Using Technology as a Food Services Business Owner

Great food and good drinks will only take your food business so far if people can't find and connect with your establishment online. According to the National Restaurant Association's infographic, "Adding Technology to the Menu," 61 percent of consumers visit restaurant websites – and 46 percent of consumers would happily use a food business's app if it were available.

So if you want your restaurant, cafe, or catering business to survive in the digital age, take to heart this tech checklist that will ensure your company is up-to-speed on consumer expectations:

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Create a Website

Create a Website

If you want your restaurant or catering business to survive, you must have a website. Most consumers rely on Internet research to inform their purchasing decisions, including where to eat and which company to use for catering their event.

Your prospective customers will likely check out your website to…

  • Get directions to your establishment.
  • Find out your hours of operation.
  • Explore your menu.
  • Check for promotional offers.

If you've just opened the doors of your food business, you can bet most people will visit your website before deciding to stop by. So be sure you give your customers all the benefits of dining at your place. Describe the kind of food you offer, the traits that distinguish your place from your competitors, and the kind of ambiance patrons can expect. Share the story of how your company started and its values.

You can also use your site to offer promotions and invite visitors to connect with your establishment on various social media outlets.

Use Social Media

Use Social Media

More and more brands – no matter their industry – are shifting their marketing efforts toward social media outlets. And because these sites rely on user-generated content and experience, any kind words about your business seem genuine and organic to prospective customers.

Here are some perks for getting your food services business on various social media outlets:

  • It humanizes your business. Social media allows you to show your company culture, values, and personality.
  • It builds customer relationships. You can connect with fans and prospective customers on a personal level and respond to comments about your business.
  • It offers the opportunity for word-of-mouth referrals. Fans and followers can share their dining experiences with and get suggestions from people of similar tastes.

To reap these benefits, consider creating a profile for your business on the following sites:

Remember, an active social media presence can be an effective and inexpensive way to advertise your business. You can create promotions and discounts solely for your followers and fans simply by posting a picture or a status update.

Know the Power of Dining Review Sites

Know the Power of Dining Review Sites

Did you know that 57 percent of patrons rely on online reviews when they decide where to eat (according to Mashable.com's article, "Most Restaurant-Goers Rely on Online Reviews"). Dining review sites are kind of like digital comment cards that everyone can see. A review can significantly affect your chances of attracting visitors.

Prospective customers rely on review sites for …

  • An unsolicited and (usually) unbiased take on your establishment.
  • A better picture about the experience you have to offer.

Though your business can't control what others say or post, you can use reviews as teaching tools for your employees and to learn what customers want or expect from your establishment.

Offer Free Wi-Fi

Offer Free Wi-Fi

This tip is important for causal dining establishments and coffee shops since they tend to be places where customers linger. Wi-Fi availability can be a selling point for patrons who want to…

  • Conduct meetings at your place.
  • Gather study groups.
  • Use their smartphones.

However, there are some risks that come with free Internet access. For instance, if your network isn't secure, your business and your patrons could be exposed to cyber theft. To reduce this risk, always password-protect your network.

Accept Online Orders or Reservations

Accept Online Orders or Reservations

For establishments that offer carryout or delivery, online ordering can be a valuable incentive to choose your business over your competitors. If you don't have your own online ordering system, you can partner with businesses like GrubHub (a mobile phone app) to offer your products through their system and mobile app.

For dining establishments that take reservations, offer your customers the ability to reserve their spots online. This frees up your staff to take care of in-house guests. You can create a reservation system of your own and offer it on your website or you can ensure your restaurant is listed on apps such as Opentable.com or Urbanspoon.com.

If you offer either online orders or reservations, be sure you advertise these features on your website.

Use a Reliable CRM System

Use a Reliable CRM System

There are countless examples of sales and marketing software you can use to streamline your efforts and manage your customer relationships. In the food retail industry, you can use CRM (customer relationship management) software to gather and store information about your customers, such as…

  • Contact details.
  • How often they frequent your establishment.
  • How much they spend per visit.
  • Meal preferences.

You can use this kind of software to…

  • Engineer your menus. When you keep track of customer data, you can find out which menu items sell and which don't.
  • Create strategic marketing campaigns. Once you have customer contact information and you know they prefer, you can create tailored email marketing campaigns. For instance, you can segment your list based on their preferences and offer tailored promotions based on their tastes.
  • Manage customer loyalty programs. CMR software can even automate rewards for loyal customers. For example, your system could track how many times a patron ordered takeout from your restaurant. If they're enrolled in your loyalty program, your system could automatically send the customer an email with their perk once they've reached X reward points.
  • Boost customer retention. CMR systems can automate requests for testimonials, surveys, or other kinds of customer feedback. This kind of feature can help you field customer complaints before they escalate.
  • Sell online. Some CMR software has e-commerce tools that can help you sell your products or services online.
Food Business Owners: Know the Risks Involved with Using Technology

Food Business Owners: Know the Risks Involved with Using Technology

Though there is plenty of incentive to gear your marketing efforts toward an online audience, there are some potential drawbacks. Let's take a look at the risks online marketing presents and how to handle them:

Social Media PR Meltdowns

When used properly, social media can help you hone your brand's image and personality. But it can also be the platform for a real public relations mess. For instance, if you or a staff member inadvertently post an inflammatory status, the public outcry can be deafening.

To avoid these risks, be sure to…

  • Use a customer service mindset when interacting with fans and followers.
  • Develop protocol for handling disgruntled patrons.
  • Steer clear of any divisive posts.

As a general rule, be sure that anything you post or write on social media sites is consistent with your brand's values and your desired public image.

Cyber Theft

If your CMR system is hacked and your customers' private information is stolen, your business could suffer serious financial consequences. The only real way to limit these exposures is to invest in antivirus and malware programs and to maintain a secure Wi-Fi network.

However, even your best efforts may not be able to thwart a sophisticated hacker. That's why you may want to carry Cyber Liability Insurance. This coverage can help pay for…

  • Legal services to assist with regulatory compliance if a breach occurs.
  • Notifying affected customers about a security breach.
  • Customer credit monitoring.
  • Crisis management following a breach.
  • Good faith advertising to help rebuild your establishment's reputation.
  • Business interruption expenses.
  • Negotiating with a cyber extortionist who holds your sensitive data hostage.

In addition to carrying adequate coverage, be sure to train your employees on how to safely store and manage customer data.

Additional Marketing Resources for Growing Food Businesses

Additional Marketing Resources for Food Business Owners

Read these articles for more tips on growing and marketing your food services business:

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