Taking on Goliath: How Video Marketing Is Leveling the Playing Field for Independent Restaurants

Find out how video content can turn customers into brand ambassadors by enabling them to share their experiences with prospective customers.

For too long, independent restaurants have struggled to compete with major chains because of their limited time and money. Single-location restaurants face the same challenges confronting all small business owners. How do I attract new customers, manage my costs and differentiate my establishment from the competition?

Opening a neighborhood bistro is usually a labor of love rather than a hard nosed business decision. Motives like a vision for a unique dining experience, the potential of a charming space or respect for food often drive the decision to start a venue of one’s own. Marketing strategies and tactics can sometimes be an afterthought.

Once they open, restaurateurs tend to feel pulled in multiple directions. Daily problem solving drags them into reactive mode, keeping them from looking ahead. As a result, entrepreneurs often find themselves having to spend more time working in the business than onthe business.

As self-made billionaire Jeff Bezos says, “If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful.” When successful entrepreneurs hear praise from satisfied customers, they learn to build their business by replying “tell your friends.” You simply can’t buy that kind of promotion.

Word of Mouth is Vital for Restaurants

Word of mouth is vital for restaurants because people hesitate to try new dining venues without a personal recommendation. Research commissioned by TouchBistro found that 91% of restaurant-goers visited restaurants based on friends’ recommendations. Conversely, just under three-quarters of those surveyed said they avoided restaurants because of negative feedback from someone they trust.

The challenge now is that the twin influences of social media and social distancing have transformed how word gets around. This is true globally and locally. More than ever, customers see themselves as members of digital as well as physical communities.

How can neighborhood restaurants leverage digital communities to generate word-of-mouth recommendations?

So, how can neighborhood restaurants leverage digital communities to generate word-of-mouth recommendations? Google and Facebook are garden variety online forums that every restauranteur should monitor. Yelp and TripAdvisor are dedicated restaurant and hospitality forums that encourage users to share their reviews.

The trouble with these conventional social media channels is that their reviews are often biased and unfair. Unscrupulous competitors have even posted fake reviews on these sites to sabotage new venues. There are ways to get bogus reviews removed, but they’re frustrating and time-consuming.

Even sincere reviews from well-meaning customers can be misleading. An atmosphere that one customer considers noisy another may find lively. One diner’s tacky may be another guest’s kitschy or bohemian.

We don’t all share the same taste in dining experiences or have the same budget in mind. That’s an opportunity in disguise because it creates niches entrepreneurs can fill. The best way to appeal to those niche customers online is through video content. According to a Cisco study, 82 percent of online content will be in video form by the end of 2022.

That means the way to gain a competitive edge in online promotion is to take advantage of the video trend. That doesn’t mean restaurateurs have to pay for film crews or shoot videos themselves. There’s also no need to compensate influencers to star in these videos. Entrepreneurs can foster conditions where recommendations arise organically by encouraging user-generated content. 

User-generated content is also more effective than influencer marketing because it reflects an authentic customer experience. So, the best way to promote a new independent restaurant today is to encourage customers to create and share video clips of their own experiences.

Recommendations in the form of customer videos lift promotional demands from independent operators’ shoulders. At the same time, they deliver unbiased recommendations to potential customers. This innovative, video-based approach carries the benefits of old school word-of-mouth promotion into the digital age for the first time.

Videos Capture the Atmosphere Directly

In fact, this approach goes beyond what traditional recommendations can offer. Instead of relying on a friend’s verbal description, potential customers can see and hear the place for themselves. Videos capture the atmosphere directly and can even generate a sense of rapport with the staff.

Sharing a photo of lunch on Instagram or Pinterest has become hackneyed. Video content raises that cliché to the next level by showcasing the ambience and experience that restaurateurs toil to create. Video recommendations offer customers a unique opportunity to rate a restaurant’s appeal for themselves.

The future for independent restaurant promotion lies in video content.

Restaurant staff always have a few favorite customers. Friendships develop, and a regular has all the equipment needed to shoot a video in the palm of their hand. Today’s smartphones deliver very good production values. Less-than-professional quality is usually appealing because it adds authenticity to the recommendation.

Customer videos also don’t need to be long. In fact, the trend on social media is toward increasingly brief video clips. TikTok has been the trendsetter here, along with “Stories” on Facebook and “Reels” on Instagram. Even YouTube has introduced “Shorts,” enabling its users to create short video content using nothing but their phones.

Encourage Regular Customers to Share Video Recommendations

Some restaurants are rewarding their staff with bonuses for encouraging their regular customers to create and share video recommendations. Others set a monthly goal to measure how many videos the team can inspire from customers.

Another way to involve staff is to encourage them to shoot and share video clips themselves. Potential customers can get a glimpse of the front-of-the-house culture. Kitchen staff can show off their flare preparing their favorite dishes for the camera.

In addition to persuading customers to share their videos on social media, many venues ask customers for permission to post their videos on the restaurant’s website. There can be a series of clips, or they can be combined into a highlight reel.

The future for independent restaurant promotion lies in video content. It goes beyond word-of-mouth recommendations or online reviews by capturing the dining experience directly. It’s also a fun way to engage regular customers in sharing the venue’s atmosphere.

Video marketing is something every independent restaurant should be putting into action to attract new customers through the front door and turn regular customers into brand ambassadors.