Black Barn Brings in the Brunch Crowd with Yext
Right in the heart of New York City’s NoMad neighborhood sits Black Barn restaurant — a barn-like, rustic, space that opens up to the greenery of Madison Square Park. The restaurant serves local, farm-to-table creations that spring from the imagination of chef and owner John Doherty, in a casual, modern farmhouse atmosphere. Doherty, who opened the restaurant in 2015, previously served as the youngest and longest running executive chef at the Waldorf Astoria. Doherty likes the challenge — and the freedom — of running a business he started from scratch.
“I loved the Waldorf,” Doherty says. “I started working there when I was 19 years old, and by my early 20’s, I had a real vision for what I wanted to do. I wanted to restore it back to its original glory. It took a long time, but we did it. Then, when I felt like my goal was about to be reached, I started to think what would come next — and my next thing was to have my own restaurant.”
An Entrepreneurial Vision
Doherty’s vision was for a more relaxed dining experience than the high-end glamor of the Waldorf. “I felt the dining public had lost its desire for fine dining restaurants.” he explains. “I really wanted to be able to offer refined food, great wine, and great service, but in a casual and rustic environment — so people could relax and be themselves. It’s taken me by surprise how many people caught on to that right away. People express how comfortable they are here, how relaxed it is, and how refined the food is. So it’s working. Right now, authenticity is the new luxury. When people can be themselves, there’s nothing more luxurious than that.”
“I looked at many spaces for a long time, and I finally found the perfect space and location for what I wanted to do. I knew it was perfect because not only is it big but it’s diverse so we can offer several different experiences under one roof. We have five private event spaces, an open kitchen and a beautiful dining hall.”
Doherty knows that creating demand is about more than great taste. “I tell my staff that the food can be great and the wine can be fantastic and the service can be unbelievable, but at the end of the meal someone gets a check and that’s when they decide if it was worth it or not. That moment is the deciding factor in whether they come back and whether they say to their friend, ‘Hey! You need to go there.’ So value is key, but so is making sure people know we’re here.”
Getting the Word Out
Doherty explains the challenge of helping guests discover his restaurant. “I couldn’t ask for a better location for a restaurant. What is nice about it is the view, which brings tranquility and nature to the restaurant. Everybody walks diagonally through the park and not along the north side. So this is a bit tucked away, and not so obvious, so you can eat on the sidewalk without a million people near you. On the downside, there’s not a lot of foot traffic.”
And that’s why digital marketing and word-of-mouth have been so integral to growing Black Barn’s customer base.
“A lot of our traffic comes from our site and blog, so Google is our main focus right now,” says Gina Doost, who oversees the restaurant’s digital marketing and content strategy. “When you have good content, and when the quality of the experience you offer lives up to your expectations, then it really sells itself. So often we have top notch influencers and major publications in here, dining and throwing events without us having to reach out to them, posting about our dishes, and showing a great deal of interest again and again. This is all so attached to our online presence and to our SEO strength. I really love that John has made such an effort to align his restaurant, and his brand, to what’s happening online.”
With so many offices nearby, diners have enjoyed retreating to Black Barn for a relaxed and satisfying lunch. Key to Doherty’s lunch strategy is knowing what customers care about. “I started asking customers if there was a particular time they needed to leave the restaurant. People really appreciate that, and it helps to grow the business. People at lunchtime are going to pick somewhere they know will get them to their next meeting on time. So you have the people who need to be in and out and the people who want to eat and relax over two to three hours. So we tailor our service to their needs, because what is reasonable is different for everyone. That has really worked for us.”
But even with a strong reputation, Black Barn was struggling with the basics when it came to maintaining its digital knowledge and showing up in local search. “We had people saying, ‘We had no idea that you were here,’ and ‘I thought that this was an Italian restaurant,’” Doherty laughs. “So I realized we needed a platform that would help the restaurant show up — help our physical address and menu options appear — when people searched for food nearby.”
From Missing to the Local Pack in 8 days
Black Barn uses Yext Listings to manage the public facts about its brand. The Yext Knowledge Engine enables businesses like Black Barn to manage the digital knowledge about their people, places, and products across their websites, mobile apps, internal systems, and the entire PowerListings® Network — over 100 maps, apps, search engines, GPS systems, and social networks including Google, Apple, Facebook, Bing, and Yahoo.
“I think one of my favorite things about Yext is the menu feature. Let’s say that I’m in this neighborhood and I’m craving butternut squash ravioli,” says Doost. “I type in ‘butternut squash ravioli,’ and because that’s on our menu and uploaded on Yext, people can find us right away. I don’t know any other platform that can provide that.”
Brunch is a particularly high priority for Doherty. “We’ve got the outdoor seating in the park which is beautiful in the morning, with the sunlight,” he says. “So we’ve got the setting for it. We just needed more people to know that we’re here.
Doherty was introduced to a Yext expert who happened to be eating brunch at Black Barn, and they got to talking about how Black Barn could drum up its brunch business, Doherty quickly signed up with Yext and, once his team uploaded Black Barn’s menu into the Yext Knowledge Manager, the results were immediate.
In fact, just 8 days after they used Yext to sync their menu to Google My Business, the restaurant — after not displaying at all in the top 20 results for “best brunch Madison Square Park” — ranked #2 in the Google local pack. 2 weeks later, Black Barn ranked #1 for the same local search.
Doost shares that “‘Brunch near Madison Square Park’ is such a popular search, so to be one of the top three right now is amazing.”
Doost has found Yext’s people to be one of the most important elements of the solution. “What I love about Yext is that it simplifies everything — dealing with support is like phoning up a friend. I say, ‘Hey, this is what I’m having an issue with,’ and they can go into the platform and see what I see and guide me through to make suggestions. I let them know what my goals are and they say ‘Have you done this? Have you tried that?’ I think that is so phenomenal. Please don’t ever change that!”
“Food, like fashion, evolves,” says Doherty. “And that’s true for the ways that people discover new restaurants, too. How people search for dining experiences has evolved, and we’re doing our best to evolve with it. Yext has done that for us.”