I had an interesting conversation with a local restaurant owner in Costco the other day as he tried to push his enormous cart of mozzarella, spices and tomato base towards the checkout counter. As a former Italian restaurant owner myself, I knew his story without even having to ask- his vendor undoubtedly messed up and good old Costco is always a solid last-minute bail out for our kinds of businesses. I could instantly feel his pain since I was in the exact same position myself dozens of times.
After sharing war stories for a few minutes about incompetent delivery drivers and the perfect blend of cheeses for pizza, the owner asked me if I knew anyone that would be interested in buying his restaurant. He explained that while the business was still profitable, it seemed like his customer base had continually shrunk over the past five years even though he’s remained highly competitive on his pricing and delivered a great product.
Then I told him what every restaurant owner needs to hear- online marketing is essential for every restaurant in the Spartanburg area, regardless of how big or small they are.
Why? Think about this for a moment. How do you order a pizza these days?
For my family, we hop on our smartphones, look at the current specials and then submit our order online…and that’s how over 70% of America does it these days. That means if you’re still handing out flyers, placing newspaper ads and using other forms of traditional marketing these days, only 3 in 10 people are even noticing you.
For example, my family loves Sidestreet Pizza over in Tryon. Besides the long wait times, I honestly couldn’t say a single negative thing about it. The service is great. The food is great. I love the atmosphere. Yet, I haven’t eaten at Sidestreet in at least 4 years. But I’ve ordered from Dominos, Papa Johns and The Pepperoni Express in Inman dozens of times since then, all because they have a solid online presence and I can see their specials quickly.
Are franchises like Pizza Hut better than Sidestreet? I don’t think we even need to dignify that with an answer. But the big chains are making a huge effort to cater to today’s consumer and that simply makes them more relevant. People will literally settle for food from an inferior brand simply because that’s what they see in the search engines.
And as I explained this to this restaurant owner in Costco the other week, he sort of hung his head in defeat since he didn’t know anything about internet marketing. Even if I built him a great website, he said, there was no way possible that he would be able to keep up with updates and things that would make him stand out.
He also mentioned that cost was a major issue…and I realized that he wasn’t just trying to sell his pizza restaurant; he was on the verge of going out of business completely. That’s the only reason why I’m not sharing his name or his location (yet). Stay tuned for updates though, because I am actively working on his search optimization as we speak.
Now, I could completely relate to his situation. When that bad ice storm hit Spartanburg back in 2003 and my restaurant was without water/power for over a month, I had no idea how to get my customers back fast enough for it to really make a difference. I was underwater in debt and the idea of a website would have been laughable for me just like it was for this person. But then again, I didn’t know back then what I know now…and you can’t ignore that 70% of all consumers perform a Google search before heading towards a local restaurant.
Since I definitely don’t want any other local restaurant owners to feel this way, here’s a quick cheat sheet of simple things you can do to drastically increase your online presence on a tight budget-
- Build a Facebook and a Google Local business page, and start a campaign for people to like your page. My favorite for restaurants is giving customers a $3 off coupon or a free side item for following you on social media…and you’d be amazed how quickly it will be shared and deliver traffic to your doorstep.
- Take the time to register on at least a dozen directory sites like the Yellow Pages, Zomato (formerly Urban Spoon), TripAdvisor, etc. Create complete profiles there and offer a special unique to each website, and be sure to add some photos of your mouthwatering food.
- Ask your best customers to leave reviews for you on those directory sites in-house for an instant $1 off their check total per person (per review). If you’re doing this regularly, then you can simply raise your menu prices by $1 and all the reviews are free.
- Build a restaurant website using one of the free online tools or contact me to create an affordable website for you. Then add the essentials- great photos, a full menu, daily specials, directions via Google Maps, a food blog, etc.
- Use the same tactic to get customers to opt into your email marketing campaigns; just give them a great one-time special to share their email addresses.
- Once you’ve completed the social sites, directory sites and your own personal website, start sharing fun facts about Spartanburg, cool photos, daily specials and other information people wouldn’t mind reading.
- Likewise, every time you post a blog or a new special, share it straight to your social sites for people to see it. Then send out a weekly email recapping what you’re doing for customers.
