Greg Witten: Giving local restaurants the ingredients to win as consumer tastes shift

The restaurant industry is in a state of revolution, but all is not as it seems. Recently, the press has reported on sour revenue numbers, so it might seem like patrons are spending less eating out.

But that’s not true at all. Last year, restaurant industry sales in the U.S. totaled $799 billion, a big improvement over the $745 billion rung up in 2015 and an increase of more than 18 times 1970’s mark of $43 billion.

So, if people are spending record amounts eating out, why are some restaurants struggling?

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The #EatLocal shift in consumer behavior

“Consumer tastes are fundamentally changing,” says Greg Witten, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Vantiv, the nation’s largest debit and credit card processor. “More than ever, people want a unique experience and great customer service. Some restaurants have struggled to adapt, and others are stepping up. It’s anybody’s game at this point.”

As massive chain restaurants try to adapt, smaller regional eateries have begun realizing the tremendous opportunity before them. Medium-sized, multi-location restaurants are especially well-positioned because they have the benefits of scale and the agility to adapt quickly.

As upheaval hits the restaurant industry, Greg and his team of enterprise consultants at Vantiv are helping regional specialty chains capitalize.

Recognize specific ways to stand out

“The key is to help them recognize specific ways to stand out and then arm them with the right tools for success,” Greg says.

That seems simple, but everything is more complicated for SMB owners and operators who wear many hats and never have enough time. For example, one major change in recent years is the explosion of online review sites like Yelp, Google, and TripAdvisor. While restaurateurs generally recognize the need to manage their online business reputations, they often don’t fully understand the potential benefits of really taking control of online reviews.

Take Yelp, for example. As we’ve written before, online reviews on Yelp might be more important than your company website if you run an independent restaurant. Think about it: millions of people log onto Yelp every day for the specific purpose of finding a place to eat. For smaller restaurants, there may be no better marketing plan on the planet than keeping a pristine Yelp profile.

The opportunity is big, and the stakes are high: one negative review can cost a business up to 30 customers, and a one-star rating change impacts restaurant revenue 5%-9% for better or worse, according to Harvard research. There’s no ignoring it, either: according to BrightLocal, 92% of consumers read online reviews for local businesses, and 88% trust them as much as recommendations from friends and family.

In short, revenue growth runs through online review sites for local and regional eateries. So, why would any business owner not jump into the world of online reviews management with both feet? One word: inertia.

Increase bandwidth with technology

Like all small businesses, regional restaurants struggle with bandwidth. Greg’s team focuses on businesses with at least 15 locations, and some have in excess of 100, so they’re not tiny mom-and-pop shops. Still, even larger specialty chains might only have 15-20 people in their corporate offices. That means the COO might also handle marketing, and there might not be any processes in place for managing the company brand.

For example, Greg’s team has been working with a successful regional chain with more than 50 locations. Now, the leadership team wants to expand a niche restaurant concept on a franchise model. That opens up lots of questions about how to maintain brand consistency and take control of the online reviews posted across various properties.

The challenge is familiar for multi-location businesses. They need to maintain high online review scores so more people find their restaurant in online searches, but time is a commodity. Since Vantiv announced its partnership with Womply in April 2017, Greg’s team has been positioning Womply as a solution to this quandary.

With Womply’s reputation management feature, restaurateurs can see all their reviews on dozens of popular sites, for every company property, and they can read and respond to everything from one place. This consolidated control center saves some multi-location businesses up to five hours every day reading and responding to online reviews, with direct improvements to topline revenue growth.

“Growth doesn’t always make the priority list when you have a million other things that have to get done on a daily basis just to keep the doors open,” Greg says. “Our job is to give our clients easy, time-saving solutions so they can focus on the most important things. Technology solutions like Womply are almost always the answer.”

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