| | Print
couple on their phone at dinner

We pretty much all agree that having a strong social media presence is critical in operating a winning bar or restaurant. The question is no longer if restaurants should get on board, but how. And more than wondering just how to manage social media, ask yourself how you know what is working.

Why is social media important? The obvious answer is that it is a way to communicate with your customer base, to promote your business to potential new customers, and to increase the frequency of existing customers’ visits. This makes it marketing, but we don’t always treat it as such. Sometimes we treat more like admission to the playground or a subscription to a service, and we forget to really analyze how effective it is, or what our true new customer acquisition cost is.

How to Calculate Customer Acquisition Cost

New customer acquisition is calculated by dividing the cost spent on social media or any advertising by the number of new customers acquired in the same period the money was spent. For example, if you spent $500 on marketing in a month and saw the number of covers increase by 100 that same month or the following month, when compared to month-over-month and year-over-year, the customer acquisition cost would be $5.

an iphone on a table with a restaurant menu beside it

In the world of social media marketers, it’s often about how low your cost per impression is, and how big and fast they can grow your likes and followers. There are plenty of charts and graphs that show greater page/post views, increased rate of new followers, and an uptick in likes and shares, but in the end, what does it all mean? More importantly, what am I getting for this marketing cost? How many actual sales dollars are being generated by this? What’s my rate of return?  

Do “Boosted” Posts Really Work?

Recently a social media marketer, in an attempt to gain my business, “boosted” my last post to give me a peek into their product. Within an hour I received hundreds of likes to that post. The marketer went on to say that I could get this for every post, every time, for a small weekly fee. The price was pretty low and he definitely got me tons of likes, so it was pretty clear that it worked. Or did it? How do I know if any of those accounts are real? Where are those accounts located? Are they even within driving distance of my restaurant? Would this lead to further clicks to our website, or likes and comments on other posts? Most importantly, did it gain us more feet through the door, or are those likes from accounts and businesses that this same marketer works for, like a digital pyramid scheme for likes? 

It got me thinking. How many likes are driven by purely social media managers? When talking to restaurant and bar owners, a large number have said they completely outsource their social media activity to an account manager, doing little to none themselves. And that’s not just for business pages, but for personal pages, too. So I started to ask myself, how many likes are coming from actual people with potential future sales dollars, and how many come from the sea of social media managers, who like and comment as part of their algorithm to increase their client’s social media presence?     

How many likes are coming from actual people with potential future sales dollars, and how many come from the sea of social media managers, liking posts to boost their client’s social media presence?


This leads us back to the biggest concern: Do likes and followers equate to new or increased sales dollars? Yes, it feels great to get a bunch of new likes and followers. There’s a sense that it will make me look more popular, that people like us and now our business will see an increase. But when looking at those cost per impressions, who cares how many you got or how low the cost per each was if those viewing eyes are on the other side of the globe or part of some bot program? This is all dirty data. The more dirty data you accumulate, the higher your marketing costs will continue to grow, and the less effective your message will become. Every time you run a campaign, there will be fake or moot accounts/impressions that you will be purchasing, every time, over and over.     

Why Social Media Marketing Matters

Yes, a strong social media presence could have an extremely positive effect on the success of your business. There is no question. Some of the strongest brands, both local and national, have extremely smart and well-executed marketing and social media departments and campaigns. Strong marketing has shown itself time and time again to be able to sell worthless items by stirring up a frenzy of popularity and demand. (Remember the Pet Rock?) So, yes, having a strong social media presence is extremely important and when you’re collecting clean data. Likes, comments and follower growth often equates to increased sales revenue, as these people may actually come in and buy.

guest taking photo of food for instagram

Often, the perceived problem stems not from the platform within social media, but rather the person behind the wheel controlling the direction or campaigns. When done correctly, I have seen struggling owners go from stressing over how they’ll pay bills, to excited to open a second location.

Social media can be very powerful, but there are no one-size-fits-all solutions here. Although there are an endless supply of general tips, tricks, and advice, if it were that easy, everyone would have an amazing social media presence and a booming business.

What to Look For in a Social Media Manager

Social media managers could be a great help, but don’t expect them to solve all of your problems. A few true gurus exist, and a few are true scammers, while the rest are just people doing a job. You can’t allow your fear or ignorance of social media stop you from learning enough to ask the right questions to find the right person and direct the social media vision.

Running a restaurant is tough and any seasoned independent owner will tell you that because of it, they are now a Jack of all trades. From contractor to refrigeration technician, from marketer to HR representative, we already do it all, or at least manage it all. Understanding enough about social media is no tougher than learning to negotiate with purveyors or navigating the processes of obtaining licenses or permits. And just like balancing books or designing collateral, we often farm out the work to skilled experts, but we never completely hand it off or take our eye off of it. Social media should be no different.  

