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Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Business

I’m often asked about the story of my little steakhouse, Caminito Argentinean Steakhouse, in Northampton, MA.  It’s not often that I write about our full story.  Well, recently I was asked to contribute a case study to the WOMMA Metrics Guidebook.  I thought it may provide for an interesting read for you and may give you some insights or be helpful to you for application into your industry.  Once you’re done reading, or even before you start reading, make sure you download the WOMMA Metrics Guidebook.

In general, restaurants have a few main ways that they typically market their business: You can run ads in the local grillnewspapers, buy radio spots, have television commercials produced, and grab prime billboard locations.  All of these marketing tools will help gain a restaurant visibility and exposure.  They’re part of most restaurants’ marketing toolboxes.  But, these marketing tools don’t help when an increasing number of eyeballs are turning to Google as their primary source of information.

When my best friend and now-partner, Joseph Gionfriddo, purchased Caminito Argentinean Steakhouse, the extent of the restaurant’s web presence consisted of, essentially, just a copy of the menu.  Joe was spending most of the marketing budget on local newspapers and radio spots.  The restaurant was struggling to survive even though the food that Joe prepared was some of the best I, and everyone else that came through Caminito’s doors, had ever tried.

Recognizing an opportunity to lower our marketing budget and use the web as the primary tool to drive more bodies through the front door, I approached Joe with the offer of a partnership.  My primary responsibility: create the strongest presence, both offline and online, for Caminito, in as short of time as possible.

We immediately sketched out a 12-month strategic marketing plan that included:

  • A complete revamp of the website.
  • Developing an online presence through social networks, a blog, and a video blog.
  • Creating a listening station that allowed us to monitor for conversations across the web about us, our restaurant, our competition and our industry.

Since many of these tactics provide for solid SEO, as part of our goals, it helped us to gain several thousand links in Google and other major search engines.  As our online presence became stronger and we developed a more engaged community, we began to rank for prime keywords that we targeted as being important for our restaurant to drive business through search results.

Our take: if prospective customers ran searches for restaurants in the area while making a decision of where to dine and our restaurant dominated the front page of Google, they would be more likely to visit Caminito.  Though we had made the decision to decrease our traditional marketing spend by approximately 80% we still continued to run local newspaper and some radio spots.  Since not all of our customers use the Internet to do their research, it was important to us to continue to use these avenues to reach our customers.  We also contacted each of the newspapers, other print publications, radio and associations to negotiate for digital advertising options, linkbacks on their websites, logo, bio and/or menu publishing.

The first month of this strategy being in play we saw a sales increase of 20% as compared to the same month the previous year.  Over the past almost two years we have maintained an increase in sales every single month as compared to the same month the previous year.  Additionally, we have finished each year approximately 20-25% up in sales as compared to previous years.

As time has continued, we have tweaked our strategic marketing plan but still maintain the above tactics.  This has helped to continue to create conversations, both online and offline.  To measure the continued increase in online conversations we use a combination of Google Alerts and Twitter Search.  While this does create some duplication, it ensures that we never miss any conversations happening around us, our brand, our competition, or our industry.  We monitor offline conversations through anecdotal interactions we have with our community and inferred through the continued increase in new customers and increased sales.

To further guide decision-making we also measure everything from the number of comments we receive on a blog post, to the number of hits on a video, the total number of subscribers, where those subscribers come from, how and where our blog and video posts are shared, who shares them, the level of engagement we have, the number of conversations that are started and tons more.  The challenge is keeping up with all of this data flowing in and bringing it all together to analyze our overall online impact.

As a result of the measurement systems we have in place the impact of online and offline conversations is clear to us.  Online conversations help to further our online brand, increase conversations, improve search rank for evolving prime keywords, demonstrate and expertise in the food industry, create new opportunities, and increase sales.  The offline conversations translate to word of mouth marketing that helps to drive increase and repeat sales.

