Having worked in the restaurant industry through most of my adolescence and into my early 20’s, I was well aware of the old adage that went something like:

If a single upset customer tells 10 friends about an unsatisfactory experience, it’s conceivable those 10 friends could perpetuate that report to another 10… and so-on, and so-on… eventually damaging the restaurant’s brand bad enough to put it out of business.

chefwedgieOr, as Máma Brandcheffio said:

“Piss off one customer and you’ve lost 100…”

So, at a very young age, I was forced to learn two very important aspects to marketing.

  1. Word-of-mouth marketing is very powerful.
  2. The customer is always right.

WHAT? The customer is ALWAYS right?

Máma Brandcheffio used to tell me:

“Even if the customer is wrong, THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT.

Even at 15, that concept incensed me.  Today it seems like a complete disregard to human civility (See last week’s post) and is entirely defeatist in nature.

Luckily, I came to my senses.

Chew on this:

Originally, one disgruntled customer could, with good effort, affect the opinions of 100 others with their own word-of-mouth marketing.  In 1983, that was a pretty big deal. With 100 potential customers talking about poor service or a fuzzy hamburger bun, over several days, maybe months, the reputation of the restaurant could be damaged enough to warrant inspections, improvements or to be ostracized out of business all together.

That was 1983 word-of-mouth. (Yawn)

Today, our “upset” customer can take a photo, text a gripe to their iPhone or Tweet it to thousands or tens of thousands before your gazpacho reaches room temperature! If “viral” enough, those thousands can make an instantaneous decision to re-tweet it to their lists reaching thousands more!

Word-of-mouth marketing has reached light speed!

Restaurants, from local and regional to major chains, are taking a “more than cautious” approach to social media marketing.  They want to make sure it’s not a “fad” before jumping in.

Have they lost their minds? Maybe in 1983 that’d be okay, but this is 2009!

Not only are social media tools like Twitter and Facebook the fastest growing user-based tools on the Web, they have moved the “Customer is always right” paradigm entirely into the customer’s control, forever altering the approach to marketing communication and public relations.

Restaurants may not want to get involved in a “marketing” sense, but can you imagine how fast they will have to scramble when the “Chris Brogan” of the restaurant industry sends a damaging Tweet or photos of one of their cooks, in uniform, picking their boxers out of their ass as they walk into the kitchen?

Mmmmm, appetizing…

To put it simply, social media WILL affect your restaurant. Ignoring it is not an option for today’s restaurants, no matter what size.

It’s better to use basic social media tools and participate in a brand management program.  Otherwise, you can watch your brand (and your future) carried away in the beak of that ubiquitous little blue Twitter icon.

Food for thought.

Andrew B. Clark
The Brand Chef

  1. The guest is not always right. In fact, they are rarely right. But they are always the guest. And it’s ok for guests to be wrong.

    Social media is already having an affect on the restaurant & hospitality industry – as it has for decades (meaning long before social media was social media).

    Most operators are not ready for social media because their businesses are not engaging enough to have their bad operations and extremely poor hospitality amplified by a factor of 100.

    So the question isn’t one of ignoring social media but of ignoring the heightened social & engaging nature of all consumer experiences today – everywhere.

    In fact we insist that clients get their operations in order before starting to engage guests through social media.

    • Fantastic response, Jeffery!

      I couldn’t agree more.

      We coach clients to get the strategy figured out before “jumping in the waters.” With the speed of engagement as it is, we need to prepare them to merge into traffic smoothly. We encourage a brand monitoring program first, just to show the value of the tools. Then, once they feel comfortable with the functionality, we start adding engagement, PR and marketing to the mix.

      I’m excited to see what the future holds for engagement and service in the next 2 to 5 years. This is going to be a fun ride.

      Thanks so much for stopping by the kitchen!

      Keep Cooking!
      Andrew B. Clark
      The Brand Chef

  2. Excellent article Andrew! The resto industry needs to accept that social media is happening – with or without them. Some folks are getting it right and reaping the rewards – like community building, righting bad reviews, and giving back. Others are either not interested (or afraid) or just have a toe in and wonder why its not working to improve their customer relations and bottom line. People will talk about a resto – whether that resto is listening or not.

    • Thanks Lara –

      From what I’ve experienced there is a direct correlation between the style of restaurant management and marketing to the amount (if any) of social media is being integrated. I’ll be interested to see what happens over the next couple years.

      In my opinion, either restaurants will adopt or they will be left behind.

      Keep Cooking!
      Andrew B. Clark
      The Brand Chef