Interview with Thomas Blythe

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We recently ran a feature of the Top 100 Restaurants Using Twitter. These restaurants get it. They understand that in order to be successful on Twitter it takes more than just tweets. Success on Twitter requires time, dedication and most importantly interaction. Thomas Blythe, the General Manager for both St. JOHN and St. JOHN Bread and Wine  takes care of  Twitter. He has been with the restaurant since 1996 as a chef, has worked the front of the house initially as restaurant manager, then general manager and has worked closely with Fergus Henderson and Trevor in developing the business. He knows the place inside out which makes him the perfect voice for St. JOHN. We ranked the restaurant 30 out of 100. I’d like to thank Thomas for taking the time to answer some of my questions on the restaurant’s success with social media.

FriendsEat:  What was your first reaction when you heard of Twitter?

Thomas Blythe: I could see that Twitter could potentially be a very useful tool in terms of how it functions and a good way of keeping in touch with our customer base, peers, colleagues in the industry and, of course, beyond.

FE: When did your restaurant start using Twitter?

TB: We joined Twitter on April 23rd 2009.

FE:  Can you share with us the first Tweet? Was it hard composing the first Tweet?

TB: I’m afraid I can’t remember the first tweet I posted. Possibly something along the lines of ummmm… hello.

FE:  How important is Twitter in your restaurant business?

TB: It’s not vital to our business per se, we do what we do which is to offer guests simply prepared, seasonal, indigenous food and excellent wine with accomplish but informal service. Twitter is a tool that allows us to reach out to a wider audience globally than we might otherwise be able too. We know from experience that diners have chance to visit us on a certain days because that morning’s posts have highlighted a certain dish on the days menu which has struck a note with them and it has be to a certain degree in terms of recruiting staff for both our restaurants.

FE:  Has Twitter significantly contributed to the restaurant? How?

TB: It’s rather hard to gauge to be honest, it’s a great way to receive feedback from guests, be it positive or negative – though of course we would rather if its negative that guests register their concerns whilst at the restaurant so we can immediately to put things right. Perhaps it has raised awareness of what we do in areas that would otherwise maybe not be reached by us. I don’t doubt it has in some small way resulted in an increase to our turnover but as I say, not the easiest thing to gauge.

FE:  Your restaurant is very active on Twitter, how much time do you devote daily to this task?

TB: In restaurants there is time spent travelling which is a good moment to post some interest to our followers. The first thing I do every morning is walk in to the kitchens and wish the chefs a good morning, there’s usually something exciting going on in the mornings’ preparations, butchery, fish coming in, bountiful crates of herbs, fruit and vegetables so that seems just the right moment to take a few snaps to post later in the morning or afternoon, whenever the day permits a few quick posts.

FE:  You make that sound so exciting. How is the interaction with other people on Twitter?

TB: It’s a brilliant way of communicating with guests, with our friends and colleagues in the restaurant world. Generally speaking exchanges are either enthusiastic, humorous and positive. Like any public forum, if you join in you leave yourself open to an abusive or offensive post – the ‘block’ button is rarely used but hand such rare missives directed at us.

FE:  What advice would you give to a restaurant that is just starting to use Twitter?

TB: ‘tweeters’ for restaurants should, in a way, think of themselves as reporting from the front line. Although it’s words on a screen, words none the less need to have some personal involvement that translates to the reader. Keep it quirky, express yourself, ‘back of house’ posts seem to be the most popular, in the kitchen with the chefs. The ‘foodie’ population of Twitter are many in number and seem to love the ‘behind the scenes’ element of what a restaurant does.

FE:  Was there any memorable Twitter-related incident that will go down with the history of the restaurant?

TB: Hmmmm… nothing springs to mind that I think will forever be etched in the memories of us here. Perhaps Tweeting from Barcelona, especially around our trip to El Bulli in 2009 will, it was great to be able to share that extraordinary experience with our followers.

FE:  Have you ever experienced anything negative from Twitter? How did you handle it?

TB: Only the spambots. Again, the block button comes in very useful.

FE:  What is your opinion on the validity of Twitter as an effective tool in marketing the restaurant?

TB: It’s free, it takes a minute to post 140 characters or a picture that reaches up to 7000+ (in our case) would be diners or regulars and seems to be ever growing. I think the potential to use Twitter to your businesses advantage is palpable. How to make a substantial financial contribution to your turnover in terms of cash? I think that’s yet to be discovered.

FE:  Do you see Twitter as a long-term component in your restaurant’s activities?

TB: It would be nice to think that, should I ever leave St. John, someone would pick up the baton but who knows?

FE:  What do you find are the most effective tweets?

TB: It would seem that anything that features shots of the chefs going about their work or about new ideas for dishes get the most positive reactions.

FE:  Do you see any changes or modifications in the future as to the Tweet content of your restaurant?

TB: Only as the business evolves. It doesn’t influence what we do, we have a very clear notion of that St. John is about and that is not led by social media.

FE: How active do you get in order to increase your number of followers on Twitter? Does it even matter?

TB: The occasional competition when a milestone number of followers has been reviewed. We recently ran a competition on reaching 7000 friends. Otherwise is really just trying to keep followers engaged and ensuring the quality of posts are consistently worth reading.

FE:  Have you studied the profile or demographic of your Twitter followers?

TB: I occasionally look down the list of followers but 7000 is hard to keep tabs on. The more and more diverse they are the merrier.

FE:  Has there been an unexpected result from using twitter?

TB: Getting ranked No.1 restaurant Twitter account in the UK of course.

FE:  Can you share with us the most effective or interesting Tweet of your restaurant?

TB: Trying to promote our new bakery in Druid Street seems to have been succesful in terms of getting customers down to the new site on Saturday mornings to shop and to support the growing market scene down there.

FE:  If your restaurant can get a celebrity to Tweet about it, whom would you choose?

TB: No one. We don’t court the favours of celebrities or indeed suppliers or journalists.

FE:  Do you use other social networking sites other than Twitter to promote your restaurant?

TB: We have a ‘fan’ page on Facebook and of course our websites.

FE:  If your restaurant can contribute to improving Twitter to provide certain features, what would those be?

TB: If we could invent a method for eliminating spambots we’d be happy to share that with the Twitter community. Alas not so far, working on it.

St. John is located at 26 St. John Street, London EC1M 4AY (020 7553 9843)

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Blanca Valbuena
I am one of the co-founders of FriendsEAT. Obviously, I love to eat. Other passions include A Song of Ice and Fire, Shakespeare, Dostoyevski, and Aldous Huxley.
Blanca Valbuena
Blanca Valbuena

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