Bars & Restaurants: How to Invest to Make Free Media Pay Off

In under five years, the owners of Northside Social (Nicole Harlan-Oprisu, Tim Oprisu, Bill and Nancy Ficca, and Jamie Browning) have expanded their family of restaurants and bars to include four additional establishments: Northside Kitchenette, Village Cigar, Delicia, and La Mulita. Together they employ over a hundred people. So what has helped them flourish? A whole recipe that excludes paid advertising.

This group of restaurateurs has worked at crafting each establishment to fill a different niche, making each appeal to different customer types or moods: casual but refined brunch/lunch, upscale evening dining, impromptu drinks with or without a bite to eat, Latin American dining, or relaxing with fine liquor and a selection of quality cigars. They didn’t try to wrap everything under one roof, because each needs it’s own distinctive atmosphere to be most effective.

As an example of the added benefit to filling a niche, because Delicia and La Mulita are in the smaller category of Latin American, they can automatically rise to the top of some searches by those looking for local options.

A few positive reviews on Yelp led to many more. Early on, Yelp reached out to these businesses for a photo shoot which was mutually beneficial: improved content on Yelp draws more website visitors, which in turn encourages more people to visit and review the restaurant or bar. Stephen Greiner, part-time manager of Delicia who previously managed Northside Social, said that they receive far more reviews on Yelp than other review sites like Urban Spoon, though they’ve never paid for ads on Yelp. Greiner says Yelp is just more popular with the dining public.

Building on success, Yelp volunteered to invite eighty frequent Yelpers (people who post reviews on Yelp) to a “release party” when La Mulita was first opening. Frequent Yelpers would have enough experience to judge the new bar’s quality, and be inclined to post about it online-again, bringing value to both Yelp and La Mulita.

Building something quality, unique, or with style, attracts the attention of media who need interesting things to fill their pages. Indianapolis Monthly magazine (print and web) has mentioned and featured these five establishments multiple times over the last five years-sometimes of their own initiative, sometimes at the prompting of these establishments’ management.

Northside Social does pay for Open Table, a reservation management website, and they’ve seen reservations increase. This is an example of paying for a service that facilitates serving your customer.

Greiner also said that they’ve had a paid social media manager for the past two years, who posts their daily specials on Facebook and Twitter. Social Media may be free, but it takes time to create the daily posts necessary to capture an audience; even more time to watch for customer comments and questions on the sites, and to keep your profile up to date. The owners and managers of these five establishments understand the power of reaching your public on a daily basis, and the value of paying someone to manage that power.

Beyond making free media pay off, their ingredients in their recipe for success include in-house comment cards that help them increase their mailing list, sharing their database among all their locations, and using Constant Contact to send periodic emails to patrons.

These restaurateurs have also continued to refine their customers’ experiences along the way, from physical tweaks such as changing the seating arrangements of their first restaurant numerous months after it opened, to digital changes like recently revamping their websites to link all five locations.

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