Why Influencers Matter To Restaurants

Restaurants both big and small are activating influencers to drive positive word of mouth recommendations, awareness, and trust among millions of potential diners each day. But why are brands such as Outback, Fogo De Chao, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse, Eric Greenspan’s The Foundry on Melrose and others spending valuable resources on the practice of influencer marketing?

Intuitively, restaurants know that word of mouth generated from top influencers boosts revenue, but many are still struggling to prove ROI to the C-suite. This article is part of Angelsmith’s continuing series on the value of influencers. Our goal is to present research data on how and where influencers share recommendations and demonstrate how valuable those recommendations are to a restaurant’s profitability.

Angelsmith recently conducted a survey of more than 500 self-described food aficionados in an attempt to better understand how influencers make their dining decisions and in turn, what influences them to try a new restaurant.

The survey uncovered a subset of highly influential diners who are actively sought out by their friends, family and co-workers for dining recommendations and are more trusted than any other source.

To better understand how to amplify restaurant word of mouth, we dove into the top influencers' traits and actions to learn where they look for new restaurants and how we can make sure our restaurant clients are allocating resources to the right channels.

Why Focus On The Top Influencers?

You might be wondering why we identified this group of top influencers. If we know how the average diner makes the decision to go a given restaurant, why bother identifying a subset of the general public? Answer: we found that these top influencers are much more likely than the general public to influence other peoples’ decisions.
Top influencers are 732% more likely to be actively sought for a restaurant recommendation than the average diner, meaning that they are important sources of word of mouth for the general public. They also are influential in other people’s dining decisions (100% know they influence the dining decision of others) and are seen as trusted sources (100% are believed to be knowledgeable about dining by friends).

If a restaurant can identify, court, provide influencers the tools to easily make recommendations, and track the results, this can dramatically increase traffic into the restaurant, reduce per person acquisition costs and demonstrate value back to key stakeholders.

What influences the influencers?

Although top influencers assign different values to various channels, they still take a series of steps much like those described in Angelsmith’s Dining Decision Ecosystem, a framework for understanding how consumers decide to dine at new restaurants.

Nearly half (48.9 percent) of all survey respondents seek information from trusted friends first, but influencers rely on friends slightly more, with 51.4 percent reporting that friends recommendations are the most important influence when selecting a restaurant. This slight uptick in percent isn’t great but may reflect that influencers surround themselves with others just like them who also enjoy great dining and who frequently and actively share their restaurant experiences. Top dining influencers are also slightly more likely (84.7 percent vs. 80.1 percent) to do additional research after receiving a restaurant recommendation from a trusted source.

While we believe that these statistical differences aren’t great, when we combine this data point with their voracious consumption of restaurant content across both digital and traditional channels (as we discuss below), we begin to understand why they rise to the top as trusted agents in their social circles.

These highly valuable diners report above-average consumption of both newspaper and blog reviews and content. While 52.5 percent of all respondents reported that they frequently read the dining section of their local newspaper, 70.4 percent of top influencers reported frequently reading the newspaper.
There was an even greater divide for blog readership, 68.1 percent was the overall reported rate while 92.9 percent was reported from those who we identified as highly influential.

When looking beyond friends as a first source for restaurant recommendations, top restaurant influencers are significantly less likely (12.5 percent vs. 22.8 percent) to turn to user-generated reviews sites, such as Yelp. Even though most of the influencers we identified through the survey don’t work in or for the restaurant industry, they have a robust network of trusted sources they rely on much more rather than those who post on user-generated review sites.

Boiling all of this down, we learn that top influencers are similar to the general public in that they typically receive restaurant recommendations from friends and then do further research. However, top influencers differ from the general public in that they read newspapers and blogs much more frequently and rely less on sites like Yelp. This different presents some unique marketing opportunities (see below).

So How Do Top Restaurant Influencers Make Dining Decisions?

As mentioned above, top influencers usually start the decision-making process with some sort of personal recommendation from a friend. They then move on to secondary sources to verify the recommendation. The next logical question to ask is: What sources do they turn to?

The top spot to verify their dining considerations is the restaurant’s own website. 31.1 percent report that the restaurant’s website is the second most influential source when making a dining decision. This is dramatically different from your average diner who is most likely to turn to Yelp or other user-generated review site first for additional research.
For many consumers, this is the only secondary research they do. But influencers take extra research steps before opening their wallet. Additional sources that influencers rely on to help them choose a new restaurant include blog reviews and to a lesser degree traditional newspaper restaurant critics.

Food blogs are rising in influence among all diners, but for influencers they were listed as both an initial spot to find information and as a secondary research stop: 22.2 percent said it was the most important place to research restaurants and 28. 3 percent said that it was the second most important place.

The bottom line is that in addition to other friends top influencers rely primarily on the restaurant’s own website and secondarily on food blogs as the most important sources to verify restaurant recommendations.

The Marketing Opportunities

We believe that the research listed above highlights two main marketing opportunities for restaurants: their own websites and blogger outreach.

Restaurant websites provide a huge opportunity to sway prospective high value diners. Since top influencers usually turn to restaurant websites first when researching a recommendation, this presents an opportunity to provide what they’re looking for and cement their decision to go to your restaurant.

Angelsmith has just completed a consumer survey on what diners are looking for in a restaurant website that will be released here soon. Sign up here to be notified when we release the restaurant website results (we won't share your email)

We’ve even found that for some restaurants clients, such as the Four Peaks Brewery, their website not only provided customers with a great digital brand experience, but it also acts as an additional revenue center for the popular casual dining restaurant.

The other huge opportunity for just about every restaurant is a comprehensive influencer marketing program that includes both top bloggers as well as the hidden influencers or magic middle consumers who make the majority of recommendations to their friends family and co-workers. By reaching out to restaurant bloggers and establishing a positive presence in the blogosphere, restaurants can lock in the second-most important recommendation and verification source for top influencers.

It is important to note that two critical pieces need to be in place to demonstrate influencer marketing ROI. The first is careful vetting of the influencers before any engagement begins and second is establishing tracking systems and procedures in advance.

With the blogger outreach programs that we’ve run for our restaurant clients we’ve experienced trackable dramatic return on investment, leading us to conclude that influencer marketing is one of the most valuable tools in a restaurant’s marketing tool belt.

We would be happy to share influencer marketing case studies with you, just email bill[at]angelsmith.wpengine.com