5 Ways to Market Your Restaurant on the Internet

Advertising is essential to run a successful business. It has always been this way. People have to know about your services somehow, right? Simply telling another person that you have a business is as much "advertising" as a Superbowl commercial or the sign on the front of your building. I'm always amazed when a business owner tells me they don't do any sort of advertising - as though it's a dirty word. It's an absurd thing to say, and absolute nonsense.

Once upon a time (before the internet), restaurants had to advertise via brochures, yellow pages, billboards, TV and radio commercials, direct mail, and coupons in order to get the word out. Times are changing though. Marketing on the internet is becoming the most powerful form of advertising, and the old methods are on their way out.

You have to put your message in front of the eyes and ears. Your expensive Yellow Pages listing isn't going to do you any good if nobody opens the book. You might as well go whisper to a tree. Meanwhile, 78% of Americans use the internet, and half the population are frequent users. If you were wondering where all the eyeballs were, that's where, and if you aren't marketing your business there, you're making a huge mistake.

Below you'll find a list of ways you can market your business online. I've related them to something more familiar to make it easier to absorb. If you're new to all this, the list should help you get started.

1. Social Media - (Word of Mouth) - This has always been one of the most effective and favorable forms of marketing. Word of mouth is perhaps the oldest and cheapest form of marketing. Having your existing customers bring you new customers is brilliant. What's even more brilliant is that these days, people have their "word of mouth" conversations over the internet for everyone to see - and these conversations are often searchable!

It may sound too good to be true, but it really isn't. Social Media websites such as Facebook and Twitter provide forums for people to communicate with one another. As a business owner, you can easily set up Facebook and Twitter accounts for your business and use it to join the conversations people are having about you. You can use it to promote, generate buzz, interact with customers, collect market research and create loyalty in your brand.

The best part is that this costs you nothing but your time (unless you hire a PR company to handle your accounts). These services are free and some of the most valuable resources available. If you don't have a business Facebook or Twitter account, set them up now and do some research on "best practices" for businesses. There are plenty of articles out there to keep you from alienating your customers. As long as you don't treat it like a place to advertise, you'll be fine.

2. Directories - (Yellow Pages) - This is an important one. This is where you should focus most of your marketing efforts. Sites such as Yelp, CitySearch, GrubHub, UrbanSpoon, OpenTable, Google Places, and Foursquare are free and most will list your business without you doing anything. Many of these sites have a social element to them as well. Some are even designed for users to post reviews of businesses.

This is free publicity. Pages and pages all over the internet all about you. Nothing is free though, right? Well, technically someone pays for it - and these sites make their money one way or another - usually from the traffic they receive for providing all of the data they have collected.

Restaurateurs should take ownership of their business listings. Make use of the social aspect of these sites and interact with your existing and potential customers. If the sites offer services like GrubHub and Opentable do where they will actually send you new customers, you need to jump on it. This is advertising you only pay for if it works, and you'll only pay a few bucks per new diner. No form of traditional advertising is that inexpensive, and nothing else is guaranteed to work, profitable and sustainable as is this.

Sites like Yelp and Foursquare provide ways for restaurants to offer reasonable discounts to customers that are already nearby. I've heard of restaurant owners demanding they get removed from these free directory sites - some even threatening to get lawyers involved. It's ridiculous. It shows a complete lack of understanding of the potential and power of the internet, and these same owners will spend $1000 on a Yellow Pages ad that nobody will see. These sites get traffic into the millions - to remove yourself from them makes no sense at all.

3. Website - (Brochure) - Think of your website as a glossy full-color fold-out brochure explaining everything about your business that you hand out to customers. They are typically expensive to create and maintain. They are pretty much necessary to have, but also not typically very effective for bringing new customers in. Restaurants don't need expensive websites unless they are a national chain.

When you create a website, it's really just another thing you have to market and advertise. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can be expensive. Do you want people to visit your website or do you want them to visit your restaurant and eat something?

Now, a website can be a very useful tool - you can maintain a blog and post specials or provide online ordering (which can be quite expensive). Some services - such as GrubHub - will build and maintain a website for you completely free with online ordering built-in.

Websites can be cheap or they can run into the several thousands. As long as you spend your money wisely and appropriately, you can't go wrong.

4. PPC and Online Advertising - (Billboards, Newspapers and Commercials) - PPC means Pay Per Click so you only have to pay when someone clicks your link. This is a common form of advertising on the internet. The most common places to place your ads are Google and Facebook, but you can place ads on YouTube, Yelp, and even mobile phone apps and games. You can put an ad just about anywhere eyeballs go.

