Can AI & ChatGPT Help Bar/Restaurant Marketing?

There’s been a lot of buzz recently about artificial intelligence (AI) and especially ChatGPT.  Although this article is written by a real-life person, the AI available to us these days can write entire articles, homework assignments, or social media campaigns—all in seconds.

I wanted to gauge its accuracy, so I typed, “Write a 1000-word article on restaurant marketing myths,” into the ChatGPT engine, and the results were impressive…kind of. I asked it to spit something out based on opinions, not necessarily facts, so the results were interesting to say the least.

The AI-generated article mentioned that social media has lost its effectiveness over the years and should never be the only form of marketing your restaurant does. I wholeheartedly agree. However, it failed to mention that third-party social media pages have become way more effective than the restaurant’s own social pages. Social media has been dead for quite a while, with the exception of bloggers, influencers, or people in the restaurant media who write posts or articles on behalf of your restaurant for a fee. Finding the right one, who isn’t trying to rob you blind for one post, is the problem. Pay these influencers at your own risk; I’ve heard enough horror stories over the years to steer clear of this route altogether.

The AI response also mentions that, “word of mouth is The Holy Grail of restaurant marketing,” which I wrote, almost word-for-word, in my book series titled Restaurant & Bar Marketing. Since my books are sold online, did it take the excerpt straight out of my book? Possibly, sure. I’m also likely not the only one that has written those words so it may have been coincidental. Very weird to see though. As the ChatGPT article mentions, word of mouth is good, but only if your product and consumer experiences are also good. Well, no kidding. Seems rather obvious and a waste of time to mention this detail. 

The most blatant contradiction of the AI article regarding discounts mentions, “Discounts can train your customers to expect lower prices, making it harder to raise your prices in the future.” Then, while talking about the importance of repeat customers, it mentions, “Offer your regulars a discount so they’ll make a return visit.” This contradiction makes zero sense. The article is suggesting (against its earlier advice) to discount a customer already willing and able to pay full price. Obviously not a great business practice. 

Related: How to Automate Your Restaurant (Without Sacrificing the Humanity)

The fact remains that without new customers, a business cannot grow or scale. Regulars are great, but if you’re non-existent in a Google, Yelp, or Tripadvisor search in a tourist community, your days are numbered. Don’t end up serving the best prime rib no one’s ever heard of. 

Tourists or people who are new to your area will find you through word of mouth or an online search—plain and simple. If you don’t offer an outstanding customer experience, word of mouth is out the window. If you’re on page four of a “restaurants near me” search on Google, those tourists will never find you.

There are other points in the article that were just plain nonsense, but that’s where a discussion based on opinion is bound to end up. There are certain subjects out there that require an actual human brain and real people, and the subject of marketing a restaurant or bar is 100% one of them. Had I typed in, “Recount the events surrounding the Fukushima disaster,” the article would have most likely been spot-on or very close to it. Historic events are based on fact, and AI bots are way better with fact than opinion.

AI and ChatGPT are going to be game-changers for the way we communicate and do business. 2023 will be the year that communication changed for humans. Going forward, we will have to wonder if we’re talking to a real person or a computer—it’s that good. 

These platforms, however, are based on what humans have said in the past. They are based on all of our own articles, social media posts, homework assignments, news stories, discussion forums, and any other online communication. So AI is, in essence, a giant computer regurgitating what we’ve all said online in the past. Like the old adage says, “Just because it’s on the internet, doesn’t make it true.” What AI can’t do well (at least so far) is weed out the BS from the truth.

ChatGPT can be a huge help in certain situations, however. Instead of paying a copywriter to come up with copy for the “About Us” section of your website, simply type in, “Tell me about the ____ restaurant located in ____,” and see what it has to say about your place. Most of the time, this produces some pretty amazing, and usually search engine friendly, content!  Since Google loves robust content with keywords included using the right concentration, using this tool for designing a website is a no-brainer.

When it comes to restaurant marketing techniques that actually drive business, trust your gut. Your habits when on vacation are probably the same habits that tourists in proximity to your restaurant also use. What do you do when you’re a hungry tourist? Double down on that. If a marketing technique being pitched to you sounds fishy, or sounds like something you would never use when on the other side of the equation, run. Your instincts that have gotten you this far are your best ally and definitely not computer generated.   


Erik Shellenberger is the owner of Bar Marketing Basics. He has been in the restaurant and bar industry since he was 13 years old working for his mother in the food & beverage department at a local ski resort in Park City, Utah, where he grew up. He has held every position from dishwasher to bartender to marketing director and everything in between. With a decade of corporate marketing experience, he has gone from student to teacher and runs Bar Marketing Basics and has quickly grown his client base from his home town of Scottsdale, Arizona, to across the nation with clients as far away as the east coast.


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