Rebecca LeHeup, executive director of the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance, shares her experience as a panelist for Social Media Week Love Chef (#SMWTOLoveChef).

Melanie Coates of the Fairmont Royal York used Social Media Week as a platform to introduce its new executive chef, Collin Thornton, who left the Fairmont Orchid in Hawaii to return to his hometown of Toronto. The early-morning session included a menu featuring ingredients grown right on the property, from rooftop chilies to honey, as well as a panel of experts discussing how they staked their claim as foodies using social media. I was one of the lucky panelists, along with Spotlight City publisher Suresh Doss and Good Food Media partner Jamie Drummond. The session was sold out to an audience of 75 tweeters — and it was awesome!

Social Media Week events, including the #TravelMassive event at The Gladstone Hotel and the #SMWTORoi at the Fairmont Royal York, left me with clear take-aways for the restaurant industry.

    • Social media is a great platform to build customer loyalty and manage customer service. Caution: If you’re on any of the platforms, chosen or not (e.g. Yelp, Chowhound, TripAdvisor), and you’re not listening and engaging, you are missing the point!
    • Social media can support — not replace — your traditional media investments. Drive customers to your Facebook page for more-recent updates, interesting new suppliers or events. Utilize Twitter to share your favorite recipes or what’s fresh on the menu that day. It creates buzz and fuels conversation.

  • Create programming using social media outlets. Reward your followers and fans with behind-the-scenes experiences. Take their word-of-mouth and turn it up a notch. There is no better advertising.
  • Listen. Listen. Listen. If all you are doing is pushing out your daily specials, you’ve lost me, and probably a large portion of your audience. Retweet, interact and connect! Make sure you track your efforts and see what is resonating with your audience. Content is key.
  • Be authentic. The foodies out there want to get the play-by-play from the chefs and the great wine suggestions from sommeliers. Discovering you and your suggestions should be exciting. If you’re taking a team approach to social media, let your staff contribute — set guidelines but allow them to extend your brand.

I’m already looking forward to Social Media Week 2013!

How is your restaurant boosting business with social media?

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