Effectiveness is often low on this one unless your goal is to get traffic to your website. It can also be fairly expensive. People tend to ignore ads online anyway. There are even browser plug-ins that make ads not show up. It can work really well if you target it right though - particularly if you hire a PR company to manage your PPC advertising campaigns and they are strategically planned.

You may want to consider putting part of your advertising budget towards this sort of thing. It's a gamble and the odds are stacked against you, but everyone buys a scratcher once in awhile right? These days, marketers are using ads more for bringing back existing customers. Keep in mind, each different type of online marketing will reach a different type of customer.

5. Daily Deals - (Mailer Discounts and Coupons) - Sites like Groupon and LivingSocial are some of the latest and hottest marketing methods. They work by having you offer a deep discount on your product in order to gain many new customers all at once, and then splitting what little money was collected with the deals site. It works out to you discounting your product by 60-80%. It's like having a "going out of business sale." The problem with these sites is that the customers tend to follow the deals and they're not easy to convert into new customers at regular prices.

Daily Deals work well for some types of businesses - service-related businesses do best because they're only discounting their time. Restaurants are discounting their product which means they are out of pocket. Working with a daily deal site is like taking out a bad loan. For a restaurant, it can be a good way to go broke. I like a good bargain like anyone else, but I don't think these daily deal sites are helping the economy. There's bound to be a coupon bubble as soon as businesses all realize it doesn't work. It's not sustainable economically.

Sites like this are a dime a dozen and they are coming out of the woodwork. Even some of the biggest sites are trying their hand at it - Yelp, Google, and Facebook are all dabbling in daily deals. Small businesses get bombarded by salesmen from these companies constantly, and it can be frustrating. If you do decide to work with one, just be careful with what you give away. You can think of it as dollars you spend to per new customer gained. As such, if you bring them through the door - you had better be prepared to convert them into a repeat customer - and it's going to take more than just providing tasty food.

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Yelp for Dummies

Yelp is a website that lists businesses and allows the average joe consumer to post reviews about them. It's like a location-based search directory with reviews. There are dozens of sites very similar, but Yelp pretty much gets the most traffic of its kind. Businesses have a love/hate relationship with Yelp. Recently, Yelp has changed up their game and got actively aggressive with their marketing. There are rumors about review placements and scare tactics and bullying.

Still, Yelp must remain profitable. When you get as much traffic as Yelp gets, you need to have many servers to handle the load - you also have to employ many people to monitor the site carefully. It's a crazy business. A site like Yelp makes their money from advertising and that's about it - it's free to view and post reviews, and it's free for restaurants to get listed. Free advertising.

So many restaurants and small businesses have had business driven to them for free by Yelp. Before, outside of word of mouth, they would have to rely on expensive advertising in the Yellow Pages or newspapers. Yellow Pages still charges businesses hundreds to thousands of dollars to show up in their book - which today, nobody even reads. All you need today is the internet to find what you want. Call 800 343 7390, Mon-Fri 6am-5pm PST to cancel your Yellow Pages and save a tree.

Google has been the go-to for a few years now and pretty much sealed Yellow Pages' fate. Businesses can pay Google to show up at the top of searches now and they can also claim their own "Places" page for free... Google can be a free directory as well if you know how to use it. They even aggregate reviews like Yelp does. However, Google isn't specialized like Yelp is.

Business owners need to learn how to manage their online presence. It's a given that most Americans have a computer these days and a way to connect to the internet. Hell, there will be an estimated 80 million smartphones in the US by year's end. That's 80 million Americans who have access to the internet ALL-THE-TIME! If you don't show up on the internet, you're going to be lost.

I've been a "Yelp Elite" for about 4 years now and have written hundreds of reviews for local restaurants and businesses, and have had my reviews seen hundreds of thousands of times. Now that I'm working more closely with restaurants, I have found myself going back to old reviews and feeling genuinely bad about some of them.

I've worked retail. I've worked in the service industry. I even ran my own business for 14 years. I've been an internet expert since it came into existence. I've been a writer since I was in grade school. I've had opinions since I could talk. I've been an eater my entire life. With all that experience, there are still lessons to be learned.

