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9 More Ways Restaurants Can Use Social Media
For foodservice operators who still aren’t sure how to work social-networking sites to their advantage, R&I shares a host of helpful ideas straight from the trenches.
Allison Perlik, Senior Editor — Restaurants and Institutions, 10/26/2009
Americans have nearly tripled the amount of time they spend at social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, according recent research from The Nielsen Company. In August 2009, 17% of all time spent online was spent at social-networking sites, up from 6% in August 2008. Yet even as social media’s profile continues to rise, plenty of foodservice operators still aren’t quite sure how this trend can work to their advantage. R&I offers these nine industry-specific ideas:
1. Find employees.
Posting information on social networks about available positions isn’t just easy and free; it also reaches a targeted audience of people who already are interested in your operation, many of whom likely are in the industry. “It’s more up to date than what Monster.com or other [sites] could do,” says Curtis Duffy, executive chef of Avenues at the Peninsula Chicago Hotel. Duffy recently hired some front-of-house staffers he found via Facebook. “You can constantly put it up there every hour, every day, every minute. And you’re not paying anybody. And my 500 people who see it will know another 500 [they can pass it on to], and so on.”
How can you do it in 140 characters or fewer? Check out these examples of recent job-related posts on Twitter:
- From Bobby Flay (@bflay): We are now hiring all staff for Bar Americain at Mohegan Sun in CT. Join us at our job fair this week.
- From Michael Kornick’s Chicago flagship(@mkchicago): Getting busy! NOW HIRING: Host, bartender, AM Cleaner, Line Cook (2 yrs of fine dining exp for line cook req). Email firstname.lastname@example.org
- From Chef Phillip Foss of Lockwood Restaurant at Chicago’s Palmer House Hilton: (@phillipfoss) Please RT. Still looking for a sous. 411 on the blog – http://thepickledtongue.com…
2. Get feedback on new menu items.
Fast-casual chain Qdoba Mexican Grill now includes input received via Facebook and Twitter in its menu research and development. Doug Thielen, manager of nontraditional marketing for the Wheat Ridge, Colo.-based company, told the Denver Business Journal that when the restaurant tests new menu items, he monitors what fans and followers say about them. “We’ve even tweaked recipes and added menu items based on feedback we’ve gotten from fans on Facebook and Twitter,” he told the Journal. “We recently put out a tweet saying, ‘Hey, guys, what would you like to see new on the Qdoba menu?’ and within 10 minutes, we had 170 suggestions.”
3. Spread good ideas throughout the restaurant system.
Social networks aren’t beneficial just for external communications. Oak Brook, Ill.-based McDonald’s Corp. connects its operators around the world through an online community called Mindshare, through which store owners share information and best practices in blog posts, wikis and threaded discussions. It’s an idea that can work for multiunit concepts large and small.
4. Promote a new cookbook.
Celebrity chef Rocco DiSpirito is using Twitter to get feedback from followers on his upcoming cookbook, which will share more-healthful approaches to popular recipes. He’s asking for opinions on everything from which dishes he should include in the book to the number of calories a brownie can contain and still be considered low-cal. The new-media-savvy approach will make his cookbook more relevant and “will hopefully inspire more people to pick up a spatula,” DiSpirito told The Associated Press.
Among his recent tweets on the topic (from @roccodispirito) are:
- Just got this request for new book “healthy version of beef nachos, loaded down with all the goods…cheese, sour cream, guacamole.” DONE!
- Do you prefer hard or soft chocolate chip cookies?
- Some of the before and afters are astonishing, like chicken & dumplings b4: 845 cals/after 288 per portion, fried chicken b4 905/after 195
- Would you prefer a brownie with low fat or low sugar or just lower calories in general? Also how important is it to remove the white flour?
- How do you feel about including healthy versions of pop sauces like tartar sauce, hollandaise, mayonnaise, blue cheese, marinara, ranch etc?
