Plates & Updates 

Restaurants make use of social media.

What does Chef Ben put on all of his tomatoes before they leave our kitchen?" This was Grace restaurant's Facebook update on October 28th. The person who answered correctly was promised a $50 gift certificate.

Over 200 guesses (ranging from sea salt to mini cucumbers), one hour, and one hint later, someone finally got the right answer: gastrique. Since then, chef/owner Ben Vaughn has been doing food and wine trivia giveaways about once a week.

Christiana Leibovich, who participated in the tomato quiz, was endeared by it. "It made me feel like they were fun, and I liked connecting with the owner/chef," she says.

Vaughn also updates with pictures of dishes, specials, and general restaurant info. "It really creates fan ownership for Grace," he says. "When customers come in for lunch or dinner, they kinda already know me and feel like it's their place."

The user-friendly formats of Facebook and Twitter have made them especially popular with restaurants. David Lindsey, director of marketing for Sekisui, Inc., says, "With Facebook and Twitter, we don't have to give away anything to gain fans. The effects of viral marketing that are built into social networking sites do the work for us."

Deni Reilly says that when she first created the Majestic Grille fan page, she sent it out to just her group of friends. Those friends sent it to their friends and so on. "In a few days we had hundreds of members that I didn't know," Reilly says. "The people who sign up as fans of your page are genuinely interested, so you've already got a built-in target audience."

Reilly says she was hesitant about using Twitter at first. She says, "I figured, other than my mother, who really cares that much?" After some research and requests from her guests, she added Twitter to the marketing plan but in a very specific way. "Every morning, we tweet our lunch or brunch specials and, in the late afternoon, our dinner specials, and people love it." Reilly says.

What Lindsey appreciates most about Facebook and Twitter is that most any restaurant manager can learn to use the services in about five minutes. "It doesn't cost anything, and I don't have to provide tech support," he says.

Colleen Couch-Smith and Ben Smith of Tsunami like having the ability to get feedback on things that are in the works. "It gives us a good audience to sound off ideas to as well as a place for our customers to have a voice," Colleen says.

The folks at the Cove credit its Facebook page for helping people become aware of their specials and promotions, but, like the Smiths, they've really benefited from the feedback they receive on Facebook. Mike Grabman, "the really tall bartender" who updates the bar's page, says, "It gives the customer a unique opportunity to communicate their wants and desires for what the Cove should be. It is as much their place to hang out and feel comfortable as it is our place."

Christopher McRae, owner/operator of Main Street Hound Dogs and the "best-looking purveyor of hot dogs, fresh squeezed limeades, soups and hot drinks on the corner of Union and Main," uses Twitter to better get to know his customers. He got the idea from a New York Times article his sister-in-law sent him. "I have found Twitter to be an almost playful way for me to interact with my customers. I can look them up and learn more about them," McRae says.

It will be interesting to see where the social media revolution takes the customer/restaurant relationship in the future. Ben Smith jokingly contemplates adding a "reality TV" element onto Tsunami's Facebook page.

"I think that people get a vicarious pleasure," he says, "from watching other people go through the hell of running a restaurant."

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