To Eat or Tweet: How Social Media Has Changed Dining Out

It’s lunch time, you’re looking for a place to eat, you don’t have reservations. What’s the first thing you do? Check Urbanspoon or Yelp on your mobile phone for nearby hot restaurants.

Social media has changed the face of the dining industry, shifting the power of restaurant reputation management from publicists to consumers. That’s the way it should be. After all, if customers are footing the bill for food and ambiance, they should get a say in a restaurant’s reputation.

Phones Over Forks

Not long ago, before the prevalence of social media, your phone was on the dinner table because you were expecting a call. Now, if your phone is on the table, it’s because you’re going to Tweet a picture and pithy comment (under 140 characters!) about your food. Instantly, the restaurant that you’re eating at gets a review, broadcasted to all your followers on multiple social networks.

How does this influence the restaurant? Plating has reached new heights of innovation and beauty, more often than not, restaurants are using their plates as canvases with the food stylistically placed around the plate just for that photo op when the dish hits the table and your phone is posed over the plate before your fork.

The consumer can scream a message to the world in mere seconds, with photo evidence and maybe even video. Nothing is more effective marketing than a juicy photo of a sizzling steak or a fresh, colorful salad.

Restaurant Reputation

Consumers can do so much more than just post photos to Twitter and Facebook to praise (or harm) a restaurant’s reputation with a click of a camera phone. Other social media platforms also include Foursquare, Instagram, Path and the intricate network of bloggers on Urbanspoon and Yelp.

Instagram and Path allow users to post photos to their followers. Both social platforms can also link to Facebook and Twitter as well as Foursquare, indicating the exact restaurant and location where the photo was taken. It’s pretty much a quick, instant restaurant review. This takes the word-of-mouth recommendation to an international scale.

I’m sure I am not the first to admit that I have planned international trips based on other food bloggers’ reviews and photos. In addition to full-blown blog reviews, Foursquare is also a great resource with a special section for consumers to post tips and comments about the places they visit, i.e. favorite dishes.

Food Bloggers

Urbanspoon and Yelp are supported by consumers, most of which are food bloggers. Who isn’t a food blogger these days, or a ‘foodie,’ a term that applies to practically anyone who eats. Foodies consider themselves experts, whether they have formal culinary training or not, and they’re not shy about telling the world about good and bad dining experiences. Urbanspoon even has listings of top bloggers in almost every major English speaking city in the world.

Food blogging has altered the dining experience, built communities of food enthusiasts and created a new breed of diner: the snap happy, social media savvy, food blogger. The food blogger is now armed with the authority to raise a restaurant’s reputation or expose a restaurant’s faults with a few keystrokes and amplified social media messages. The City of Richmond in Canada believes in the concept so much that the city launched a high profile (promoted by social media, of course) job search to find a food blogger to eat and blog for 365 days about the restaurants in Richmond. After many Tweets, a Facebook public voting poll and Skype interviews, the lucky candidate is Lindsay Anderson. I can’t wait to see her blog posts!

If anyone watches the popular Food Network TV show, Eat St., you’ll notice that almost every other customer being interviewed on screen is a food blogger. Food bloggers are taking over the restaurant review scene, with social media as their prime tools of communication.

Now back to the original question, where are we going to eat? Let’s check Urbanspoon.

For more on food according to the Urbanspoon‘s #1 bloggers, check out:

Who’s your favorite food blogger? Let us know in the comments.