20 June 2022, by Angus Winchester
The Opportunities of Social Media for Bars
Never before has it been so easy to find good restaurants and bars in the immediate vicinity at the touch of a button - including menu cards, pictures and ratings. Angus Winchester explains why even the last hesitant bar owners should not underestimate the power of social media and what to look out for in a successful online presence for a bar.
My opinion about bartending - and the hospitality industry in general - has always been that it's easy to do it badly and very difficult to do it well. From concepts like sprezzatura (making the difficult look effortless) to understanding the financial mechanics of a profitable hospitality business, it's simple, but not necessarily easy. The best bartenders, managers and operators understand that bar success doesn't just happen, it takes practice, focus and planning. And now there is a new crucial aspect to consider: and that is that there is now both a real world and a digital world, which must be conquered.
Gaining awareness through new media
For younger people, it's hard to imagine a world without smartphones, apps and Google. The amount of information, pictures, videos, reviews, and comments available at the touch of a button is vast and usually free. Trying to explain to this generation how things used to be done makes you feel like a dinosaur. The fact that back then you had to call a company after finding its number in a thick book to get information about it - unthinkable! Not to mention the "word of mouth" you had to rely on to hear about a new bar. No one reviewed bars back then. You were lucky if you got a review as a restaurant, and if you did, it was a big deal. But what is taken for granted today still takes time to be truly effective. And if it doesn't, then you just become background noise and get lost. So where to start when it comes to your own social media presence?
Support from professionals advisable
First of all, realise that you can outsource your social media - and I have no doubt that every bar owner or manager reading this receives at least two to three emails a week from someone offering their services for just that purpose. It's not the worst idea, as I'm sure many of us have already outsourced our security, cleaning and accounting to outside companies. Using, for example, an agency may seem expensive, but they will certainly be able to create both higher quality content and work on the matter with cooler tools and a better understanding than a talented amateur from our ranks could. Of course, a prerequisite for this is a comprehensive briefing - and that's really the first place to start: What exactly do you want to achieve and what does success look like?
The opportunities of social media
With social media, you can accomplish many things that would have amazed a bar owner 20 years ago: You can communicate directly with your fans - also known as followers - and let them know about anything important, from special hours to new menus to promotions and even staff changes. You can also advertise with geo-targeting to attract new guests. Likewise, social media can help you make your business's brand or personality understood so that potential guests get a sense of what to expect. You can ask for suggestions for improvements or share successes and accolades with the community to highlight your bar's appeal. The possibilities are endless - you just need to focus on what you want to accomplish, what content works, and how much time and money you should invest in your social media.
Economic success measurable?
And this is where it gets fuzzy. We from the BCB Education Board receive many proposals for talks on social media, but when asked if any of them can prove a direct correlation between "likes/followers" and economic success, the discussion goes silent. The BCB talk given by the social media experts from Beautiful Booze a few years ago (see video) was surprisingly insightful, but even they couldn't prove that more likes or followers lead to more profits or sales. What is certain is that it leads to greater exposure for your bar. The return on investment, however, is difficult to quantify.
Rating portals: a curse and a blessing at the same time
For a low-cost or even free solution you should look at the other aspect of social media - review portals. Undoubtedly, Google tops the list because it's such a powerful search engine and shows people every aspect of your business from hours of operation to occupancy to guest reviews bundled together. But sites like Tripadvisor and Yelp are also invaluable for a number of reasons and should not be ignored - no matter how toxic they may be.
From fans to haters, it's all here
I was once told that in any business, you can expect 20 percent of your customers to become raving fans, 20 percent will hate you and 60 percent will be indifferent. You can't afford not to listen to guest feedback: So, every review needs to be read and responded to. If they love your bar and took the time to write feedback, thank them and invite them back. If they didn't enjoy their visit, apologise for disappointing them (even if you think their review is unfair or inaccurate) and take the time to address their criticism point by point in your response. Consider yourself lucky to have been rated so many times, and take advantage of that feedback. Remember that every single review can be seen by your current or future guests. This is the "word of mouth" we used to rely on, however it is now public and permanent. And this aspect of social media is free if you respond and take advantage of it.
Launching into a brave new world
Using social media well is simple, but not easy. Make sure everything you do is in line with your brand and highlights your company's personality. Remember that the content you post goes out into the wide world and will last. Social media is a tool not only for your business, but also for your customers, so you shouldn't neglect it. Ultimately, though, it's up to you what you want to accomplish with it. For some, social media is a brave new world, but a permanent one that requires practice, focus and planning to move forward - much like our industry itself.