After a year of COVID-19 closures and restrictions, the hospitality sector remains one of the hardest hit industries around the globe, with some restaurants losing as much as 70 per cent of their revenue each month.
With no marketing budgets and a lack of foot traffic, many local eateries have come to rely on social media as their sole method of connecting with customers.
But posting on their accounts can only go as far as their fan base. Thankfully, a burgeoning group of online foodies has stepped up to the plate; sharing recommendations, photos, and the latest takeout deals in an effort to help their favourite restaurants stay afloat.
Likes, Shares & Giveaways
In recent months, a group of like-minded gourmands has formed a Facebook page called “Windsor Food Spotters.” With over 7,600 members and steadily growing, it has become the local source for meal suggestions since it began in January.
“It’s pretty crazy how fast it took off,” says co-creator Shawn Rizk. “But with everyone sitting at home, it was the perfect time to build this online community.”
The page not only gives people the chance to share pictures from their favourite takeout meals, it also offers restaurants a way to reach a broader audience. Many regularly post their menus and specials, and Rizk also works with them to create weekly “behind the scenes” videos to showcase their food.
“I wanted to be able to bring some attention to the places that didn’t have a strong social media presence and get the word out for them.”
Rizk’s goal is to create a fun, positive environment that benefits the restaurant community. He even runs gift card giveaways twice a week from the restaurants he features.
“I’m tired of seeing so much negativity online,” laments Rizk. “I just want to bring everyone together give away some free food. How can anyone argue with that? Food makes people happy.”
Lunch Reports & Dinner Scenes
Sharing food photos and hosting giveaways has become a passion project for local blogger Christina Coletti as well. Since 2015, she’s used her “Scenes From Dinner” social media accounts to highlight some of the best places to eat and drink in our region. With over 12,000 followers, she strives to support restaurants, wineries, tourist events, and up-and-coming chefs.
“I’m so proud to promote local businesses; I love showcasing the restaurants and the different kinds of food this city has to offer,” says Coletti. “I have people message me and ask, ‘where should I go for a first date?’ or ‘where should I meet my friends for drinks?’ It’s a lot of fun.”
Coletti always shared her food adventures on her personal accounts, but was inspired to create her page after a trip to New York City.
“I was having brunch at a restaurant and noticed a group of people taking pictures of their meals and posting them,” recounts Coletti. “I thought, ‘I can do something like that here in Windsor to support our restaurants.’ I started Scenes from Dinner as soon as I got home.”
When COVID-19 hit last year, Coletti made a point to double her efforts, working with businesses to get the word out about how they’ve adapted to the current situation.
“The restaurants need us right now; some are really struggling,” she says. “I’m glad to connect with the community and showcase Windsor the best way I can.”
Cathy Gaudry has also played a pivotal role in the Windsor food scene, doling out daily meal suggestions on her “Lunch Reporter” Facebook page.
It began over a decade ago when Gaudry started her job at a local accounting firm.
“When I was hired, my boss said, ‘don’t bother bringing a lunch, we go out for lunch every day,’” recalls Gaudry.
Like Coletti, she started sharing pictures of her meals on her personal Facebook page, but quickly decided she needed a specific spot to document her food finds.
“I was bombarding people with food every day, so I thought I should probably just make a page,” she laughs.
When COVID restrictions shuttered restaurants, Gaudry and her coworkers switched to takeout.
“Especially with this latest lockdown, I make a point to support at least one local restaurant a day,” says Gaudry. “I like to try something new every day if I can.”
Both Coletti and Gaudry are also active on the Windsor Food Spotters page and love seeing the outpouring of support that their fellow foodies are showing to restaurateurs.
While many restaurants have struggled during the rollercoaster ride of restrictions, others have found success thanks to the spotlight these influencers and groups have shone on their food.
Rico Taco, which has operated mainly at festivals and pop-up events over the past decade, has now blossomed into a full-time takeout operation after likes and shares fueled their success at the WindsorEats Outdoor Food Hall this past summer.
Countless pictures of their drool-worthy churros and birria tacos flooded the internet and created a huge buzz, prompting the family-run business to open a ghost kitchen out of Generations Diner on Ottawa Street.
“My best advertising is social media,” explains owner Armando Armas. “It’s amazing; my customers sharing the food (on Facebook and Instagram) has been great.”
A picture is worth a thousand words and then some according to WindsorEats’ Adriano Ciotoli. Having “Insta worthy” food was a big part of what drove people to the Lanspeary Park event. Like all of their other events, special attention was paid to creating an environment that adds to the overall dining experience and a menu that encourages diners to whip out their phones and snap some pics.
“People eat with their eyes first,” explains Ciotoli. “Visuals are everything. If you’ve got food that stands out and looks delicious, that’s going to encourage people to share.”
More photos, more likes, and more shares translates to more business.
Chef Rosemary Woods, co-owner of The F&B Hospitality Group, says she’s definitely noticed the rise in activity among Windsor’s foodie groups over the past few months.
“My Facebook feed is filled with all these posts,” she laughs. “It’s great.”
Woods says in the beginning of the pandemic, social media became the main way for F&B’s restaurants to update customers on changing restrictions, meal deals, and more.
“It was really the only way we could get in touch with people,” explains Woods. “We started posting a lot more and it helped us quite a bit.”
The group even successfully re-launched two beloved Windsor restaurants during the pandemic and utilized the reach of their F&B and Grand Cantina accounts to spread the word about the openings of Slices Pizza and Taloola Café.
“As soon as we put out the hint that we were re-opening, it just exploded online.”
That cross-posting tactic, combined with buzz from the foodie pages, will undoubtedly help the team drum up excitement about their latest venture: an Asian-themed restaurant called Funky Chow Kitchen, opening later this spring in Walkerville.
“Social media has really taken over as the new word of mouth,” says Woods. “With all these people sharing, the reach is just unbelievable. It will definitely continue to help the industry.”
With restrictions in place for the foreseeable future, supporting local has never been more important. Ordering a meal from your favourite restaurant (and sharing a few pics) not only puts food on your table, it also puts food on theirs.