Disclaimer: I’m using the new pizza joint, Crust, on James Island as a springboard for a quick rant on the state of digital thinking in the SMB world. Bear with me please. The pizza was the bomb, btw.
Savvy diners know that restaurants are going to have growing pains. For the most part, people who actually are understanding human beings are accepting of the fact that brand new restaurants are going to be a little rough around the edges. Only in perhaps the most extreme fine dining examples is this not going to be the norm, but I’d venture to say that at a price point below the $20 per plate range, there’s always an acceptable period of “forgiveness” for a new restaurant.
Examples of these are:
- Longer than usual wait times for food.
- Wait staff being less than fully acquainted with the menu choices.
- Orders being incorrect or not cooked exactly right.
- Waiting on a liquor license.
- Having a limited beer or wine selection.
Restaurants make good on these shortcomings by giving extra glasses of wine, comp’ing portions of meals, or bringing some free dessert. They know that there are going to be these types of issues at the start, have baked them into their operating costs and go the extra mile to ensure that the diners leave with an overall positive impression of their dining experience (despite any shortcomings during the meal).
As a person who worked for 10+ years in the food & beverage industry, from dishes to bar tending to waiting tables to bouncing to cooking, I am a very understanding diner. I am also a very good tipper for what it’s worth, but that’s a rant for another time. My overall rant here actually has nothing to do with the dining experience, as the food was fantastic. Granted, the meal took a while and they were still waiting on their liquor license and they didn’t have all the beers advertised on the taps yet. All this is beside the point, per everything I mentioned above. What I’d like to expand upon here are the things that are unacceptable for a new restaurant (or any business for that matter).
We can worry about that later…
You see Crust had me frustrated before I even got to the restaurant. I knew that it had opened because I read about it in the local paper, and because it was a mile from my house. So naturally I went online to check out their hours, their menu, etc. And let’s be frank here, I didn’t do this because I am one of those digital marketing geeks (which I am). No, I did this because I am a human living in 2013. It’s normal, natural and completely expected to go online to search for restaurants.
What did I find? Nothing, barring a lonely Facebook page that lacked hours or a menu.
So what areas did they fail in:
- No website. Not even a coming soon splash site with hours, location and a phone number.
- No menu listed anywhere online. So despite having a Facebook business page, it was still a fail because it left me wanting more.
- No listing on Yelp (or any other normal place to search for restaurant information, reviews, etc).
Sure a soft launch is a pretty standard procedure for a new restaurant. I have zero problem with that, and as I said above, am a very understanding diner. My issue lies in the fact that they didn’t take their business seriously enough to provide the basic ingredients for online success. Everything I listed above is also completely FREE. You don’t have to spend tons of money on a website, at least to stand something up that says “we’re coming soon, and here’s a little info about us”. Social media is free. Yelp, YellowPages…free. Hell, snap a picture of your menu with an iPhone, and post it to your Facebook page if you have to.
This story serves as a very simple analog for the overall SMB understanding of what it takes to survive in today’s digital economy. Having a website and social presence are not just something that you should have, they are the very things that allow people to find you…period. These should be considered with just as much importance as the menu, the wine list, the location and the hours. Your digital presence is a direct representation of who you are and what you do.
I put out feelers to my network on Facebook to see if anyone else had found information about Crust. I received the same feedback from all of them: they were frustrated by a lack of information available online. I’d venture to say that Crust has lost out on valuable visitors during a critical launch period because people aren’t willing to just drive over to check something out anymore. They want to know the menu, the ambiance, the chef(s) and the pricing. There’s just too much clutter out there to sift through, and today’s savvy consumer doesn’t have time anymore. Luckily, I live close by, took a chance and ultimately enjoyed a really delicious meal.
The Bottom Line:
If you forget the digital piece to your business, you most likely won’t even get the chance to be forgotten, because people won’t know you’re there to impress.
Update: I’ve since eaten at Crust 3 times, and it’s been consistently very good! Still no website though…
A little more info: