Social Media in the Restaurant Industry
After a viral article earlier this year saying that customers’ use of social media caused long restaurant wait times, the Internet was abuzz with articles proclaiming the negative use of smartphones during the dining experience. In retaliation, several other articles came out denying the negatives and proclaiming the positives social media has brought to the restaurant industry with increased access to the brand, customer reviews, and ability to visually share the dining experience. This notion was backed by many chefs, waiters, and restaurateurs who believe that social media is an excellent avenue to get the word out there about their food. However, though social media is considered one of the most credible sources of reviews, 35% of consumers admitted to using their phone on a dinner date in 2013, detracting from the personal aspect of dining. Thus, has social media truly enhanced our dining experiences or ruined them?
With 81% of consumers searching for a restaurant on a mobile app and 92% through a traditional web browser, the restaurant industry has become the most searched industry on mobile and the web. Online reviews are continually becoming more important for both consumers and the restaurants themselves. One study done by NYU shows that restaurant ratings and number of reviews have a positive correlation with restaurant revenues. Thus, it’s no surprise that restaurants are doing all they can to use social media to their advantage. In fact, 80% of consumers think it’s important to see a menu before they dine at a restaurant and 62% are less likely to choose a restaurant if they can’t view the menu online. Furthermore, the use of mobile apps allows users to make reservations, find locations, and share reviews, helping consumers to a better dining experience.
With these facts, it is clear that social media is a necessary part if the restaurant industry. The increasing use of social media sites like Instagram and blogs gives every consumer the power to be a foodie. No longer are acclaimed critics and publicists controlling the reputation of the restaurant. At its core, social media is free advertising for restaurants. By simply sharing a photo or experience on your network you can reach thousands.
Additionally, there is strong interest in more customer-facing technology as consumers look to connect and engage with restaurant in real time, while also improving their dining experience. Such technology includes iPad menus for food or wine and electronic payment systems. One director of ThinkFoodGroup explains that the advantage of the digital menu lies in the increased amount of content you can display and the ability to update it at a moment’s notice.
In the original viral article mentioned, a NYC restaurant that was continually receiving bad reviews for slow service hired a firm to investigate the problem. They found after watching surveillance tapes from 2004 and 2014 that it was the consumers’ use of phones in the restaurant that was truly behind the longer waiting times. The anonymous rant claimed that dining time went from 1 hour and 5 minutes in 2004 to 1 hour and 55 minutes in 2014 all because of taking photos and in general being preoccupied by their phones.
Though this Craiglist rant could not be verified, several articles voiced the same concerns. Most Americans disapprove of cell phone use during a meal, however a whopping 88% of Millennials admit to checking their phone while eating, 44% of that same age group disapproving of the use.
What’s worse, is that in a study done by researchers at Virginia Tech, “even without the active use, the presence of mobile technologies has the potential to divert individuals from face-to-face exchanges, thereby undermining the character and depth of these connections.” Essentially by just having your cell phone physically present, the experience becomes much less personal. Further studies show that cell phone use makes us more distracted, stressed, and selfish. Nine out of ten people report damaged relationships due to family and friends neglecting them in favor of technology.
As a result, some restaurants have taken a stand. Most recently an Iowa restaurant promises to give customers a 10% discount on their meal if they hand over their cell phones once they arrive in the restaurant. In Israel last year, a 50% discount was given to anyone who would switch off their phone during their meal. At the far end of the spectrum, a few restaurants have even taken it to a new level and actually banned the use of cell phones in their premises.
The Ugly Truth?
With clear negative results on others, has the use of social media fundamentally made dining out less of a personal experience? Or does social media actually enhance the experience by helping you to determine the restaurant you want to go and then allowing you to share your food or service with your network? As a diner, what do you think? Does social media positively or negatively affect your dining experience?