First: Business Owners -

  • Take control of your Yelp page... you can do it. It's easy, and I believe it's still free to do so.
  • Correct information, submit photos, write a short bio explaining the history of your place.
  • See those reviews? Those are your existing customers talking to your potential customers.
  • Engage your customers. If you see a bad review, reach out to them and say you were having a bad day - as every business does - ask them to try you out again. Don't ask them to just change their review or tell them they are wrong or stupid.
  • If a review is particularly mean, your first instinct will be to find them and kill them. No need. Just reach out to them and try to make it right. You may dislike this person, but think of them as a gateway to other/better customers.
  • Potential customers read all reviews and generally take extreme reviews with a grain of salt. Don't sweat a negative review here and there.
  • Best rule of thumb here on reviews is to simply realize that you can't please everyone - not all reviewers are even please-able. Try to just focus on your positive reviews and thank your loyal customers for the business.
  • If you claim your business page, you can respond to reviews - do NOT argue with a bad review. Simply thank people for good reviews and invite them back, and ask a bad reviewer for the opportunity to try again.
  • Do NOT write reviews for yourself under fake profiles - Yelpers can see through this easily and will call you out on it.
  • Reach out to Yelp staff to see if they would do an event at your place, or you can simply post an event in the "Events" section for free. You may or may not get anyone to come, but it's more free exposure.
  • Owning a business comes with a certain amount of ego and it's easy to take things personally. You are your own PR. Treat others how you would want to be treated - not necessarily as a reflection of how they treat you. There's no shame or harm in asking for a second chance from some "nobody" who has been to your place only once and doesn't seem to have a clue.
  • Finally, the more active you are, the more people will respond to you. Just be awesome.

Yelp Reviewers -

  • Write more than once or two sentences. If you want people to read what you have to say, then have something to say. Otherwise, why even bother?
  • Check your spelling and grammar. Misspelled words and poor grammar leaves the reader assuming you aren't very bright and they aren't likely to take your opinions seriously. Learn your homophones!
  • One star scathing reviews are for places that have no redeeming qualities at all. A hair in your food doesn't mean the place should be condemned. Waiting 10 minutes for a drink isn't the end of the world.
  • Everybody has a bad day. Before you lambaste a place, consider that you may have only been there once and it may not be the norm there.
  • Be descriptive - liken the decor, atmosphere, service, food, etc... to a more common experience.
  • Always give both good and bad examples - a good review shouldn't be all praise or all complaints. There should be a balance. It shows that you are genuine.
  • Consider the feelings of the people who work there or who own the place. A bad review may feel like a satisfying way to take a stab at them for cold fries or bad service, but take it easy.
  • Have a look at your review overview - you should have mostly 3s and fewer 2s and 4s and even fewer 1s and 5s - if not a fairly even distribution. If you're all one way or another, you're probably doing it wrong.
  • Give a place a second chance - if an owner reaches out to you and invites you back so they can make it right - take them up on it, or at least adjust your review to indicate they at least tried.
  • Your review score should reflect the level in which a business owner cares about his business and customers.

I just want to remind everyone to not be an asshole. Life is too short.

Finally, I just want to remind you to support local businesses. Business owners, you should support your local community. I'll be writing a more in-depth "Best Practices" article for restaurant owners and how to control your presence on the internet. That's coming soon, so come back.

If you have any feedback or anything to add, feel free to leave a comment.

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Best Turkey Chili Recipe… EVER

My sister shared with me her recipe for Chili years back and I lost the paper it was written on at some point... when I asked her for the recipe again, it changed a bit. Guess she perfected it over time. I've made some changes of my own over time - feel free to do the same.

I cooked this a few days ago. I can testify that it was delicious and well-received by my co-workers - it was for a Cinco de Mayo pot-luck lunch. It was gobbled all up. This also explains putting it in a tupperware container rather than a nice bowl.

This is only a partial ingredients pic - the girlfriend showed up later with the rest... here's a photo followed by a shopping list:

  • 2.5 lbs of ground turkey breast.
  • 3 16oz cans of diced or chopped tomatoes - I used 2 26oz Pomi boxes.
  • (Optional - 1 20oz jar of Matta's hot salsa - favorite local restaurant hot salsa? use that or good store bought - it helps add depth, but isn't necessary)
  • 4oz can of diced green chiles mild.
  • 4oz can of diced green chiles HOT
  • 1 bag of Tillamook Mexican shredded cheese (or shred your own brick of sharp cheddar)
  • Various seasoning for meat include (but not limited to):
    • 1 packet of McCormick Hot Taco seasoning
    • 1 packet of McCormick Hot Chili seasoning
    • 2-3 tbsp of hot red chili powder - I get this from Mexican grocery store
    • McCormick Caribbean Jerk
    • Sea Salt
    • Vegeta (I put this shit in just about everything - it's amazing - I got this at a Bosnian grocery store)
  • Sometimes, I'll add a bit of soy sauce to the meat while cooking. Didn't this time. Sometimes a dash of cinnamon and/or nutmeg is good too. Just season to taste. Turkey gets a little lost flavor-wise in this dish unless you season the crap out of it.

