Consumers using social media while dining out moves into the mainstream in the US

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 10th June 2014
Consumers using social media while dining out moves into the mainstream in the US

Any social media feed is likely to be dominated by a core group of consistent regulars: babies, weddings, pets and food. Posting food pictures has gone beyond a few fringe foodies and is infiltrating the mainstream in the US, according to market research organisation Mintel.

Of those who had dined out in the past and who used social media, 13 per cent said had posted a food or drink picture to social media. This equated to approximately 29.2 million hungry amateur food photographers.

Mintel said that to put that figure into context, it should be considered that 14 per cent of networkers said they posted on social media about any purchase, and 39 per cent of social media users report posting their own updates at least a few times a week.

Social media users have high ‘engagement’ with restaurants

Even without photographic evidence of their epic meal or late night snack, Mintel found that US consumers were still engaging with restaurants, with 14 per cent having posted a positive comment on a brand’s social media page. Mintel said perhaps those percentages would be higher if people’s phones had not run out of battery power: 28 per cent indicated they would stay longer at restaurants if charging stations for electronic devices were available for their phones.

However, despite all the rave reviews that might be found about the next big hot spot, Mintel’s findings suggested that only 17 per cent of respondents said they were influenced by a positive review to eat at a certain establishment.

How to use social media to establish customer loyalty

So how do restaurants use all of this newfound technology to enhance the diners’ experience and establish customer loyalty in the always competitive and sometimes fickle world of dining out?

Mintel research suggested that combining traditional loyalty programs with today’s technology may be the best bet. Respondents (69 per cent) indicated they prefer loyalty programs that issued points toward future purchases. Yet despite a stated preference for loyalty programs, 42 per cent said that loyalty programs that track ordering habits make them feel like they’re being watched.

“Brands must walk the fine line of providing enough value to customers in exchange for their information,” said Bethany Wall, Foodservice Analyst at Mintel.

“Mobile apps and other technologies by operators and third parties have made it easier than ever for consumers to find information such as nutrition and locations, make reservations, order, pay, leave reviews and feedback, and participate in loyalty programs,” Ms Wall said. “In return for these conveniences, restaurants can use these apps to collect great amounts of information that can be mined in order to determine the best way to reach and communicate with consumers,” she said.

Buy-one-get-one-free still most popular deal

Mintel found that buy-one-get-one-free deals were still the most preferred type of deal (46 per cent), followed by value meals/dollar menus (33 per cent).

Men were more swayed than women by free wi-fi (31 per cent to 27 per cent) and a big screen television (20 per cent to 15 per cent). Women were more likely to prefer loyalty cards (42 per cent to 31 per cent) and an at-table tablet to ask for food, refills and extra napkins (21 per cent to 19 per cent).

“Technology is playing an increasingly important role in the restaurant space,” Ms Wall said.

“With recent advances, restaurants can create a unique, fully customisable experience for consumers, as well as provide faster speed and improved convenience,” Ms Wall said. “The key is to be unique, responsive and creative and to provide a benefit that exceeds the hesitation of the customer. Getting them in the door is just first step, but keeping them coming back is the real key,” she said.