OpenTable are hosting three cutting-edge panel sessions at this year’s Restaurant Show. If you want to stay ahead of the digital curve and keep up with your customers’ needs before they even walk in the door then their sessions are not to be missed. We take a look at two of their events that focus on the importance of digital diligence.

  • Join social media experts Libby Andrews and Mark McCulloch, among others, who will be discussing the art of getting the right message to customers with highly tailored digital messaging. We asked them to do what they do best and share what we can expect from their session, “Are your customers getting the message? – hosted by OpenTable” on Wednesday 4th October 12:45pm - 13:30pm on The Stage.
  • Meanwhile, André Mannini of M Restaurants will be decoding the advantages of data collection and its use as part of the panel session, “Decoding diners’ desires with OpenTable” on The Stage on Monday 2nd October at 13:45pm - 14:20pm. We asked him about his methods and their commendable merits.


Mark McCulloch is the CEO of WE ARE Spectacular, a new wave agency solely made up of senior experts who focus on branding, marketing, digital and social. He has great advice about how not to get your social media wrong. We asked him:

  1. When you look at restaurant social media channels, what are the biggest mistakes you see them making?
  1. The biggest mistake is the lack of respect and understanding not only of social but of digital in our industry. If you look at true e-tailers and broadcasters, our industry of food and drink is light years behind (in the main). However, we should see this as an opportunity as if we (say my restaurant chain) could get it right, then the rewards are massive and you could leapfrog all competition by miles.

Also, there is no rule book, this is all still pretty new and people are playing at it rather than making it a part of their strategy.

We started Spectacular Social this year as we could see the need for  some kind of best practice/innovative agency that lives and breathes food and drink but could still bring 8 years of social media experience to the table (YO! Sushi, Pret and GBK to name a few).

The mistakes that people are making can be avoided by taking a step back and looking at the following as the structure upon which they can build an engaging social presence.

Q: Which channels do you think people should be investing their time in over the next year?

A: No one has a crystal ball so we are staying open-minded, but we are focusing on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. There is no '1 channel' that you should go all in on. It is a mix of channels that are right for you and your business: Instagram to build the beauty of your brand, Twitter for 1-2-1 relationship-building, listening 95% of the time as you will get great feedback and potential sales from setting your listening searches to your brand, product, local area etc. With the local area searches you will see people saying "Anyone know a good pasta place in Reigate?" If you operate there and have good pasta then you can convert them to a sale. Facebook is mainly being used now for targeted advertising. Organic is not dead at all, but it is getting harder and harder to get the reach you need without putting money behind it.

Snapchat is not to be ignored, but marketers and brands have found it super tricky to make it work well for them in the main. It is still very much alive and should be used if it is the right platform for you. But, you need to do more than be ‘salesy’ and just show your product on there 24/7.

What's App is an amazing tool and is one to watch. Advertising on there is happening, plus it is getting used as a VIP channel for brands’ most loyal customers to get offers and news first, plus brands like Small Batch Coffee are using it as a pre- order channel for their customers to click and collect.

For example, due to the beautiful nature of your interiors, Pinterest would be really valuable to you for people to lust after your brand interiors and experience. Linkedin (basically Facebook with a suit) is so powerful now in terms of targeting business people and workers to drive them into your restaurant. It can really help support your other social activity to close the loop for your customers/potential customers seeing you everywhere.

There are other social channels (or we would class them as this) too that need tending to, such as Trip Advisor, Google Reviews, Feefo etc. This is vital to your success as more and more people are driven by these reviews and you will have lost a sale before the customer has even set foot in your restaurant.

You Tube is also a great social platform for hosting your evergreen content and it is the second largest search engine after all, yet 99% of us ignore it and don't leverage the power it has. Searches are going on every second of every day for 'How to make the perfect steak, burger, espresso martini, latte, ramen' etc etc etc. You have a chance to be the go-to brand for trusted food and drink advice. But it takes planning, hard work and a budget as it has to look great. Then you need to work on getting your content to stand out and rank higher.

Mark’s Top Social Media Tips:

I could write for days on this, but here are 12 tips as a kick-off:

  1. Know your brand inside out. How you look, sound and what you stand for. This will give you confidence when posting.
  1. Know your target audience inside out. Their habits, locations, where else they eat and shop, their hobbies, their jobs - everything. Be a stalker. This makes for precise targeting.
  1. Create content by being in venue, not batch-making content then posting it weeks later. It looks, smells and feels stale (because it is). You need to capture those live moments from customers and from teams. Document everything.
  1. Answer everyone that ever interacts with you online. I don't mean a like back. I mean name, creating a conversation as if you were talking to a friend.
  1. Think about how you can talk about the same thing in a million different ways.
  1. Get obsessed about your competition and how they are doing social. You could learn a lot. Steal with pride. But be you, not an imitator.
  1. Repost user content. People have taken the time to promote you. So please promote them and their personal brand.
  1. Don't do the same thing on every channel. The difference and how you should act and speak in every channel is the difference between Scottish and Japanese. Respect each channel.
  1. Ensure your restaurant is 'grammable’ and by that, I mean give reasons for people to post themselves in your environment. If you are ever curious about this, just visit Palm Vaults in Soho and Hackney or any of the Grind coffee shops/cocktail bars. They are a masterclass in this. Your product, teams, signage, interiors, furniture, toilets, uniforms, menus, crockery etc are all ripe for snapping and posting.
  1. Ensure you are putting £5k each month into social for you to have internal/external resource looking after this 24/7/365.
  1. Allow 30-60 minutes to craft each Instagram post. It takes time, so give it the time and attention it deserves.
  1. Make your Instagram stories a story. Don't just throw a flyer or a ‘zoomy in and outy’ picture of your burger up there with some scribbles. It needs to be something worth watching and have a beginning, middle and an end.