This is not the most flattering pic, but you'll want to flop the turkey meat into a pan and start cooking - you don't need oil or water or anything - cook on medium high and using a spatula, just stab at it until it's all chopped up into little bits...

Start covering your meat with all of your seasonings and keep stabbing and stirring and mixing it all up - if you like to get your hands dirty, you can mash and mix the turkey in a bowl with all your seasonings before it hits a pan. I don't do this because I'm a bit lazy.

You'll want to keep it covered as the fat and moisture in lean ground turkey is just barely enough to cook turkey without using oils or pam or anything and not scorch... uncovered the entire time, it will get dry.

I like to hold off on some of the hotter seasonings until the meat is nearly cooked up in order to keep it pure... just keep cooking, stabbing, seasoning and stirring every so often until it looks about like this:

Now you should be ready to pour in the tomatoes and chiles. Just pour it all in and stir it about until evenly distributed.

Turn down the heat to medium and leave the lid on. Simmer for about 20-30 min.

Only open every 5-10 minutes to stir it around to keep it from scorching at the bottom. It's going to sweat a lot - try to keep the moisture in - let it drip off the lid back into the pan whenever you open it to stir.

The last 5 minutes of cooking, you should turn the heat back up to med-high and leave the lid off and stand over it while stirring constantly... we're reducing the liquid - cooking it away to thicken it all up a bit. When you feel it's the proper consistency, start transferring it to a nice bowl. I have a nice ceramic I usually use, but needed to transport this thing to work in tupperware sadly...

You'll scoop out a layer of chili on the bottom of the bowl, then sprinkle over a layer of delicious cheese... then schlep in another layer of chili... then more cheese... and then one more layer of chili and a final sprinkle of cheese...

Serve with a good restaurant style white corn tortilla chip... we tend to use Tostito's Scoops because they make a perfect mouthful, but anything works really. This stuff is fantastic the next day for burritos or whatever.

It's pretty healthy too actually except for all the cheese and salt.


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Another Year, Another Birthday Blog

I've been putting this one off. Not writing about it doesn't mean it didn't happen, so I suppose it's time once again to blog about getting older. I turned 37 on Sunday. I spent most of that day in a car on my way back from Vegas. My friend and I took a guy's trip over the weekend.

Las Vegas left me feeling a little sicker and a little poorer. It seemed like we were always really close to fun, but not able to touch it... we walked right up to the glass but could only watch the fun from the other side. It wasn't for lack of trying though. We had every intention of enjoying ourselves. And frankly, we didn't have a bad time. It just wasn't as epic as I had hoped or as it could've been.

Princess Leia PlumpifiedTurning 37 just happened. I didn't really fight it. In fact, I bought some orthopedic shoes that look like a teenager would never wear. Having to reset my entire life sorta put things into perspective. I can't get worked up over aging at the moment. I'm sure it's going to get progressively worse as I approach 40. As I write this, I see Carrie Fisher has gotten old and fat. Princess Leia has been spending too much time at the buffet.

Maybe part of my not feeling as old as I normally do when I get a year older is because my reset has been like a rebirth. I got rid of so many things in the purge. Monday was my last day to go back to the old house before they brought a truck in to trash it all. I didn't bother going. Leaving that house behind was bittersweet. On one hand, I loved that location and was so attached to that house... on the other hand, I was so attached to that house that I never really went anywhere near the end.

This is a new me. I'm supposed to be ready to take on the world.

But I'm not.

I'm still sorta miserable most of the time. I don't really know what to do to fix it. I have tried taking mood meds and exercise. Making more money hasn't helped either. Travel helps I think. I'm going to try to travel more this year. Getting over the whole "getting raped/cancer before getting on a plane" might be a hurdle, but I'll work on it.

Last night a few friends held a small birthday festive at my favorite Mexican food place. It was nice, but it made me think about how I've spent so much time/money collecting things, but not friends. I have managed to be selective with my friendships, but not very good about keeping them alive.

I don't have a green thumb - I can kill a tree as easy as I can kill a lawn. I've demonstrated that time and again. Friendships are the same way - you have to nourish them like you would have to water a plant. Well, I'm shit at this, and it shows. So another thing I'm going to work on this year is friendships.

