Catching Up with Your Customers: Restaurants Struggle to Reach Their Increasingly Tech-Savvy Customers

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Independently owned restaurants have a long way to go in using online marketing tools and reaching out to consumers, studies show. In a Pew Research Center survey of more than 1,000 adults, more than half of the respondents said they use the Internet to find information about restaurants.

In contrast, fewer than four in 10 independent restaurants displayed menus on their Web sites versus approximately 98 percent of chain restaurants, according to a study by research firm Restaurant Sciences that looked at the online marketing approaches of more than 2,000 U.S. restaurants and bars. "Customers are already talking to each other online, and when they want information, like what's on a restaurant's menu, one of the first places they check is a Web site," says Chuck Ellis, president of Restaurant Sciences. "[Independent] restaurants need to catch up."

To increase a restaurant's chances of being noticed online, it should also claim its business listing on search engines like Google Places and Bing, he adds.

A lack of tech-savvy staff, time, and money were among the primary reasons that independent restaurants had a lackluster Web presence, according to Ellis. Other common explanations were that local customers already knew them or a Web site wasn't necessary since they were on Facebook. "Some restaurants told us they were just too busy ... to work on their Web site," he says.

In terms of Twitter followers, however, some independent restaurants "blew the competition away" when compared with chain restaurants, Ellis says. According to the study, the average independent restaurant that used Twitter had 343 followers, whereas the average chain restaurant had 32 followers.

Independent restaurants have a lot to improve on, but those that are using a social network like Twitter are "doing a good job in engaging their customers," which can help them "stand out from their competitors," Ellis notes.

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