Now, you may be thinking that most of those things are far outside your comfort zone, which is exactly what the restaurant owner inside Costco told me as well. But then I asked him- how many times a night do you have to tell your younger employees to get away from their smartphones? Fifty? A hundred? Every one of them is a social media genius- they just don’t realize that their talent for wasting time online can actually become a massive resource from a business standpoint.
And honestly, I do not recommend the free website builders like Weebly since they are hard to customize and rank effectively. But if you have to choose between doing nothing and launching a basic website…go the free route every single time. While it certainly can’t hurt, the help it could deliver is enormous.
So if you can’t afford to hire me right now, then put your youth to work knocking out the above list and improving your online presence. You will be absolutely amazed at how quickly it makes a difference…I’ve seen restaurants go from on the verge of closing to being on track for $50k+ months in a matter of weeks. It just takes a substantiated effort of communicating with your customers and giving them reasons to pay attention to you online.
If you have any questions about how to market your restaurant online or you need a little more guidance on making your location profitable; then feel free to contact me through my online form to set up a consultation. Since restaurant management will always be in my blood and I love having the chance to make a difference here in Spartanburg, the initial consultation will only cost you lunch. Hopefully you know somewhere good to eat. =)
Many of my loyal readers may be wondering, “Seriously Keith, are you really going to post a review of a Panama City resort on a marketing blog?”
The answer is yes- and I am doing it for two very specific reasons. I keep telling you how important monitoring your online reputation is for your business, and I was basically hustled by the assistant manager at the Shores of Panama resort in Panama City Beach earlier this week. So this will be a great lesson for you to follow as I hold this company accountable for their actions. Hopefully you’ll learn a thing or two.
So let’s get right down to it; here’s my Shores of Panama review from our stay on 6/12/15 to 6/16/15-
Shores of Panama Resort- Overview
Over the past five or six years, my family has made our way down to the Gulf Coast for its beautiful beaches and the laid-back atmosphere. We chose the Shores of Panama in Panama City Beach because it was a newer property with the most amazing lagoon pool we’ve ever seen, spectacular ocean views from the room and simply a great place to stay.
Each mini-suite is basically set up like a condo with a full kitchen, a washer/dryer combo, bunk beds for the kids and a private master bedroom for my wife and I. We’ve stayed in the one, two and three bedroom models over the years and they are always clean, well-furnished and comfortable; I really feel like I’m on vacation when we go there and the spectacular views make it one of the most relaxing places on Earth.
Shores of Panama Review- The Arrival
Well, making our way to Panama City Beach last Friday was a true nightmare. We had made it maybe 30 miles total before hitting a huge accident on I-85 with an overturned semi, and that delayed us at least an hour. Then downtown Atlanta was just as crazy, so we lost close to another hour in that stretch of the highway. By that time we were half-starved, so we tried a Hardees right off the interstate in Alabama for a quick meal…and somehow that was almost 50 minutes all by itself. The normal 8 hour drive took us right at 11:15 from start to finish.
So when we pulled up to our favorite Florida resort at 7:45 in the evening, the last thing I expected was to see a packed lobby with a ridiculous wait. While there were four employees behind the counter, only one of them was actually helping guests…the other three were just hanging out and watching us wait. It took us an additional 40 minutes just to speak to the lethargic receptionist who was clearly in no rush, and she placed us on the 19th floor…despite us requesting a lower level since we have a daughter that struggles with heights.
- Forty minute average wait-time in lobby
- Employees not in uniform
- Most employees just standing around
- Average 10 minute elevator wait time
- Employees could not answer even basic questions
Now when I say “requested”, I mean that I called a full month in advance at the time of our booking to ensure that we’d have a room below the 10th floor. They ensured me that it would not be a problem, but I typed it in the special instructions of the booking anyway and I called before 8 AM on the morning of our arrival. So getting stuck on the 19th floor was something of a shock, but we decided to just deal with it since it was late and it took forever just to get there. After all, it is the best resort in Florida right? The room would surely make up for it.
Shores of Panama Review- The Room
When we walked into Shores of Panama room 1914, the first thing that stood out was that the light switches didn’t seem to work. No front porch light, no living room lights, no bedroom lights…only the kitchen light and 2 of the bathroom lights worked. Hey, no problem though, we will call maintenance and get some light bulbs changed. The cable TV didn’t work either though, and that was a priority in my book.
