Streak of restaurant closings prompts look at online marketing

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - A recent trend of restaurant closings could be an ominous sign for the Grand Strand economy and in particular restaurants hoping to stay in business through the winter.

"We've had about 40 close so far this year, and about half of those came in August and September, which is unusual," said Becky Billingsley who covers restaurant news for her website

Billingsley has covered the Grand Strand restaurant industry for 15 years, and she said it normally takes until later in the year to reach that number of restaurant closings. She said usually most restaurant closings happen in October, November and December, and that is when the number of closings reaches to around 40 for the year.

So she worries about even more closings coming in the traditional peak time.

Johnnie Wagoner who is a server at Magnolia's restaurant in Myrtle Beach also has concerns. She feels stable in her job, which she has had for four years. However, she knows many more people who work in the restaurant industry who may not be so lucky.

After making her living in restaurants for 25 years, she said she understands how important restaurants are to the Grand Strand economy.

"That is bad for us when they do that, and I know the economy has a lot to do with that," Wagoner said.

Of course, Billingsley also understands the effect restaurant closings have. Not only does it leave employees without a job, each restaurant closing can affect other people too, such as vendors who did businesses with the restaurant.

She says that is a reason she hates hearing economists telling people to not eat out to save money.

"How many of us who live here in the Grand Strand don't know someone who works in the restaurant industry in some capacity?" she asked. "So when you say don't eat a restaurant you're directly hurting your neighbors and friends.

"With the way grocery costs are now, oh my gosh - with five dollars for a jar of mayonnaise and five dollars for a package of ricotta cheese - you can literally go find the specials and the deals at the restaurants and eat less expensively than if you shopped for the groceries yourself and fixed it at home."

Billingsley said one way to find those specials is through restaurants who use online resources for their marketing.

Websites and social media such as facebook and twitter are becoming an essential part of restaurant promotion she said.

Billingsley explained there are many reasons restaurants fail, but one thing almost all have in common is poor marketing. She said the most successful restaurants these days have turned to websites and social media outlets to reach customers directly.

Social media use is something Murray Stahler is working to incorporate into his restaurant at Market Common in Myrtle Beach. Murray's Savory and Sweets is only six months old, so he is working to get the name out to the public. In addition to a website, Stahler has set up a mobile version of the website, and he uses facebook for daily specials and other customer interaction. The restaurant facebook account is also linked to a twitter account.

"We're trying to get our name out there, and since we're a small business we don't have whole bunch of money, a big corporation backing us, so what better way to do it than with social networking, social media," Stahler said.

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