Food review in the virtual world
Going out for a special dinner and getting second-rate food or an awful service can be a big disappointment. If you are eating out, you want to make sure the dining spot is worth your while. You do not have to waste your money and time on that stale chicken or watered down drink.
Today more than ever, modern day consumers want to know that they can trust businesses to provide a great experience before deciding to make a purchase, use their service, or even visit the place of business.
There is a clear trend of consumers using local online review sites (websites, channels or groups). Big or small, these review sites focus on niches covering specific matters from vehicles to fashion or from tech to books. The sites gather and post reviews from fellow consumers and users about businesses, products or services.
This access to real-time information can change everything for businesses. And when it comes to restaurants and eateries, these review sites, are the new strain of influencers. They are often multidimensional, often operating on Facebook, Telegram and Instagram.
You can discover new restaurants, view a constantly updated food list, choose the food that looks the most appetizing through photographs, compare which restaurant suits your budget, pick the most convenient according to your location and get reviews from people who already went there; making it easier for you what and where to eat before going there.
One such site is Sheger Gebeta. A pioneering site that first launched on July, 2017, progressively becoming the third largest Telegram channel worldwide (in the food and beverage category). With more than 73, 000 followers (on telegram alone) using it on various devices and posting more than 2,500 restaurant observations a month, it has become one of the major forces in the local restaurant industry.
“A love of food is the most important factor of course but it started out simple.” Elshaday Wubetu, founder of Sheger Gebeta said, “Usually, my friends and I had trouble deciding where to go and unwind, and then we wanted to know how much money we needed before going there.”
The channel gives equal attention to the fancy white tablecloth restaurants and the small budget-friendly vendors that cater for college students, acknowledging the comparative service and price of a very cheap dinner over the very expensive one. “My mission is to represent the interest of typical diners, whether they ate at blue-collar places or expensive restaurants.”
“Despite thousands of options in the city, sometimes you have trouble deciding where to go. If i see a delicious looking food item, I will definitely want to know where it’s from and how much it costs,” said Liyou Tamrat, 28. “So my friends and I always check the site first, not just the photos and price but the attached Google map (geotag) to check if the place has any branches around us.”
“What do I want today?” said Elshaday, “It’s as simple as that. If for example, a person is craving a burger, he/she probably knows a handful of places, but there are hundreds of burger joints in the city that might offer a better burger for a lower price. What we want is to provide these options.”
When a person posts a picture of a juicy steak, consumers are drawn to the photograph and can easily click for more information. “They can check out the menu, the restaurant’s specialities, check if it is suitable for a date or a business meeting, whether it has Wi-Fi or a suitable parking?” Elshaday said.
The site gets an average of 16,000-17,000 views per day. Unlike commercials that run on television or radio, people who search on these sites are not just browsing the web, they are actively looking for a place to shop or eat. And when they do visit, they are backed with the real and urgent intention to purchase.
“We tried newspaper and radio commercials,” said Tigist Tesfaye, owner of The Canteen Restaurant and Catering, “but our survey showed that most of our clients came from Sheger Gebeta. The followers trust their reviews and it’s a revolutionary way of reaching our audience. As a new restaurant, it made a very positive impact on our business, not only did we welcome more customers, but the clientele became more diverse in age groups and social status.”
“Thousands of people follow these sites, so if a place gives off a good impression, opinions can easily be made. A single photo or a couple of comments can translate into a massive impact,” said Efrem Mengesha, a marketing consultant. “After reviews or posts made by users, restaurants usually burst with new customers. The restaurant’s foot traffic and value of visit would never be the same again.”
“If I thought a restaurant was terrible, I would probably not review it, but if I have to, I just post ‘not recommended’” Elshaday said.
“We are not critics; it’s really not about criticizing restaurants or driving quick sales. We just build a picture for consumers, we let them know what to expect. We let consumers know that they have options, and that makes restaurants evolve, it forces them to put a lot of effort into the food and service.”
Restaurant owners are quickly wizening up to the usefulness of publicity resulted from social media and the internet. “There are a lot of restaurant owners on the channel; some reach out to boost their visibility, some ask for comments and some offer discount for our users.” Elshaday said.
“Since being featured in Sheger Gebeta, our customers have immensely grown” said Daniel Mengestu, owner of Dabi’s Café & Restaurant. He believes that it is a great way to instantly reach a wide range of people.
Many restaurants have now the power of influence over their consumers, especially if they make good first impressions.
“It is a great way to get discovered online, a good way to check whether we are in check with our crowd, if you can get customers to leave you positive comments, your business will grow. Even if it is a bad review, it gives you a second chance to improve and engage your customers.” said a manager of one prominent cafe in Bole. “Of course watching people take photographs of food for ten minutes is not fun. It’s an illness that’s just here right now, and I guess we have to deal with it for the sake of our business.”
Elshaday emphasizes on the importance of image, “No one wants to post a picture that is unattractive. Restaurants have to create a visual brand from the food to the interior design, from the service to the atmosphere. These are visibly good reasons why people use restaurants.”
“Whatever your industry, having a positive online presence gives you key advantages. The immediacy of these reviews and the personalized responses also mean that they give your company or brand a face that can be trusted” Efrem said.
Just a decade ago the city’s food scene couldn’t have been more different than it is today. Even calling it a scene would have been absurd. A handful of restaurants had names widely recognizable by the general public, and those restaurants were either acknowledged to the elite or to the people who lived in their provinces. But with small and big businesses finally getting the chance to be in the conversations, the industry is at a moment where it can be reshaped.