I was in a meeting with a friend who is a prominent entrepreneur last Friday. This gentlemen started his first business (an advertising agency) at a young age and grew it to the point where he could sell it and make a nice buck. He then parlayed that cash into a successful career of starting restaurants/pubs. As a business owner who has advertising experience I was shocked to hear that he does very little advertising outside of the local independent magazine. In fact, his budget is less than $500 a month. He tells me that this is common amongst his industry. Advertising does very little for these kind of businesses. Seeing a billboard for your restaurant a week ago will not influence my decision tonight about where I will go to eat. However I did learn that most of his reticence is due to his lack of time and resources. Like himself, most restaurant owners don’t have the knowledge or the time to manage their marketing strategy. So, they resort to posting things on Facebook & Twitter, often sporadically and with little to no results.

We started talking about the kind of advertising that would be effective. We discussed a recent experience he had with Yelp, the popular online review website. He worked with the local Community Manager of Yelp to host an event for Yelpers where he invited them to try his knew menu and seasonal cocktail list. Although at first he was skeptical about the outcome the Yelp event would have, he explained that was incredibly impressed with the results; here’s why.

He Found a Digital Sweet Spot – unlike Twitter and Facebook, Yelp is largely geared around reviews of restaurants. Yelpers are notorious foodies who love to discover and frequent independent catering consultant. In fact, some of the best reviewed places on Yelp are total hidden gems that without the help of Yelp may have never been shared. And even though Facebook and Twitter are great for branding they reach a wide segment of people from all kinds of demographics. Yelp on the other hand is a digital sweet spot for restaurant owners. Although some see it as a complaint board, smart business owners know this is a gold mine.

He Had Expert Help – as I mentioned, the Yelp Community Manager was there to provide direction and support for the event. My friend did not have to take time out of his busy schedule to organize, plan and execute the minutia of the event; he just had to check-off on the concepts and direction it was heading. This put him in the driver seat without needing to worry about the road. He had the expert on call to help him make decisions and that seemed to make him feel comfortable and more open minded.

It Blended Online & Offline Marketing Strategies – the event was promoted via Yelp’s newsletter and social media channels but a lot of the buzz came from word-of-mouth. People who found out about the event shared it family, friends and co-workers to drive even more awareness. The results was more people at the restaurant than he had all year. This is essentially blending the online and offline promotional model to drive results. My friend has never been happier with a marketing campaign and thanks to an approach that had tangible, visual ROI (people buying food & drink) he could determine immediately if it was worth it. That gave him closure and a willingness to try something else.

What I learned from this that social media and digital marketing can be combined with offline events to create revenue opportunities for restaurants. It’s great to share a happy hour special on a Facebook page but going the extra mile to make it an event is another ball game.

One key takeaway I had was that the hospitality industry would benefit from having a dedicated community manager to organize these kinds of events. This person should have a good mix of both digital and event promotion skills, on and offline. Furthermore, if you are unable to locate such a person or cannot afford to have one on staff, consider reaching out to your local social media mavens to see what opportunities there are.