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  • http://twitter.com/justinlevy justinlevy

    Ever wanted to know the behind-the-scenes story about my little steakhouse? http://bit.ly/4INbve

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/leeodden leeodden

    Good story: RT @justinlevy: Ever wanted to know the behind-the-scenes story about my little steakhouse? http://bit.ly/4INbve

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/Ed Ed

    From @justinlevy: Ever wanted to know the behind-the-scenes story about my little steakhouse? http://bit.ly/4INbve {Yes I have :)}

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/decli decli

    Thanks Justin! Good read. RT @justinlevy: Ever wanted to know the behind-the-scenes story about my little steakhouse? http://bit.ly/4INbve

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/Ed Ed

    Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Business – (via @justinlevy) http://is.gd/5etZk

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/Doctor_V Doctor_V

    You don’t hear much about this RT @Ed: Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Business – (via @justinlevy) http://is.gd/5etZk

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/SteveKoss SteveKoss

    SEO & metrics on steroids RT @Ed Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Business via @justinlevy http://is.gd/5etZk

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/iizLiz Liz Philips

    Cool Justin – I HAVE often wondered what your story was. Great example of how innovative use of new media can reap rewards. Well done.

    Would love to know more about your dashbard of listening stations (you mentioned Google Alerts and Twitter search). How regularly do you check, do you just have it feeding via RSS or to email, have you pulled it into some dashboard-type interface, have you considered using paid tools?

    Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/joltsocialmedia joltsocialmedia

    Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Business http://bit.ly/5kgik5
    #socialmedia

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://thelacproject.com ajleon

    You are awesome. period.

    PS For the record, I have eaten at Caminito … and DAMN!

  • http://twitter.com/melissaleon Melissa Leon

    Great strategy Justin! Btw I second what AJ said … after eating at Caminito its not hard to see why sales have increased steadily. The service and the food were tremendous!

    Justin do you see people talking often about Caminito on twitter?

  • http://primecutsblog.com justinlevy

    Thanks Liz! Now, back to eating the chips & salsa I talked you into
    today :)

  • http://primecutsblog.com justinlevy

    What I do is not awesome. You and Melissa are out there changing the
    world and making a difference in people's lives. Keep up the great
    work that you're doing!

  • http://primecutsblog.com justinlevy

    I'm really glad that you and AJ enjoyed when you were there and look
    forward to having you back again soon! We do monitor all online
    conversations including those on Twitter. We're integrating Twitter
    into the new release of our website this week so that will probably
    drive more conversations.

  • http://twitter.com/chrisbrogan chrisbrogan

    Great case study by @justinlevy about his steak house – http://bit.ly/8Ryuiz

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/Braatzy Braatzy

    @mrkamoji @bdyment @jm_youngpro RT @chrisbrogan: Great case study by @justinlevy about his steak house – http://bit.ly/8Ryuiz

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/titusferguson titusferguson

    Great summary of social media for restaurants http://bit.ly/7OmhE6

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/kelvin8048 kelvin8048

    Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Business http://bit.ly/55bPGB

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://www.designresumes.com/blog juliewalraven

    Thanks for sharing the story, Justin. I have followed you since I started on Twitter and Facebook. You demonstrate how it can be done and how it will be done in the future. I know that the tools will change in the future, we have gone through such a dynamic change in the past three or so years but I know developers are busy imagining and then creating the next tools. The important thing is what you said “conversations” The consumer no longer wants to be talked “At” but “to” and “with.” I wish you continued success and if I ever leave the Midwest, I'll come visit.

  • http://twitter.com/CraneyMC CraneyMC

    Real life example of SM at work. RT @chrisbrogan Great case study by @justinlevy about his steak house – http://bit.ly/8Ryuiz

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/elissapr elissapr

    You’ll be both impressed & hungry RT @chrisbrogan Great case study by @justinlevy about his steak house – http://bit.ly/8Ryuiz

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/johnflurry johnflurry

    Great appl. of strategy Chris: @broganmedia Found this neat: Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Business http://bit.ly/6hkMe4

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/BrienCaldwell BrienCaldwell

    Found this neat: Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Business http://bit.ly/6hkMe4 (via @broganmedia)

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://www.donaldlafferty.com/about Don Lafferty

    Nicely Done.

  • http://www.margotchapman margotzooms

    Terrific article. Having owned a small chain of restaurants pre – Twitter and Facebook and now a cupcake store, I can really see the difference in how media can be used.

    I am going to share this with my restaurant friends.

