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For Restaurants Engagement Has Always Been on the Menu

Engage!

Make it so!

Everyone and her aunt – at least those in the social media world – is talking about engagement nowadays. For instance, just a few weeks ago Brian Solis posted “The Rules of Social Media Engagement” on his blog. Ten days ago, Laurel Papworth wrote “7 Levels of Social Media Engagement” at socialmediatoday. Way back in January of 2010 Jason Falls wrote a rather scathing review of the concept in social media explorer entitled “What is Engagement And How Do We Measure it?”

Now, I’m far from an expert in this field. I have no training in marketing, PR, or advertising, though I have pretty extensive experience in sales, having spent many years in the wholesale food business doing just that (lots of cold calling on people who were already buying from someone else, actually). However, since embarking on my new career as a social media marketing strategist and bottle-washer, I do have some thoughts about what “engagement” means to me.

I’m of the opinion the use of “engagement”, in today’s rapidly changing social media fueled world, means a shift away from broadcasting one’s message out through print media, email blasts, websites, etc. toward a model that invites dialogue and conversation. I believe the difference is fairly well expressed in the concepts of “outbound” and “inbound” marketing. As I said, though, I’m a bit of a novice at this, so maybe I’m just full of hot air myself.

Nevertheless, I do have a fair amount of experience with the restaurant business, having eaten at lots of them, as well as managed a couple, and sold lots of product to many. I learned all about service from the restaurant business. I learned how to make people not only comfortable, but happy they did business with me.

So . . . what do I mean by the title of this piece? I am doing some low-level reputation management and I have some Google alerts set up to let me know when some of the businesses I’m working with, or am interested in, are being discussed. Today I got one that led me to read a couple of reviews of a particular sports bar I would like to have as a client. One of the reviews mentioned how the owner walked around and talked to each of the tables where people were eating, drinking, and watching a game. The author of the review also suggested this was no longer the norm, which was why it stood out. Also mentioned was the author’s belief this wasn’t just a cursory walk-around, but a genuine conversation; an “engagement” with the people that pay his rent and his employee’s salaries.

It made me realize the best, most successful restaurants have always done something like this. They make their customers feel as though they are eating with friends, that they matter, and their comfort and satisfaction matter. It’s not something that goes on a checklist of things to do. It’s natural (at least with the best of owners and managers) and – which it always was for me – fun and fulfilling. It’s also a way to get immediate feedback and to address problems before they get out-of-hand.

Engagement is important, and social media provides ways for most anyone in business to participate as never before possible. However, as many also point out, it’s important to be genuine and it helps if you really care. Successful restauranteurs understand this in their bones. Their success proves its value as well. Have you figured out how to genuinely engage with your customers?


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