5. Encourage trial of new menu items.
After introducing its latest menu addition, SweetFire Chicken Breast, quick-service Chinese chain Panda Express offered its Facebook fans printable coupons for free entrée-sized portions. Not only did the promotion help the Rosemead, Calif.-based company drive traffic and spread the word about the new dish—about 25,000 coupons were redeemed—but also Panda received instant feedback (positive and negative) in the form of more than 100 comments from Facebook users.
6. Use employees as brand ambassadors.
Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill, an Orlando-based casual-dining chain, taps social-media-savvy staff members to spread enthusiasm—and information—about the brand. The company selects an employee from each of its 68 locations as a “Web host” to create Facebook and MySpace pages, as well as a dedicated Web page, for his or her location. Mark Unger, new-media creative director for Smokey Bones’ agency of record, told AdAge.com that across the Facebook, MySpace and corporate pages, the chain is adding about 2,200 followers each month.
7. Maintain a direct dialogue with customers—and reach potential new ones.
If recently named “Top Chef Master” Rick Bayless can find the time to share thoughts, menu inspirations and advice regularly on Twitter, so can just about anyone in foodservice. Frequently responding to followers’ questions and comments keeps the Chicago-based chef top of mind and offers him—and his restaurants—a whole new level of accessibility. Among recent tweets from @Rick_Bayless
- A fave dish on Frontera menu now:woodgrilled pork loin n guajillo sauce w queso anejo tamales&bacon-rstd chayote http://twitpic.com/lml87
- Braised pork loin in tmtllo sauce! RT @GregLaketek RT just bought heirloom tomatillos from green city!Suggestions?! http://twitpic.com
- Moist batter (like cake batter); enough fat (3 pts masa/1 pt fat RT @benmalone1908: @Rick_Bayless How do you keep tamales frm getting 2 dry?
- I’ll be around RT @krel69 @Rick_Bayless I’m in from Seattle and going to Xoco tonight. Will you be there? That would be too cool.
8. Update your community and customers on a variety of projects—from opening new restaurants to rebuilding old ones.
A 40-plus-year-old landmark restaurant in its hometown, Brennan’s of Houston has been closed since its building was destroyed in a fire when the city was hit hard by Hurricane Ike last September. Since May, the restaurant’s staff has been sharing the details of the rebuilding process through a blog on its Web site and regular Facebook and Twitter postings (many with photos), helping ensure that customers will be ready and waiting when its doors open once again. The latest enthusiastic updates from @BrennansHouston track the restaurant’s slow but sure progress:
- http://twitpic.com/jqoie – Guys finishing the roof & framing out our beautiful new window that will be above the grand staircase!!
- http://twitpic.com/imedt – Our roof steel is here!!! It’ll start going up next Monday when the crane gets here!! Yeah!!!
- http://twitpic.com/6xdpr – Holey patio! The guys are diggin’ the foundation support holes!
9. Boost excitement—and traffic—by sharing information.
Create unique contests, coupons and giveaways; share menu inspirations; and RT (retweet) positive feedback from customers, as illustrated by these examples:
- @CentroVinoteca: Our Twitter word this week also happens to be one of our weekly specials. Mention the fish “Orata” and this tweet to get a free prosecco!
- @CafeBaBaReeba: Win a free Pintxo Platter by becoming a fan of Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba! and writing on our wall “Pintxos Por Favor”!
- @MonAmiGabiChi: Write on our wall your favorite soup at Mon Ami Gabi Chicago to be entered to win a dinner for 2!… http://bit.ly/pQ73K
- @Boqueria: Please show some love and vote for us in @CitysearchNYC “Best of Small Plates” category!! Polls close tomorrow. http://bit.ly/3O8WbK
- @urbansolace: THANKS RT @SDIndyDining Had an amazing dinner last night @urbansolace …! Incredible food…so if you havent been there, definitely go
- @provincechicago: http://znl.me/5FQ36 Chantrelles look perfect for tomorrows market menu!
- @curtisduffy: Start of the new Beet dish! Now time to refine! http://yfrog.com/0r4gvj