The food and beverage industry is now getting back on its feet after COVID-19. Assuming it continues as forecast, it’s set to make a full recovery by 2024. It’s probably safe to assume that, as the market recovers, more people will enter it. This will create more competition. So, ensure that your business stands out from the crowd.

Understand how people discover restaurants. We surveyed 1,800 consumers to gather that information. We also asked why they would decide to try a restaurant and then recommend it to their friends.

Here’s what we found:

Personal recommendations and online reviews are key

When it comes to trying a new restaurant, nearly half of the respondents said they are most likely to ask friends and family for a recommendation.

The second-most preferred method of finding a restaurant is through online reviews posted by customers. Interestingly, nearly half of the people surveyed say they trust other customers’ reviews more than they trust reviews written by professionals.

The content of these reviews is important, too. Seventy-seven per cent of people said it’s very or extremely important that a reliable review include specific details about the food.

Google Reviews is the most important review platform

The biggest group of consumers (28%) say that Google Reviews is their favourite source for online reviews.

Google Reviews is built into the online discovery process, which could explain this preference. Whenever consumers perform a search on Google, they see Google Reviews. If a consumer searches ‘best Italian restaurant’ on Google, for example, the first thing that comes up at the top of the results page is a list of local restaurants with star ratings from customers.

After Google Reviews, the most preferred online review sites are Facebook and Yelp. Consumers check these online platforms regularly for recommendations. Over 20% of people reported looking up reviews on a website or app a few times per week. Almost a quarter reported checking a few times per month.

Seventy-eight per cent of consumers said Facebook is their favourite social platform to find restaurants. Instagram and Twitter are way behind.

Consumers aren’t just scrolling through social media and coming across restaurants. Some are proactively asking their networks for recommendations (Facebook even has a special feature for this now). Over a third of people have posted to social media to ask for a restaurant recommendation.

Now that you know how people discover restaurants, you’re ready to put together a plan to make your business more discoverable. Here are some tactics to ensure new customers keep coming through the door.

Ramp up online reviews

Consumers trust their peers, so online reviews are important to draw in new customers. The more people review you, the more potential clients can learn about your business and your food and drink.

To ensure a strong presence, stay active on review sites. Respond to reviews, whether they’re positive or negative. Let customers know that they are heard and that you genuinely appreciate them taking the time to sing your praises or show you how to improve.

Have a solid social media presence

Building your brand on social media is an important aspect of marketing, especially when showcasing food and drink. Create a strong presence online, and ensure that you or your employees update it regularly.

To help you get started, find advice for building your brand on social media from Square’s expert here. Learn our favourite Instagram tips for businesses and discover how to get creative with stories and reels.

Optimise for SEO

Doing some local search engine optimization (SEO) makes sure you come up in online searches. This doesn’t need to be complicated or involve spending thousands of dollars on an SEO agency. Mention on your website where your restaurant is, as well as in your titles and meta tags (a simple plugin like Yoast can help you with this).

Claim your restaurant on Google My Business, which acts as a huge local directory. There are lots of other directories and online listings to sign up with too, like Yelp, Bing and Foursquare.

Request feedback

How are you doing? When customers know that you take their feedback seriously, they know you care. Set out written feedback cards, or adopt a POS that requests feedback from your customers. Also ask your employees to informally tell you any customer feedback.

Why does this help you to be discovered? Well, the happier your customers are and the more responsive you are to feedback, the more likely you are to have customers become your unofficial brand ambassadors.