Restaurant Social Media 101 – How Not to Run Your PR
I had planned to write another restaurant review today, but there have been quite a few things bubbling away on Facebook and Twitter that I felt were necessary to talk about. I am by no means a business expert, but I did run my own small company for a number of years. I was the one who decided to stop running Emma’s Boutique – as it was called – not because I owed people money or because it was unprofitable, but because my own personal circumstances changed and I needed a more stable income. At no point did I receive any help or guidance on Social Media, which at the time was fledgling. I set up my own account and started to build up a local following as I engaged with people. It was a two-way street; not just about what I could ‘get out of it’ but what I could also contribute to the local tech scene.
When I started to blog about food I was told that I had an ‘unfair advantage’ due to the fact I already had 1k+ followers on Twitter, but I argued with that person that I was by no means guaranteed that many views as not everyone I engaged with would be necessarily interested in what I had to say about food. What I did hope, however, was I had built credibility over the years and had an understanding of how to use my social networks to promote my musings. I have learned a lot over the years about when not to allow personal feelings to spill out into the online arena, and also about how to conduct myself when the going gets tough (see blog post here).
For those who have been involved in the North East Twitter scene for a number of years, you may remember the furore caused by the chef of Fisherman’s Lodge when he decided to take to Social Media to vent his spleen. I recall checking my Twitter feed early that morning and being utterly dismayed at what was posted under the guise of the restaurant. At the time, Twitter accounts were more prone to hacking from bots, but this was clearly a person with an agenda using the account to discredit the owner. I called the restaurant immediately to warn them, but there was no answer. I emailed them multiple times over the course of the morning in the hope someone would see it, instead the embarrassing tweets kept on coming. It took a while for the company to regain control of the account, but the damage was done. Fisherman’s Lodge was floundering before this incident, which was documented in the local media, but it was the final nail in their coffin. A month later (April 2013) the eatery ‘temporarily’ closed, and to this day it stands boarded up. Such a shame as it was one of the best restaurants in Newcastle.
Not long after a story in the National newspapers featured a disgruntled chef who was allegedly sacked for requesting Christmas Day off. He had ‘hijacked’ his employer’s Twitter to inform followers that they purchased their meat and fish from Asda amongst other things! He claimed he didn’t hack the account as he was the person who had set it up originally, which lead to many debates about intellectual property in relation to Social Media for employees. Working in HR, this interested me greatly. There have been occasions where I have set up or assumed responsibility for the online content of a company I have worked for, but even at my most aggrieved I have never vented. It wouldn’t be ethical, regardless of what may or may not be covered by a contract of employment.
I am recounting these tales in the hope some local establishments may take heed of the costly mistakes of others. I was horrified yesterday to discover a new restaurant had taken to their Facebook page to slander a local restaurant critic following a less than favourable review. I have blurred out their name, and have included my response to them, which they subsequently deleted. Yes, l can understand how their blood must have boiled reading his words. I have been there. Rather than remaining dignified or accepting the criticism and learning from the experience, they have thrown their toys out of the pram like children. Not the way to run a business, and it may end up being a costly mistake for them. How not to make friends and influence people, especially in the local media.
I posted a review this week of a local pub we visited for Sunday lunch that has been re-branded and renovated. I have said many times I did not create the blog to tell anything other than the truth about my experience when eating out. I have also said even the best restaurants can have off-nights, which I encountered at Raby Hunt. They were less than impressed with my post, but it was my opinion and I’m entitled to it. I don’t write to be malicious, the blog is here to be informative. I’m not writing to blow smoke up anyone’s backside, as some people take delight in doing on Social Media. Certain members of staff have taken great delight in tweeting sly remarks about me since I posted in reference to my ‘fussy’ ways and my credentials as a food blogger, which says more about their own professionalism than it does about me and my blog. I work blinking hard to enjoy eating out in the way I do. Some people spend £100 on a Saturday night on the town, but I’ve always preferred going out for a nice meal instead. It’s my hobby, and I’m thrilled the blog has been so positively received (23k views a month and rising!). Far from being a ‘keyboard warrior’, I’d like to think the blog has a positive effect. I don’t just visit the likes of Jesmond Dene House, I also blog about smaller concerns. My review of the Re-f-use Pop-up, for example, has been very well-received.
I always said I wouldn’t blog if I couldn’t find anything positive about my experience, and there has only been one occasion since I started the blog I have remained silent about an eatery. I felt my review of The Engine Room was fair, and I certain had taken photos to back up what I said about the watery gravy. The chef left a comment on the blog post, which I approved, where he ‘expressed’ his thoughts on what I had written. At no point did I say his food wasn’t fresh, although by his own tweets I now know that the Apple Pie I had on the day was ‘purchased in’. Not that I couldn’t already tell, I just didn’t make a big deal of it. If anyone has watched the film Chef, you will no doubt see the parallels!
He took it upon himself to set up a Twitter account ‘on behalf’ of his employer, even though a local PR company had already identified themselves as working with the pub on building their Social Media presence. Him having sole control of that Twitter account is not a good move on the part of his employer, as is evident by the examples I’ve given. Yes, I’m sure there are many employees who operate accounts on behalf of their employer without drama or clauses in their contracts, but why run the reputational risk? Ensure you have the passwords and change them when an employee leaves, or pay someone to do these things for you. As the new restaurant I mentioned is unfortunately demonstrating, ranting Social Media posts are more damaging than no online presence at all.
I wrote a review a few months ago about The Painted Elephant in Newcastle after I was left unimpressed by the standard of food we’d received. My expectations were high after seeing other blogger posts, and others agreed after reading my post that the experience wasn’t a positive one. The owners could have railed against what I wrote, could have made disparaging remarks about me on Social Media. After all, I’m not a trained chef and my background isn’t hospitality. They didn’t, however. They got in touch and apologised. They invited us back and we gave them a second chance. As I said before, restaurants can have off-nights. Everyone deserves a second chance to rectify mistakes. It takes courage to admit when you’re wrong, and tenacity to return stronger from a set-back. Rather than blaming bloggers or reviewers when things are going pear-shaped for ‘having an agenda’ or being ‘paid off’ by competitors, restaurants should examine the ways in which they can improve their offering to the general public so this doesn’t happen again. Yes, you can delete rants from Social Media retrospectively, but the reputational damage may already have been done.
Thanks for reading,