Only the phone in our room didn’t work either, the Internet was down and there was no directory anywhere to be found. In fact, there wasn’t even a little note card on the phone or anything at ll. Crap, so back to the front desk I went…which was another 35 minute wait as the one blonde helped each customer and the two male employees flirted with very, very young teenage girls. Seriously, all of us in line were just starting- are there not laws against this in Panama City Beach? It seriously gave me the creeps since one of them had that predator look in his eyes…my daughters never got within 50 feet of him at any time during our stay.
- Broken bunk bed frame
- Broken telephone
- Broken Internet router
- Broken cable TV
- Broken toaster
- Broken blender
- A/C frequently cut off
- Only 3 of 14 lights worked
- Vomit on balcony
- Sand all over pull out couch
- Very dirty floor in living room, bathroom
- Stains on both comforters
- Completely stripped walls (no art, etc. like most rooms)
- No housekeeping
- No maintenance
Anyway, back to the gal behind the desk. After 35 minutes of waiting, she asks me if I tried to flip the light switches. When I nodded yes, she suggested that I should try changing the light bulbs. I just gave her a dirty look and walked off, all the while the two 20+ year old men told a trio of 13 year olds how beautiful they were.
And then the real problems started. As I arrived back in the room, my daughter shows me how the bunk bed collapsed when she put her suitcase down on it. So as I mentioned to them that they could sleep on the pull-out couch for the first night, I realized that it was absolutely jam-packed with sand. There was literally a 1 inch layer everywhere…so that was out too.
Shores of Panama Review- The Management
Even though I had been at Shores of Panama for less than two hours and spent 100% of that time either waiting in line or trying to fix things that were broken in the room, I was headed off to the front desk for a third time. At least the potential pedophiles were gone at that point though, and the front desk supervisor Donna Dybis personally asked if she could help me. So I was thinking, finally…all of this ridiculousness is about to end.
When I told Donna that our room was essentially broken from floor to ceiling, she apologized and checked the computer to see if she could move us anywhere. I guess there were no other 1 bedroom rooms with bunk beds available though, and she made it very clear that Shores of Panama does not even consider upgrades under any circumstances (she kept saying, “There is not any of your room type available” or “If I could place you in the same room type”). She compromised though and said that we would be placed in room 213 on the second floor as soon as the guests checked out in the morning- Donna even said she would personally ensure it was the first room cleaned, and we could expect a call from her before noon.
- Supervisor Donna Dybis lied to us 17 times total
- Site manager was never available
- Dybis had no control over any staff members
- Very poorly trained staff
So the next morning, my wife and I re-pack everything so we can move and get on with our vacation. Only Donna didn’t call us before noon, or at 1 or 2 PM either. I called her at 2:30 and she said the room should be ready any moment, so I sent my family off to the pool and sat on the sand-covered couch waiting. The time kept ticking by though- 3PM, 5PM, 7PM…somehow the room still wasn’t ready.
At 7:45, my wife called the front desk from her cell phone and completely went off on Donna for wasting our entire day, then announced that we were going out to dinner and we would stay in the broken room another night. She also mentioned that housekeeping or maintenance never showed up either, and someone could at least change the light bulbs so we could see in our $300 a night suite. Donna promised to get right on it…but no light bulbs were changed. The bed was never fixed, nor was the room phone, the cable TV, or anything else.
So we spent a total of $1289.55 (with taxes, resort fees) for four nights of kids sleeping on a dirty pull-out couch and not having TV, internet or phone. It was the worst room my wife and I have ever stayed in together…and we stayed in our fair share of dumps after we first got married.
Shores of Panama Review- The Resort
In case you haven’t caught on by now, my family and I must really love the Shores of Panama to book our 5th trip there in 5 years. The pool area is awesome. The beach is pristine. It has great amenities and plenty of things for the kids to do- or at least it used to. On this particular trip, the indoor pool was “Closed for Maintenance”, but the stench coming from that area said that it hadn’t been opened for months.
- World-class lagoon pool outdoor area
- Comfortable beach chairs
- Amazing views throughout resort
- Dirty stairwells/hallways
- Apparently no maintenance on site
- Very poor housekeeping
- Indoor pool looked/smelled like a swamp
This really didn’t matter though since the weather is always awesome
in Panama City and people go there to be outdoors. And when you’re sitting poolside, it feels like a luxury tropical resort. Of course, I wasn’t poolside because once we hit day 3 without a room change, maintenance or housekeeping, I realized that I would have to call the hotel’s tech-support and try to get the Internet up. Of course, this is an off-site company that the staff refused to call on their own, so I was given the phone number and told good luck.
