, but it allowed for more analysis of their servers’ habits and goal achievements. He notes, “Now you have basically an actual score for that individual server, not just for a restaurant as a whole.”

Tying servers into the process and holding them accountable requires getting them on board with understanding social media. At Clarke’s restaurant the front of house staff works under an incentivized point system that enables them to both make good tips on any particular evening but also more money in the long run. Clarke believes this approach helps to make his staff full engaged in the concept and really want to make it great. He says, “We shut our restaurant down on Mondays for the afternoon and use it for training. We take all the sites that review restaurants and share our reviews with our staff and use this as a chance to share and learn and what we did right so we do this behavior again.” This staff education and involvement in the social media realm has paid off. Clarke confirms, “As a result we've seen our scores increase and we’ve got 46% of our referrals coming from Facebook. These are numbers that weren't there before.”

Tracking those numbers accurately is important; so is understanding how to get there. Though Clarke is a huge proponent of social media being used to drive business he does caution it is done thoughtfully. He remarks, “It’s not true that every concept needs it. but if you're investing in it, make sure you're monitoring it.” Mogavero adds, “What’s interesting is that search engine optimization is becoming more important as is making sure you're getting the right response. We spend a lot of time helping customers figure out what items they should be promoting [via social media outlets]. At the end of the day you have to ask yourself if that promotion is making a difference. You want to look at your bottom line and see if it’s driving covers, check averages, etc. Friday Chicken Friday may sound like fun but it’s not a good promotion of you lose $10,000 every time you run the promo.”

Making sure your promotions and messaging are topical, timely, and compelling can be the job of management, the chef, or a staffer hired strictly to find the interesting stories every day and blast them out to the world. It might sound like it’s an expensive proposition to have someone on staff solely focused on trolling the review sites and tracking comments, responding when necessary, and posting stories and images on Twitter, Facebook and more. But many on the panel see this role as an invaluable tool for their business, as important as having a bartender. Clarke concludes, “I did 1.2 million in food revenue, 390,000 in beverage. This year I'll break 2 million and beverage will be up 75%. I believe that's a direct correlation of having a social media manager.”
Francine Cohen    Francine Cohen
Associate Editor
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Francine Cohen is hotelinteractive.com’s editor. She covers the notable people, news and trends that make the hospitality world so vibrant. Recent guest judge appearances at the Cape May Food & Wine Festival Iron Chef competition and Saborea Culinary Festival in Puerto Rico have led to ongoing speaking engagements. ...
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