If you go that route, hiring an effective social media manager is critical. Once you know exactly what you want out of them, find someone who listens and wants to work with you on your goals. Avoid the pushy ones who have some magic formula. Make sure they understand you don’t just want a volume of likes, followers, or impressions, that you want clean data—people who live, work and commute near your business, people who are likely and able to financially support your business.

Restaurants have razor-thin margins. Can you afford to have a weak social media presence?

This ebook takes you through everything you need to know to take your customers from ‘like’ to LOVE in just a few easy steps.

Download Now

Just because you use a social media manager doesn’t mean you have to just hand everything over to them. Again, find what works best for your business. Maybe instead of having them respond to all comments or direct messages, have them respond only to certain generic questions and flag you for any comments or messages that could use a personal touch or detailed knowledge. 


Understanding enough about social media is no tougher than learning to negotiate with purveyors or navigating the processes of obtaining licenses or permits.



“Social media is my everything!” says Adrian Soto of the Japanese/Mexican fusion restaurant Senor Changs in San Angelo, Texas. “It’s my way to communicate with my community. Customer presence is strong on social media no matter if you are or not. I’m currently doing both social media in-house and using a social media manager. I have assigned him ideas for the content I would like to put out and he is responsible for coming back with ideas on how to put the content out. I use him for the bigger things, like videos, commercials, contest, etc. I handle all customer issues.”

The Secrets to Social Media Success

Hire someone who finds it important to additionally use content in real time, and not just existing images from your photo bank, to create a tighter connection between the brand and the user.  Rita Imerson, a hospitality, training and operational consultant with Synergy Restaurant Consultants explains, “The best way to get great content is to create a shared cloud-based folder and have the client drop real-time photos and videos. Also, add some key team members to do the same.”

Find the team members with a photogenic eye and a good camera on their phone. Offer them a perk and give them access to the shared folder. Even find different team members with differing perspectives to create content that sends a fuller message and may reach more different people.

phone in restaurant

Make sure you’re tapping into the community alphas and local social media influencers. Promoting, and being promoted by, those with a strong social media presence (aka the actual ability to encourage locals to go to certain places) is a strong strategy. As they know the language of social media influencers, a social media manager can help on this front, but ultimately your management staff will know who your local influencers are. They will see the person coming in with groups, or frequently meeting different friends for a drink. Make sure you’re reaching out to them to connect on social media to create a social relationship in addition to the real one. And always give them comps and show them love.         

Kristopher Marks of Lake Ann Corner Cone in Lake Ann, Michigan, says for him, “Social media is supposed to be more human than traditional advertising. So we take lots of product photos, repost our guests’ photos, and respond personally to messages, comments, and reviews promptly. Along with posting about specials and products, we throw in content about the community and about my staff. We believe it’s important that our social media presence should also be locally connected.”

Part of that local connection, and an area where a smart social media manager can be extremely valuable, is reposting photos that guests have taken while dining there. Not only does the guest feel a sense of shared ownership, but you can find the best photos that capture great moments of genuine emotion and happiness. What better images are there to show off your brand? The guest will be proud that you found their image share-worthy, so they will be more likely to organically promote your restaurant and your social media page. 

“Along with posting about specials and products, we throw in content about the community and about my staff. We believe it’s important that our social media presence should also be locally connected.”

We can’t escape the power of social media. It is a tool we all need to be maximizing. Like it or not, getting on board could be a major factor in your long-term success. So let’s be smart, educate ourselves and continue to learn from each expert we bring in. And although we often become Jacks of all trades, running a strong organization isn’t about doing it all yourself. It’s about getting the right players in the right places and letting everyone maximize what they are good at. If you’re not a social media expert, align yourself with one or many.  

I’ll leave you with some wise words from Mark Bares of Les & Jim’s Lincoln Lanes in Merrill, Wisconsin: “The last thing you decide on is media. You first decide on the market you want to target. Then the message. Finally, you figure out which media will work best. Usually, it’s a combination of platforms. Serving congruent messages to a niche market can be super powerful.

Check out Upserve’s Restaurant Social Media Checklist!

Written by   |  
Ryan Ransom, quick to smile and offer an amuse bouche, is a restauranteur and consultant from Los Angeles, CA. Sharpening his teeth on the front lines, Ryan developed a practical, hands-on, and empathetic approach to hospitality. This attitude allowed for Ryan's repeat success operating many large and well-known restaurants in Southern California. Currently, with Ryse Hospitality, Ryan consults and partners on many ongoing hospitality projects along the West Coast, as well as, creating hospitality content, training material, and runs a popular hospitality support and advice group/forum found at ryseabove.com.
Restaurant Insider