Since it quickly got old waiting 10+ minutes on the elevators to stop by the 19th floor, I got tech support on the phone and spent over two hours troubleshooting the system. We finally discovered that the firmware and the drivers were two years outdated and the current network couldn’t even access my modem, and this was the same for 74 other rooms in my section of the resort. This means that guests haven’t been able to get online for over a full year now…how ridiculous is that?
One other quick note- I also noticed that the pool water was not crystal clear like it usually is and most of the fountains were not turned on. The pool area was still gorgeous but this really took away from the overall experience we’ve grown to love. Also, they never did the outdoor movies, games or kids activities like they had in years past. My children were really looking forward to making another tie-dyed tee shirt by the pool but it wasn’t offered.
Shores of Panama Review- The Checkout
Throughout the four days that we stayed in Shores of Panama room 1917, Donna repeatedly told us that the main manager would be in contact with us to make things right. We were expecting a full refund at the very least and possibly some extras thrown in for the level of incompetence that we faced, yet the main manager was never available to talk to us. So when I went to check out at the desk (which was really just a formality since we pre-paid and had no room charges), I demanded to speak to the site manager to get things straightened out. At this point, however, Donna informed me that the manager was having pregnancy complications and she hadn’t been to work all week long.
- No in-room checkout (phone didn’t work)
- Supervisor promised to “make things right” at least a dozen times
- Was billed full price, despite deplorable conditions
- Site manager never contacted us
Now, I don’t want to sound insensitive here, but I could care less what excuse the manager may have had for making us stay in a room with no phone, internet, TV, bunk beds, lights, or the dozens of other issues we faced…there is simply no excuse for dragging us along for five straight days. Of the three full days we were there, I spent two of them either doing Donna’s job or waiting on her to follow through on her promises, and that should never happen in the hospitality industry…even at a $29 a night flea-bag hotel.
Donna did promise me that the manager would be in at 4PM that afternoon and she would call me immediately, but by that time I stopped listening to anything that this person said. Honestly, I would have trusted the guy that appeared to be a possible pedophile over her at that point. Needless to say, it’s been five additional days and we still haven’t heard a word from Donna or anyone else. We were flat-out scammed.
Shores of Panama Review- The Conclusion
Unfortunately, the Shores of Panama resort in Panama City Beach that I know and love has ceased to exist, and a decaying, poorly staffed hotel is all that remains. I didn’t even tell you about dried vomit on the balcony, the broken toaster, the stains on the comforters, the overcrowded parking garage or dozens of other issues that seemed petty in the grand scheme of things, yet they all added up to an absolutely miserable experience.
Unless this property switches management companies and makes some serious investments in quality control, I cannot see ever returning. The worst part is that I had planned on talking to a local real estate agent about purchasing a condo there during our visit, so this may have been the most disappointing vacation that I’ve ever taken with my family. And honestly, I don’t know which was worse; the deplorable conditions of the resort or being continually lied to by the staff.
There was one silver lining though- my kids still had an amazing time at the pool and in the ocean. Likewise, my wife and I fell in love with the views on the 19th floor, and that really came in handy since I spent so much time in the room waiting on the supervisor to do what she promised. So in a sad way, it’s still paradise…as long as you’re not the one paying for it.
If you found this Shores of Panama Review helpful, then please leave a comment below or share it on your favorite social channels so others can find it too.
Not too long ago, we were doing a routine internet search to learn about a potential client, and we stumbled onto something pretty surprising regarding his online reputation. On YellowPages.com, this company had only one review and it was set to the lowest possible rating. More importantly, it accused the one of the business’s employees of selling drugs to another customer, along with several other slanderous accusations that almost couldn’t be true. In fact, it was easily one of the harshest, most damaging comments that we’ve ever seen…and we’ve been doing this for quite some time.
