Table for two, please

Have you made restaurant reservations online?

Come on, using a landline phone to make restaurant reservations is so 20th Century! These days, more and more consumers expect to engage with restaurants online and through mobile devices. Are you one of them? Restaurant operators who don’t build up their online presence and brand loyalty are missing an opportunity to generate higher sales. Even outlets that have not traditionally advertised are finding new business coming from social media efforts.

There’s a great little restaurant in Indianapolis that tweets almost every day what their specials are for the day, and sometimes give their followers a little spiff for mentioning the tweet.

More and more restaurants are looking into social media for marketing, as they find their consumers are looking for that outlet.

The new Social Media and Technology in the U.S. Foodservice Industry: Trends and Opportunities for an Emerging Market report by Packaged Facts explains that everything has changed in the food service industry. Don Monturori, publisher of Packaged Facts says, “We believe the restaurant industry is in the midst of being shaped by the convergence of the mobile, yet always connected, consumer; location-based and context-aware technological innovation, and mobile payments, which already demonstrate the potential to redefine how to cultivate restaurant guest loyalty, incentivize dining occasions, and better tailor marketing messages.” As proof of this new trend, consider these facts:

* Almost 1/3rd (31%) of consumers who frequent restaurants for eat-in or take-out meals use their computers to place orders.

* About 1/5th (21%) of consumers use mobile phones or other devices to place restaurant orders.

Facebook and Twitter are the leading social media outlets for restaurant operators to conquer. Packaged Facts analysts point out that food service operators should focus on location-based promotions this year as active Facebook users are ‘frequently on the go’

And these social media tools aren’t just being used by traditional restaurants. One of this year’s most interesting trends for urban markets is the growing number of food trucks that serve unique and ethnic fare. “We’ll be at the corner of Main and Hudson in 15 minutes!” Many lower-cost outlets (like our restaurant in Indy) are turning to Twitter to promote themselves.

As the restaurant industry battles to regain the losses suffered during the recession, most operators will be turning to lower-cost forms of promotions. For many, social media seems to fit the bill.

Where are you on the restaurant mobile scale? Have you made reservations or ordered take out on-line?

[Source: Facebook, Twitter and Smartphones Lead Social Media-Fueled Innovation within U.S. Foodservice. 8 Feb. 2011. Web. 24 Feb. 2011]