They don't usually teach Online Marketing 101 in culinary school, but perish the contemporary chef or restaurant owner who doesn't maintain good standing in the digital universe. Yet, cooking a killer coq au vin and serving up an equally appetizing Web presence don't necessarily go hand-in-hand, especially in the increasingly complex and cutthroat world of review sites, mobile and location-based marketing, and social media.
While some smaller businesses -- like tech startups or certain types of professional services firms -- might have a natural online savvy, many local merchants simply don't have the time, resources, or know-how to keep up and keep their business running smoothly. And those that do have the inclination must contend with a constantly growing and changing list of sites and services.
Enter SinglePlatform, a Web-based portal that enables small businesses to manage their online presence on -- you guessed it -- a single platform. Though the company keeps its virtual doors open to local businesses of any kind, its current core market is restaurants and bars. SinglePlatform's founder and CEO, Wiley Cerilli, met regularly with restaurant owners and managers while in charge of merchant acquisition at SeamlessWeb, an online food ordering system he helped start that was later acquired by Aramark.
"With all those conversations I was having, I realized that obviously with technology increasing faster and faster, these restaurants were not catching up at all," Cerilli said in an interview. "They were just getting further and further behind."
The food and beverage industry has an interesting relationship with digital age: While you might place an order or make a reservation online, you're buying a fundamentally offline product. Still, restaurants are increasingly reliant on the Web -- and now the mobile Web -- to attract customers. An establishment might draw in diners from the its own site, its social media presence, its listing on Yelp, daily deals on Groupon, a location-based mobile marketing platform like Foursquare, or all of the above. And that's not to mention the vast menu of online reviews and industry-specific sites such as Menuism, Urbanspoon, or Foodspotting.
"You look across all those different areas, and these small businesses are treading water in a lot of ways just in their business," Cerilli said. "How are they supposed to keep up with all of this new technology?"
SinglePlatform, at least in concept, tries to provide an answer. Its customers log into one location to create and update all of their Web content, such as menus, phone number and address, photos, special offers, and customer communications. New dish on the menu? One update makes the change across the restaurant's site, its Facebook Page, and all of its other online personas. SinglePlatform will also create a simple, design-lite Web site that is optimized for mobile devices -- no Flash, no adornment, just the critical details.