  • http://twitter.com/mbshares mbshares

    Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Business http://j.mp/8ghdko

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/Monvids Monvids

    Elegants piem?rs k? #SocialMedia izmantošana pal?dz att?st?t #Restaurant #Business http://ow.ly/Jrrx

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/amykleckner amykleckner

    Interesting read: What Social Media Marketing can do for a Restaurant – http://bit.ly/8Ryuiz

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/bulldogmi bulldogmi

    Las Adelitas in Prague tweets daily specials RT @chrisbrogan: Great case study by @justinlevy on his steak house – http://bit.ly/8Ryuiz

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/DaghanSimsek DaghanSimsek

    #Social #Media #Marketing in the #Restaurant #Business http://bit.ly/6hkMe4 #socialmedia

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/peoplereport peoplereport

    Gr8 success story RT @JeffreyJKingman: RT @broganmedia Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Biz http://bit.ly/6hkMe4

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/luckypenny luckypenny

    Gr8 success story RT @JeffreyJKingman: RT @broganmedia Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Biz http://bit.ly/6hkMe4

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/iRestaurant iRestaurant

    Gr8 success story RT @JeffreyJKingman: RT @broganmedia Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Biz http://bit.ly/6hkMe4 (via @luckypenny)

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/UrbanBacon UrbanBacon

    This is a no-brainer, so awesome! RT @broganmedia

    Found this neat: Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Business http://bit.ly/6hkMe4

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/Matt_uVizz Matt_uVizz

    Good post by @justinlevy: Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Business http://bit.ly/5EoQva

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/toddleiser toddleiser

    Reading a thorough case study – “Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Business” – http://ow.ly/Jp2d

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/coryeigenschenk coryeigenschenk

    THANK YOU!! RT @KellyOlexa RT @justinlevy Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Business http://bit.ly/55bPGB

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://www.freemarketingmadeeasy.com/ Kai Rostcheck

    Funny, I knew your story but not your connection to Caminito. My experience is similar to many of the comments below: it's an outstanding dining experience. My point is to reinforce the idea that social media, and online media in general can definitely help small business grow, but the most important thing is to have a compelling offer/product/service to begin with.

  • http://www.freemarketingmadeeasy.com/ Kai Rostcheck

    Funny, I knew your story but not your connection to Caminito. My experience is similar to many of the comments below: it's an outstanding dining experience. My point is to reinforce the idea that social media, and online media in general can definitely help small business grow, but the most important thing is to have a compelling offer/product/service to begin with.

  • http://twitter.com/jmctigue jmctigue

    Great blog (as usual): Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Business @justinlevy – http://bit.ly/7OmhE6

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://www.facebook.com/jmctigue John McTigue

    I think restaurants are perfect venues for social media marketing. People really are already talking about you, especially when the food rocks. They want to give you feedback and get recommendations from other patrons. Sharing what's new on the menu and experiences of your staff and chefs is bound to create a ton of interest. It surpises me that more restaurants don't follow your example, but I'm sure they will soon enough. If/when I'm in your neck of the woods I'll be sure to stop in for a great steak.

  • http://twitter.com/SeanDonahoe SeanDonahoe

    Interesting: Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Business Justin Levy http://bit.ly/58aMXr

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/andydwyers andydwyers

    Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Business | Justin Levy: All of these marketing tools will help gain a .. http://bit.ly/6hkMe4

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://primecutsblog.com justinlevy

    Also, with the foodie revolution that we're in, more people want to connect
    with the chef and learn what takes place in the kitchen. Some of the best
    feedback we get is from the posts where we teach kitchen techniques. We'd
    love to have you over to the restaurant :)

  • http://primecutsblog.com justinlevy

    Thank so much Kai! I'm really glad that you've enjoyed your experience! We
    hope to see you back again soon!

  • http://primecutsblog.com justinlevy

    Awesome! What type of restaurants did you own?

  • http://primecutsblog.com justinlevy

    Thanks Done! :)

  • http://primecutsblog.com justinlevy

    I'm glad to see that you made that distinction. It's definitely not the
    tools that matter, it's what you do with them. Tools will come and go but
    it's how we can use these tools that are important.

  • http://www.margotchapman margotzooms

    Justin – I owned 3 healthy fast food restaurants in Chicago called: Chapman Sisters Calorie Counter – for 10 years and served over a million people. In addition to my consulting company of 20 years I founded a cupcake store in Chicago 3 years ago – I was diagnosed with Celiac or being intolerant to wheat. So my cupcake store has 90% regular cupcakes and the rest gluten-free and vegan. http://www.swirlzcupcakes.com @swirlzcupcakes – thanks for asking.