While we’d love to let you read this particular review, it is no longer anywhere on the Internet thanks to the Yellow Page’s staff. Since it grossly violated their Terms of Service, they agreed to remove the comment immediately and it is no longer an issue for that business owner. Or is it? Let’s find out below-
How an Unfair Reputation Can Quickly Build
After doing a little bit more research, we learned that the particular review was posted in 2012 and that page had been visited well over 1,500 times since it was posted. So it’s entirely possible to assume that over 1,500 local Upstate residents believed that the business in question sold drugs, and this was further proven once we checked the backlinks feeding into that page. There were three social media posts with over 60 total comments bad-mouthing that business on Facebook and Twitter, with every one of the responses revolved around illegal drugs.
So here’s what we did, just to show the math for future clients-
- Of those 48+ social media comments that various people shared about this Yellow Pages listing, it was viewable by over 14,000 people on friends’ lists.
- Of the 12 Twitter comments, there were an additional 3,400 that could have seen this messaging.
- Since the comments were frequently talked about, “liked” and shared, it is more likely than not that these pages were ranking towards the top of Facebook’s news stream. This conversation lasted for over a week as well on two different occasions.
- In total, over 21,000 potential customers to this business were exposed to these comments, and there is absolutely no telling how many others heard about it secondhand.
The Biggest Mistake in Reputation Monitoring
For the sake of argument, let’s say that this particular business owner happened to see this comment within 24 hours of it being posted. He probably would have contacted the website where it was posted on, and a few minutes later this nightmare would have ended. Even if the site wouldn’t take it down though, there were still a number of options available-
- The business owner could have replied to the comment.
- The business owner could have contacted the site and asked for the poster’s contact information.
- The business owner could have started a campaign to get additional reviews on that site, which would limit the damage of the particularly bad review.
The problem here is that the business owner did nothing at all, because he didn’t know that a problem existed in the first place. Remember, online reviews rank for your business name just like your website does, so they are extremely visible over time.
How to Monitor Online Reputation
There are actually several ways to check up on your reputation online, and the easiest way is to perform a Google search for “<business name> review”. While it may not return every single mention that’s ever been made about a particular business, it will show the ones that potential customers would likely find…and those are the ones that are the most important. Additionally, there are several reputation monitoring tools available online that can meet any sized business’s needs, and they range from completely free to thousands of dollars for enterprise solutions.
Upstate Synergy is the only Spartanburg web design firm that has helped out clients keep up with their online reputation for a number of years now, and we know every trick in the book when it comes to defending your good name. If you’d like to learn more about reputation management, feel free to contact us for a more thorough explanation. We will happily train one of your staff members to do this on your company’s behalf, or we can completely monitor your reputation for you.
Far too often, Upstate business owners place far too much emphasis on website design instead of what the site actually does for them. Because just like every other aspect of your company, a website is a powerful tool that can either drive in new business or drive it away. Don’t get us wrong, a good looking website is very important to impress new customers, but ultimately they care far more about its functionality and the available information. Here are a few more tips to keep in mind-
Fast Loading Times
Three seconds. That’s how long you have to grab the average consumer’s attention from the very instant that they click on your link. If your website is hosted on a slow server that takes a few seconds to load, then you’d better have the Holy Grail of homepages to convince them to stay. Google, the king of all search engines, recognizes this trend as well and they reward websites that load quickly. Optimizing a website for all of today’s digital devices is a win/win scenario.
Complete Search Optimization
If you think SEO stands for “Southeastern Oregon” or anything other than “Search Engine Optimization”, then your website is probably in trouble. From proper page formatting to building backlinks to adhering to the dozens of other requests made by Google and Bing, this is the only way for new customers to find you online without paid results. For now, we’ll spare you the technical details, but know that these are steps that have to be taken if you have a realistic expectation of a good return on your investment.
Lots of Fresh Content
Since recent studies have shown that upwards of 82% of all Americans price-check from their smartphones before visiting a retail store, having a search optimized website is absolutely crucial for your success. While we won’t go too much into technical detail, every successful website has to have a steady stream of content talking about their business to achieve proper search results. In fact, even sponsored campaigns are now taking your site’s optimization levels into consideration, so there is simply no substitute for frequent updates.
Other Reasons to Get Involved
Then again, a successful website has a lot more than just words on a page- it gives consumers a reason to stick around and/or visit more often. That’s why so many sites these days have social media contests, news clips, games and hundreds of other unique features…they want you to stick around. Not only does it help their site optimization efforts, but it also creates a company sub-culture that your customers become a part of.