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FSN Summit: Tips on How to Benefit from Social Media

After being informed, attendees networked over beer and food pairings by Surly.

Foodservice News welcomed top operators and chefs to Surly Brewing in late October for an afternoon of education and discussion as attendees learned the latest in legislative matters, what’s new in restaurant activity at the airport and how to leverage their restaurant’s online presence to drive offline traffic. Attendees connected with premier sponsors and vendors, all while enjoying Surly beer and appetizer pairings.

‘Big mess’ ahead after governor’s veto, lobbyists say

“If we told you right now what will happen in the 2018 session we’d be lying to you,” said Tony Kwilas of the Minnesota Restaurant Association. He was speaking about the upcoming legislative session, which will feature an unprecedented event at its center: 

“You recall the governor line-item vetoed to eliminate the funding for the legislature” at the close of the 2017 session? That issue is still in dispute, and may well be decided by the Minnesota Supreme Court, but it is unclear when.

The session won’t start until February 20, later than usual in 2018 because of the Super Bowl hosted in Minneapolis on February 4. Meanwhile, the entire House will be up for election, with 13 candidates running for the seat Gov. Mark Dayton said he will not run for, and a good number of those candidates are in the legislature now. 

The association will still try to press its case on a number of issues: credits for tipped employees; expansion of hours for Sunday liquor sales; 3.2 beer liquor licenses; and commercial/industrial taxes and taxes on equipment purchases.

But don’t expect business as usual. “This veto has changed the balance of power. No other governor has done this,” said Todd Hill, another lobbyist for the Minnesota Restaurant Association. “We have kind of a constitutional crisis. This is really a big mess.”


‘Not easy, but worth it’ 

The Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC) has made awards for 30 new restaurants that will open at the seven airport terminals it controls next year, including the first restaurant to open in a “reliever” airport, Home & Table at the downtown St. Paul terminal.

That’s on top of the 50 new retail and restaurant units opened in the past year, including Smack Shack, Republic, Salty Tart and Angel Food Bakery. Many are posting some eye-popping sales gains, said Liz Grzechowiak, assistant director of concessions and business development at the MAC.

She cited Lolo American Kitchen from Stillwater—“two young operators who now have a $4 million restaurant and are looking to expand in other airports,” she said. Angel Food Bakery, owned by Katy Gerdes, is posting nearly $1.5 million in donut sales in its first year. 

Stone Arch, featuring craft beers from local breweries, is posting $7.8 million a year in sales, she said, up significantly from the previous Chili’s that did $4.8 million in sales at the same location.

Grzechowiak said operating at the airport is a workout. “These spaces are compressed and they’re small and they’re pumping out food all day long.” Minimum build-out costs average $400 per square foot, “but it’s really probably more like $700.” And “everyone is struggling with employment, but ooof—it’s even more challenging at the airport,” where employees have to undergo stringent background checks, park far away and go through security checks every time they go to work.

Still, Grzechowia says as she returns to the numbers she had just rattled off, “We have major success stories with our small business partners that now are doing $3-, $4-,$5-, $6-, $7-, $8 million in sales. “It’s not easy but it is worth it.” 


Putting digital tools and tactics to work

“The only way you can make it in this business is to be on your game in every way possible,” said Tim Alevizos, co-founder of Minneapolis marketing agency Supervox. “Your business is not just brick-and-mortar, it’s digital, so you need to establish yourself online in the same why you have in your restaurant.”

While digital and social media marketing can be intimidating, continued Michael Vlasak, director of digital strategy at Supervox, there are basic steps restaurant owners should take that carry plenty of impact. Claiming your page on Google My Business is one simple yet important move, said Vlasak, as Google is “incredibly influential,” especially since 93 percent of online sessions begin in search, most of them on Google.

“You need to go all in on Google,” said Vlasak. “You can’t leave any corner untouched.”

Vlasak also encouraged owners to monitor their restaurant reviews using a tool such as BrightLocal or Review Trackers, and to have a pre-written responses on hand to reply to any type of review.

On the topic of paid social media and paid search, Nicole Newville said while “it’s very easy to waste money,” there’s also huge opportunity for restaurants to get in front of potential customers online. Newville, founder of Kōse, a digital solutions provider, noted more than 60 percent of frequent diners say seeing their friends’ posts on Facebook and Instagram help them choose a restaurant, and restaurant posts can prove equally influential. She cited Tattersall Distilling in Minneapolis for putting out great, relevant content on its social feeds and then using marketing dollars to boost some of that messaging. “A little money can go a long way,” Newville said.

Danielle Spa, GM at Heyday restaurant, agreed and said it’s also important to have a specific goal in mind before spending that money. “Usually we just spend money through Instagram or Facebook and usually for specific events we want to promote,” said Spa, who handles Heyday’s social media. “We probably spend less than $100 and we see a ton of benefits from it.” 

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