  • http://twitter.com/andinarvaez andinarvaez

    Ahem, #BMPR folks check this out –> RT @unmarketing: RT @justinlevy Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Business http://bit.ly/55bPGB

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/MatrixGroup MatrixGroup

    Interesting read on how the restaurant business is using social media http://bit.ly/55bPGB (via @justinlevy)

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/Clarah Clarah

    Interesting RT @unmarketing RT @justinlevy Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Business http://bit.ly/55bPGB

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/Joesalome Joesalome

    Great post for restaurants diving into social media http://bit.ly/6Tgl48

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/blvd_lounge blvd_lounge

    We think this is great advice, great blog. http://justinrlevy.com/2009/12/06/social-media-marketing-in-the-restaurant-business/

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/sher_32 sher_32

    via @matrixgroup great article for all my friends in restaurant marketing and pr http://tinyurl.com/ybmhlpy

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/ChelseaDwyer ChelseaDwyer

    @jmpineda Interesting read on how the restaurant business is using social media http://bit.ly/55bPGB (via @justinlevy via @MatrixGroup)

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/MERITmicrobiz MERITmicrobiz

    Good marketing strategy insight, worth a read. Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Business – (via @justinlevy) http://bit.ly/55bPGB

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/Talmadge Talmadge

    For Austin Foodies @ATXfoodnews @cornucopiapops |RT @justinlevy Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Business http://bit.ly/55bPGB

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/AliciaHarper AliciaHarper

    great blog. http://ow.ly/JWxI

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • cblack99

    I love Twitter -always learning something new! Had no idea Google Alerts existed and now with a couple of key strokes I can follow all conversations regarding my restaurant. Thank you for sharing your knowledge

  • http://twitter.com/theblue_door theblue_door

    Some very useful info here! RT @unmarketing: RT @justinlevy Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Business http://bit.ly/55bPGB

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://primecutsblog.com justinlevy

    I hope that you find Google Alerts useful. Also, make sure you set up
    searches in Twitter and pull them into a feed reader via RSS. You can
    also check out SocialMention.com as another free resource. If you want
    to move to a premium and more robust service, Radian6 is awesome!

  • http://twitter.com/wausautogo Wausau To Go

    I am like the rest. I run a RMDA and would like to hear more about this strategy and listening stations

  • cblack99

    Thanks! If you have time – how do I pull the searches into a feed reader via RSS? I will check out SocialMention.com. I coincidently live in Fredericton where Radian6 is located

  • http://twitter.com/timbursch timbursch

    Here the link for the story on @justinlevy’s restaurant: http://bit.ly/7OmhE6

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/LevelTen_Colin LevelTen_Colin

    Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Business http://tinyurl.com/ybmhlpy

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/DaytonaBchSBDC DaytonaBchSBDC

    Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Business http://ow.ly/JGfQ #smallbiz #sm #socialmedia #marketing

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/FeedLinks FeedLinks

    [TWEMES] IntuitPayroll: RT @DaytonaBchSBDC: Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Business http://ow.ly/JGfQ #sm… http://bit.ly/7tpPsC

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/forfeng forfeng

    Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Business http://bit.ly/7OmhE6

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • AmberNaslund

    Thanks, Justin. :) And I love that you shared this case study for your readers and the community at large. Great proof that it's not only big biz that can take advantage of opportunities in social.

  • http://twitter.com/resultsrev resultsrev

    Social Media Marketing case study in the Restaurant Business from @justinlevy – good stuff http://bit.ly/6hkMe4

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://primecutsblog.com justinlevy

    What I love about these tools is that the same exact tools can be used by
    both big and small businesses as well as individuals. Each can benefit in
    the same or different ways and the tools can even be used in either the same
    or different ways. :)

  • http://primecutsblog.com justinlevy

    What I love about these tools is that the same exact tools can be used by
    both big and small businesses as well as individuals. Each can benefit in
    the same or different ways and the tools can even be used in either the same
    or different ways. :)

  • http://twitter.com/AliciaHarper AliciaHarper

    Good restaurant social media case study: http://ow.ly/LUJu

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • foodinteractive

    Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Business. @justinlevy http://ow.ly/M4F4

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/bosscreative bosscreative

    Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Business | Justin Levy http://bit.ly/5wOlgm

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://twitter.com/yamasas yamasas

    [twitter] Social Media Marketing in the Restaurant Business | Justin Levy http://bit.ly/7PKUfP

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • http://DCincome.com/blog Gerald Cotley

    Social media marketing can be apply in any business.. Because of the popularity of these sites, it easy to advertise and promote your site.