We Can’t All Be #SaltBae, But We Can Deliver Memorable Dining Experiences

It seems like no one goes out to eat anymore, but maybe today’s consumers are just looking for something new. From the rise of Instagram food bloggers and selfie walls to paying outrageous prices for the #SaltBae experience, consumers are now expecting restaurants to deliver an experience beyond flavor. In a world still recovering from a pandemic and economic crisis, consumers long to escape into experiences of delight and togetherness.

Where Have All the Restaurant-Goers Gone?

Let’s face it, the coronavirus changed the way people live and work; it also changed the way that they eat. We relied on local shops and grocery deliveries when hunkering inside our homes. We hoarded, stored, made do, and learned to cook (or tried to).

Although consumers have returned to restaurants in gradually increasing numbers, behavior around eating out has changed. It’s a bigger deal, a rarer occasion, and (thanks to the rising cost of living) a more expensive affair. All of this means that people are considering their choices more carefully and expecting more from their chosen venues.

If they take the risk of stepping outside their homes, diners look for more than casual, throw-away experiences. Generous, extra-mile service, complimentary extras, and personalization all create memorable experiences that make diners feel like the risk of dining out is worth it.

The stakes are high for restaurants; 32 percent of customers say they would turn away from a business with whom they had just one negative experience. On the other hand, the spoils are evident: Customers will pay up to a 16 percent price premium if they know they’ll get excellent service.

The challenge for restaurant teams is that greater expectations might be tough to deal with right now. With consumers cutting down on spending, staffing shortages, and supply chain issues, staying competitive and delivering high-quality experiences is challenging. That’s why social media can be a game-changer for the hospitality industry.

What Has Instagram Got to Do With It?

Creating engaging experiences is vital for restaurants looking to stay competitive today, and social media is a great place to begin and end those experiences. The act of dining out is increasingly tied to people’s social media presence. Many diners will even try new restaurants simply because of the photos they can take while there.

Today, consumers often begin the journey to your restaurant on social media. Images of a cocktail on a friend’s Instagram feed can be the catalyst for that consumer checking out a restaurant’s Instagram profile and then tapping through to a website to check out the menu. They might go to Yelp or other review websites to learn what other patrons have said about their experiences. According to a 2021 survey, 77 percent of customers read reviews before deciding where to give their business, so social media offers a powerful competitive edge.

Once a guest arrives, the expectations continue. They expect the decor to have a certain “Instagrammable” quality. They want their cocktails to look great in pictures. They want their desserts to gleam like magazine ads. And they want all of it delivered by staff who are friendly enough to maybe share selfies with them at the end of the night.

All of this creates not only an extra layer of enjoyment for customers, but also a challenge for restauranteurs. Owners and managers must become digital marketers as well as experts at running a restaurant.

How Can Restaurateurs Create Memorable Experiences for Patrons?

Making a dining experience Instagrammable is an elusive task. Restaurateurs don’t all have the skill set for social media; they’re not trained marketers, photographers, or influencers. Despite this fact, injecting a few key elements can help elevate your dining experience to delight today’s consumers:

1. Put Hospitality at the Center of Everything

Approach every aspect of your restaurant’s day with a hospitality mindset. Consider your website experience: Is it easy for guests to find everything they need? Can they escape into the menu and imagine what they might order? Do you have mouth-watering images of food and drink or striking pictures of the restaurant that allude to its ambiance? And if a guest reaches out for more information, are you giving them a taste of what their dining experience will be like? These are all important things to consider along your customer journey.

2. Invigorate Your Social Media Presence

If you’re able, aim to add photos and videos to social media at least two times a week. Although this might feel overwhelming at first if you’re not used to it, consistency is key. Tempting photos or videos draw potential guests in, allowing them to imagine their visits before they arrive. Consider doing a monthly photo shoot featuring cocktails and seasonal menu items. Instagram now offers in-app scheduling so you can upload photos and write captions in advance and pre-schedule them to post automatically.

3. Invest in Training Your People

Service can mean the difference between a bland experience and a night that is talked about for weeks. Keep your employees up to date for the best customer experience. For example, ensure your bartenders are aware of the latest cocktail trends. Today’s consumers are cocktail-savvy — staff should be able to tell stories about the drinks they’re serving to capture people’s imaginations. And make sure the food is not only delicious, but also well-presented so that when it appears on Instagram, it looks as delicious as it tastes.

Creating a memorable dining experience is about more than just tasty food. The atmosphere, kindness, and little details show you care. Help world-weary consumers escape for a few hours, and they will reward you many times over by talking and sharing about your business. Success is just a caption away.