Fellow panellist, Libby Andrews, has worked for Vietnamese street food restaurant chain, Pho, since 2010 when they had just three restaurants. After working for them for a few years through an agency she joined them in-house as the Head of Marketing. There are now 25 Pho restaurants across the UK.

Libby has given us a unique peek into Pho’s social media approach. We asked:

Q: What are your most effective social media channels for reaching out? Or is it a carefully balanced mix that wins the bookings?


A: It’s definitely a balance. We have restaurants all over the UK now and we really need to spread the love evenly between Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. It’s important to engage with all audiences on social media though and make sure everything inside the restaurant (print materials, staff training) matches up.

Here are a few examples of the things we might post:

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PRIDE – participating in PRIDE festivals across the country is a natural fit for us. We show up, we dress up, we dance and we sell food. It’s difficult to know if this directly results in bums on seats but it feels right to be involved, and sometimes that’s got to be enough.

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Love Food Give Food – we support Action Against Hunger because it’s a brilliant charity, and for the Love Food Give Food campaign we’re one of the only partners to use branded photo frames on every table – this results in more social media coverage for our brand and theirs during the campaign.

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Snapchat – when Snapchat started to become popular in the UK, I created an account for Pho and started following people and sharing photos. I quickly realised this wasn’t the most efficient way to target those using the platform (Millennials) so we decided to design targeted geo-filters and put a bit of money behind them, to ensure the audience would be seeing/engaging with our brand. It worked, and now we use these filters for many of our campaigns and our restaurant openings.

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Facebook Live – we used this for the first time in Birmingham last month when we took over a local media outlet’s Facebook page to host a scavenger hunt in the city centre — all hints led to a mega free Pho to Go picnic and hundreds showed up. And more than 20,000 people viewed our videos. Uber local approach. Important not to forget about each and every city where we have a restaurant!


Q: What has been your most successful campaign to date?

A: That would have to be the one we won a Catey for this year!


Q: How do you successfully roll out a marketing strategy for a countrywide brand without losing the personal/local touch?

A: I guess I’d have to say the trick is to get staff involved. I am obsessed with the engagement on social media – I always read all of the comments and track the numbers. I pay attention to the people and what they’re saying in every market and always remember that no two markets are the same. We have to maintain some brand rules of course, but customers in Leicester compared to central London are very different.

Q: What would you say are your 3 golden rules for successful marketing in today’s noisy world?

  1. Pay attention to your customers, especially to what they’re telling you/asking you online.  
  1. Don’t be afraid to take risks. It sounds a cliché but doing something new can be a gamble. Just last month we did something we’d never done for the first time (a scavenger hunt for a free picnic in Birmingham, using Facebook live).
  1. Become the customer — watch what your competitors are doing to market their brand. Pay attention to other brands you love, across different industries – you might be surprised how many ideas can be applied to your brand/industry.

Join Mark and Libby for their session “Are your customers getting the message? – hosted by OpenTable” on Wednesday 4th October 12:45pm - 13:30pm. The Stage.



André Mannini is the Operations Director of M Restaurants where they use carefully gathered digital data to make each guest’s experience second-to-none and unique to them. We asked him to tell us a bit more about their approach:

“At M, guest’s profiles are paramount as we have three venues with two members clubs, bars, restaurants, private dining rooms etc. As all the elements of the multi-faceted venues are used by guests as they please, it is vital that we can follow them in the journey and remember their preferences and taste. Using the right technology means we can do this on steroids – across all venues (many of our members and regulars visit more than one sometimes in the same day) and regardless of who is on shift. We collect plenty of facts, favourite dishes, drinks, wines, names of spouses etc so as to give staff and managers tools to create special moments and bespoke experiences, ultimately resulting in better, outstanding hospitality.”

Q: How do you find customers respond to such a personalised and efficient service from the data you’ve collected about them?

A: Very well indeed. I firmly believe that what makes people become ‘regulars’ and go back to the same places they call ‘my favourite restaurant’ isn’t good food or good service. Although you do need those, it’s the recognition, the bespoke experiences, remembering their preferences, ultimately making guests feel special that will establish a long-lasting relationship. Technology can be a great tool to help this process – collecting, organising and sharing data in a smart and efficient way helps the task of our Restaurant and Bar Managers considerably.


Q: Can you give an example of special or bespoke experiences you've been able to provide as a result of your digital personal approach?

A: We have a member who is a regular in one of our members clubs – likes quiet tables and a specific cut of beef that we only do in his ‘home’ club. He visited the other club and without asking he was given a quiet table and was told that the beef in question was made available for him on that day as the booking was spotted and carried data about his preferences. Also, all our members can order their drinks before they get in the club through an app. They can walk in and their drinks are on their table.

Q: Can you directly attribute your use of cutting-edge technology to increase in business and recommendations?

A: It’s hardly measurable, but yes, I think it does improve the guest experience and therefore indirectly can generate repeat business and reputation.”


“Decoding diners’ desires with OpenTable” takes place on Monday 2nd October at 13:45pm - 14:20pm on The Stage.