Resilience and digitisation, the key to success for the world's oldest restaurant

For Antonio González and his family, Botín is more than just a business, it’s another member of the family. Antonio and his family are the third generation to run this Madrid institution: the oldest restaurant in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Botín, which began operations in 1725, is where the final scene of Ernest Hemingway’s most famous novel takes place. It’s where Hemingway spent plenty of time himself. He was a particular fan of the family-run restaurant’s most famous dish, roast suckling pig. So delicious is this dish that Ingrid Betancourt, the Colombian presidential candidate famously held captive by narco-terrorists in the Amazonian jungle for six years, said the thought of dining on it again in Madrid is what helped keep her going at a time of immense stress (she eventually got her wish).

Endurance is a theme that reappears many times across the history of Botín and its owners. Nowhere is this attribute captured more astutely than in its restaurant’s oven. It has burned continuously since 1725, enduring through the Spanish civil war and more than one major global pandemic. “Even when our restaurant was forced to close for two months during COVID-19, we still came in and fired the oven every single morning,” Antonio recalls. “It was important for us to show everyone we were still here and that we would still endure, no matter what.” This defiant perseverance is a hallmark of Antonio’s 18th-century institution—and, as he and his family discovered during COVID-19, 21st-century digital tools help make it possible.

Botín entered the digital world about 15 years ago with the launch of a website. In the years that followed, the restaurant updated its presence online with maintenance of a Google My Business page and use of social media networks. The restaurant also began integrating new tools on its website. “These digital tools were already becoming important before the pandemic, because our bookings were coming more and more through the internet,” Antonio says. They also helped the restaurant grow. “We had the best sales in our restaurant’s 300-year history,” Antonio recalls. “We also had the most clients ever, at about 600 per day, with tourists accounting for nearly 70% of the total.” Then, in March 2020, the restaurant’s sales collapsed instantly as tourists returned home and lockdowns went into effect. “It felt like a catastrophe,” Antonio recalls.

The restaurant quickly implemented a special online delivery service through its website. The restaurant’s team used online platforms to keep in touch internally, such as Google Meet, and turned to a range of communication tools externally. Google Ads, search engine optimization, social media, and email all became important elements of the restaurant’s efforts to maintain visibility while also ensuring ongoing channels of communication. “We had to keep visible with our community and we had to let our customers know that we were still here waiting for them,” Antonio says. “Digital tools were very important in this effort.”

With the worst of the pandemic now behind him, Antonio is proud to declare that Botín is still here once again. Customers are returning. And, as time moves forward, so will his restaurant’s adoption of digital capabilities.

We may be the world’s oldest restaurant, but we see the value of these next-generation tools. I have no doubt that we will continue to use more of them heading into the future.

ANTONIO GONZÁLEZ, Owner, Casa Botín

Location

Madrid, Spain

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