Finally it comes down to myself. I've let myself go. I went back to old ways with diet and exercise (lack of). I weighed myself in Vegas one night with the fancy scale provided by the hotel we stayed at. It flashed numbers back at me that I dare not repeat... thankfully, when I weighed myself the next morning buck naked (sans socks, shirt, and underwear) and after a pee, my weight dropped about 6 or 7 pounds.

I don't know how I dropped so much. Maybe I released 6 pounds of pee that morning or my shirt and socks weigh 6 pounds. No idea. It did put my mind at ease a bit though. It was still about 30 pounds more than I find an acceptable weight for myself. So the last thing on my list is going to be working on my weight. Diet, gym, sun and happiness. That's the goal.

More change is coming. We'll see where I'm at when I turn 38.

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I Used To Be Fat

Mtv has been trying to "serious" up their programming. They gave up on music a long time ago, but their "reality" tv shows had progressively gotten less and less real. The Real World was very innovative and paved the way for reality tv. It was an amazing achievement and so well done.

Over the years, Mtv reality has devolved into scripted reality about convoluted dating shows, fake car remodels, and silly parent vs kid shows aimed squarely at dumb teenagers. The problem is that teenagers aren't so dumb anymore. Nobody is really dumb anymore - not if you have internet access. You're only as slow as your connection speed.

Lately, Mtv has been releasing more drama-filled shows with more edge and less Xzibit. I'll admit I've been tuning out for years as I'm not their demographic - I'm too old for VH1 now I guess. However, Jersey Shore has pulled me back in - I'm a sucker for trashy reality shows. I'm not gonna lie. It looks like they are adding some scripted dramas too like the remake of Skins.

A recent addition is I Used To Be Fat - a show about fat teenagers who spend their summer between High School and their first day of College working out and dieting with a trainer trying to not be so fat. It's a plight I can identify with as I've struggled with my weight my whole life. At least with my perception of my weight. I've always hovered between lean and about 10-20lbs too heavy.

Right now, I'm around 20-30lbs more than I was when I felt thin and good. I don't really know because I'm afraid to weigh myself... I know my pants are fitting snug. I haven't been to the gym in a good long while and I have been eating crap. It's my fault. I've always had a fairly fast metabolism and could steer clear of being a whale even though I ate like one. I'm getting older and I have to work harder... at least I have to work at it now.

I'm frustrated at these shitty teenagers on this show though because they are so lazy and fat. Teenagers should have the metabolism of field mice. It's good that shows like this exist... it's like Biggest Loser without having to wait an entire season to see results. Instant gratification. Also - this sort of show will possibly shame or provoke kids to be skinnier and more fit.

We need it.

Our government wants to beef us up on corn and expects us to exercise more to cope with it. We're expected to eat better when it costs more to eat less. It's more expensive to eat fewer calories. The reality is we live sedentary lives and consume almost nothing but garbage.

Tonight... I'm eating this bag of Gummi Bears in ironic protest to the government's contribution to the fats of our nation.

This one goes out to the fats and the superfats... omnomnom...

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Gut Rot

Lately at work, someone's been bringing donuts and milk for us to consume for phone fuel. I've been eating sadness pastries and disappointment dairy. Today, I came home and had some leftover regret pizza and shame wine. My stomach feels like I've swallowed a sack full of chicken neck bones and a pint of fudge gravy.

This is the hurting.

I spent the second half of my day at work looking at

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That’s It! No More Candy! … Starting Tomorrow.

I've been getting kinda fat. No exercise and shoving fistfuls of gummy bears in my mouth every night will do that to you. I haven't gotten so fat I have to buy new pants or anything yet, but there are more than a few articles of clothing I don't fit into right now. I'm fortunate in that I can eat like crap and not become an obese whale. I need to not abuse it though.

I was going to rely on jacket weather to hide my chub, but it looks like I'm going to have to be a little more proactive about it this time. The girlfriend ordered some of that HGC or HCG or HGH or HELL or whatever it's called. She wants us to inject ourselves with this hormone juice so we can eat only 500 calories per day and be cool with it. Everything I've heard is telling me that 500 calories won't be enough regardless of what we do. Still - I'm pretty sure I'll drop weight if I can eat only 500 calories per day. I managed to do that years back - it was the break up diet. I lost about 30 pounds.

This new HCG diet tells you to have two loading days before starting... these days you're supposed to binge on fatty food and sugar and whatever. I think I've been loading since she and I started talking about it. I just ate half an 18 inch pizza. I feel like a fat. Hope these crazy hormone drugs arrive from whatever country she ordered them before I have to buy new pants.

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