How to Keep Customers Fed, Watered, Happy and Coming Back for More

Online reviews are vital to Erin Dunham's restaurants

This is the continuing series of articles showcasing how business owners from different industries use marketing to help their companies grow.  This may inspire you to introduce a marketing concept for your business that is not currently used in your industry. This one focuses on the importance of online reviews.

Going for lunch? Dinner? Having a wedding? Need a day at the spa? Hosting a corporate event? If you’re anywhere in the Hamilton, Ontario vicinity, Erin Dunham would love you to visit one of her establishments:

  • Two Black Sheep – an Intimate, rustic-chic bar providing oysters, charcuterie, cheese plates, wine & craft cocktails.
  • The Arlington Hotellocated in beautiful Paris, Ontario, the Arlington Hotel sits across from the Grand River and offers wonderful views of the bustling downtown.
  • The Mule where tacos, tequila and bourbon come to party.
  • Rapscallion is a fresh and vibrant part of Hamilton’s restaurant scene, dedicated to offering culinary connoisseurs a full nose-to-tail experience.
  • Burro Tacoswhere tacos are a dish best served fun, with a side of liquor.
  • Black Sheep Snack Bar  – offering chef-driven bar snacks that will make your mouth happy.
  • Hunter & Co. – their upcoming location in London, Ont. They took their favourite part of Rapscallion and Two Black Sheep and folded them into one pretty package.

Erin is the co-founder and CEO of The Other Bird, a hospitality group based in Hamilton, Ontario. The have six (and counting) different establishments focused on a different, yet similar customers, selling a very understandable set of services: food, drink and accommodation.

Here she shares the glamour of the industry, how social media helps her connect with customers and why producing her own print magazine has done more for customer loyalty than she previously thought.

Ideal customer

Our ideal customer is open minded and willing to be open to new and different experiences. Our restaurants are pushing our customers to try new foods, whether it be tacos the way they are served in Mexico (soft shell, messy and delicious), or small plates of bar food – similar to a Spanish tapas restaurant but served with beer and the local game on TV

How do customers find you?

Historically, our customers have found us organically through word of mouth (the old-fashioned way in our industry) but more recently our customers have found us through media coverage and social media engagement. Put simply, if you are out and about during the day and it is lunch time, if you don’t already have a place in mind to eat at, you’ll probably pull out your phone and see what is open around the area you are in. We’ve had a significant increase in walk-in traffic in all our restaurants just from people seeing us show up in the restaurants listings on Google Maps.

Erin was recently profiled in Breaking Barriers, a book profiling 10 entrepreneurial women, written by Trish Tonaj.

Sales cycle

It is fast and slow(er). The fast sales cycle looks like this: people come in, we feed them, they leave.

The slower sales cycle occurs with a corporate event or wedding — there is a lot more planning on our side to accommodate. As well the customer who would choose to have their event or wedding at The Arlington Hotel would have most likely researched many venues while they were deciding. For such a key event, customers want to feel like they’ve made the right choice and tend to put a lot of research into their venue choice.

In this case we can always direct potential wedding/event customers to one of our other restaurants where they can pop in for lunch or dinner to get the feel of how our businesses run. This experience may give them a bit more comfort in being able to choose us for such an important personal or corporate event.

Biggest misconception about your industry?

People often romanticize our industry. With celebrity chefs on TV and restaurant reviews available 24/7 profiling the “do not miss” dish of the week, the hottest new spot in town, the rise of boutique hotels etc., it could feel to the outsider like it is such a glamourous and fun environment to be a part of.

However, what is not seen are the long hours both for front of house and kitchen staff. Most of our actions — when done well, are thankless — when we slip up, we have the spotlight shon upon our mistake ten-fold and not just between us and the customer but now, widely on social media.

Despite the earnings in tips, this is one of the most underpaid industries for how brutal the work can be – both physically and emotionally. You’ve got hot kitchens, long hours, and always needing to be “on” as you are the host of the party while the establishment is open and serving customers.

Most effective way to promote your business?

Social media has, by far, been the most effective form of promoting our business.  We get to interact directly with existing and potential customers.  

Going 180 degrees away from social, we’re doing a print magazine called Bird. It has been very successful in helping us connect with our customer base and the community around Hamilton, Ontario. We are locally focused and find that consistently connecting with our community has been the best way to build a loyal following and feel like we are part of something contributing to our local area.

Where do you see your industry going?

Well, people will always eat, drink and sleep … so I believe our industry will remain intact.  Our industry in Hamilton is in the midst of a major growth spurt which is quite lovely and there is no where to go but up from here.

Connect with Erin Dunham on LinkedIn. Learn more about her hospitality group at The Other Bird. Drop in for a delicious meal at one of her restaurants soon!

NIM notes on online reviews

Search for any one of Erin’s six businesses on Google and you’ll see that each of them have many online reviews. Most of them are great. People are really enjoying their time and have taken a moment to say so on social media.  However what is really excellent to see is the response to the small number of less than positive reviews.

They were handled quickly, politely and online for all to see that Erin’s companies really do attend to their customers’ complaints. This screenshot was from their Arlington Hotel. You’ll notice the negative review came in and was rapidly responded to.


Tips for online reviews:

  • Ask – most of your customers would be happy to leave you an online review. They just get busy, forget or are not sure what you mean by “online review.”
  • Make it easy for them by directing them to Google, Facebook, Yelp or another review site important to your business. Positive reviews do make you look good but they also help those who don’t yet know about you/your business feel better about taking a chance on you. Work with a company that can set up an ongoing online review campaign for your business
  • 73% of consumers form an opinion by reading up to six reviews ,vs. 64% in 2014 (source)
  • Monitor – be sure to keep an eye on your reviews that come in. If folks have taken the time to leave a great review about working with you or about the products you sell, take the time to thank them.
  • Negative reviews – respond as soon as you can to let the customer (and anyone else who can see the online review – everyone) know you are dealing with their complaint. If you’d prefer to solve the problem privately or offline, you can always ask that the customer call or email you directly so you can solve their complaint.
  • 68% of consumers trust reviews more when they see both good and bad scores. (source)

Your company’s online reviews:

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Jen Kelly is a marketing consultant in Toronto.

She leads New Initiatives Marketing Inc. (NIM) an outsourced marketing agency serving clients in Canada and the USA.

Contact us today for a no-obligation conversation about how the right marketing can help your company grow, and how online reviews would support your business.

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