TrendWire, April 2011

TrendWire, April 2011

Food & Drink

TrendWire, April 2011


The Food Channel Trendwire
April 2011 • Volume 25, Number 2 •

Restaurants, Social Media and the New Technology

It seems just about everyone is talking about social media these days, but not everyone’s making the most of it. A recent global survey found that only about 30 percent of companies have a social media policy.

But analysts predict 2011 will go down as the year businesses get serious about integrating social media and the new technology into their marketing plans.

Outside of the realm of major sporting events, the TV medium no longer generates much water cooler conversation. Social media is becoming the new mass media, with the added dimension of interactivity—more actual engagement with the brand or service.

Restaurants have been among the early adopters of Social Media. In a 2011 National Restaurant Association survey of chefs, 55 percent said they are currently using social media for professional purposes, with 16 percent more saying they plan to begin doing so.

The comments of Dan Kim, President & CEO of Red Mango, are typical of many restaurateurs. “Even before we opened the first store, we used Myspace and a lot of other social networking sites to drive awareness and build a fan base for our concept. ‘You not only speak to your customers, but have them speak back to you in real time. In the past it was all about comment cards and surveys. With Facebook and Twitter, especially, we can hear those responses in real time and address them in the right way.”

Website Social CoCo recently published a list of the 20 most socially influential restaurant brands in the U.S., putting Starbucks at the top of the rankings, along with McDonald’s, Taco Bell, and Dunkin’ Donuts. Rounding out the top five was the sub shop Jimmy John’s, placing just ahead of its much larger counterpart, Subway.

Lessons Learned

Margie Myers, senior vice president of communications for Dunkin’ Brands (which made the top five) shared some of the lessons Dunkin’ has learned in its experience with social media.

1. Early adoption can make a difference, but not always in a positive way

2. Select your Twitterer with care. You need someone who gets the brand, is a great writer, and can be conversational in their communication

3. Get comfortable with uncertainty. You never know what to expect, but rest assured, social media is not going away

For a restaurant, there are just so many ways social media and the new mobile technology can build business, from promoting special events, deals and LTOs, to rewarding customer loyalty, to recruiting employees.

Mobile phones, of course, offer restaurants a huge opportunity. In a report in, Dennis Lombardi, executive VP of foodservice strategies for WD Partners calls it “the wallet of tomorrow, the WiFi of tomorrow, the Internet of tomorrow—all contained on one device.” These hand-held devices let operators reach out to customers when the iron is hot—or rather, when the stomach is growling.

Today’s consumers, especially the younger ones, love the idea of using their phones to peruse the menu from wherever they are, and to place their orders and pay their tab directly, bypassing the server or cashier.

Twitter and Facebook have a massive influence on consumer behavior, and restaurateurs are finding these outlets are especially adept at reaching a younger, hipper and multicultural audience. Latinos, African Americans and Asians are particularly fond of Twitter. Mobile food trucks like Kogi on the West Coast have built their business with tweets. Who needs to pay rent when you can cruise all over town and be tracked down by loyal “followers”?

The iPad has begun to show up at both quick-service chains and upscale restaurants, as customers want to see photos of the menu items they’re considering, and some operations are providing video clips of the chefs in action which patrons can view on their devices.

Geotracking offers tremendous potential for the restaurant operator. Some operators have experimented with Foursquare, offering incentives to customers when they “check in” with their friends. The Burger Shoppe in New York offers its followers free fries or onion rings when they can prove to the cashier or bartender that they’ve checked in via Foursquare.

Buffalo Wild Wings has used location-based gaming platform SCVNGR to boost traffic during NCAA March Madness in a social media promotion called “Home Court Advantage.”

Time management can be tough for busy operators

Another advantage of social media is that it’s relatively cheap, as compared to TV, radio or newspaper advertising. The biggest expense can be in the amount of time it takes to manage social media efforts for a restaurant operator who’s already putting in the long hours just to keep the business running. Single Platform is a social media management service that many restaurants have signed up with. It allows the operator to enter one-time, recurring specials, events, game packages and keep profile pages updated across a multitude of platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, CitySearch, Urbanspoon and many other sites.

iPhone in hand<!– Photo credit: iStock –>

Getting to the holy grail of social marketing, turning “fans” and “followers” into paying customers…that can be the tricky part—and it can often be hard to measure the results of social media marketing. Identifying customers in a restaurant who are there because of a social media effort is hard to do.

“Across the industry, ‘influence-grading’ is beginning to shape the course of social media ROI,” said a recent blogger on People Browser. “We’re more and more interested in the value influencers provide to identify ways in which we can reward our biggest advocates. In doing so, we’re redefining what it means to be an ‘influencer’ and acting as educators on how ‘influence’ is calculated.”

Many restaurant operators today view social media as something they simply can’t afford not to do. They want their brand to be part of the social conversation. It’s an excellent way to build long term relationships with younger customers who can become a solid foundation for the future. With social media, when customers tell friends about the awesome restaurant meal they just had, they’re likely passing the word to dozens, even hundreds of friends, who are then telling their friends, who are…well, you get the idea.

Who wouldn’t want to take advantage of that opportunity?

Nationwide Bake Sales Kick Off Efforts to End Child Hunger

Share Our Strength, the nation’s leading organization dedicated to eradicating child hunger in the U.S., has launched its 8th annual Great American Bake Sale. The program, sponsored by Domino Sugar, C&H Sugar and Duncan Hines, is one of several the nonprofit offers throughout the year to engage consumers and food professionals in raising awareness of, and funds to eliminate, childhood hunger.

Television Food Network celebrity chef Sandra Lee is the Great American Bake Sale’s national spokesperson.

Ms. Lee hosted a kick-off event, the World’s Largest Bake Sale, on March 29 in Grand Central Terminal in New York. She was joined in the festivities by Mario Batali, Emeril Lagasse, Duff Goldman, Lidia Bastianich and Rosanna Scotto. Lee has also created a semi-homemade bake sale board of directors, comprised of women representing cities across the country. Board members also hosted bake sales in their cities on March 29 in concert with the New York event. Lee released her new Semi-Homemade Bake Sale cookbook last month as well, with 50 percent of proceeds going back to fight child hunger.

Challenge Weekend in mid-May

In addition, bakers nationwide are banding together for a National Challenge Weekend, May 14-15, to see which individual or group can raise the most money over that weekend.

While the kickoff and challenge events cover a specific timeframe, bake sales can be hosted by any individual or group at any time during the year. Funds from sales and other initiatives benefit Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry® campaign, which seeks to end childhood hunger in American by 2015.

Food Channel Releases Top Ten Breakfast Trends

The Food Channel has identified its top ten breakfast trends for 2011. The list is based on research conducted by the Web site in conjunction with CultureWaves®, the International Food Futurists® and Mintel International. One quick takeaway: breakfast still matters. An informal survey of Food Channel readers found that 95 percent viewed the morning meal as either very important or somewhat important.

The Food Channel® also publishes a great consumer newsletter, called FoodWire®. To receive a copy, please register your email address at

Follow The Food Channel on Twitter and Facebook to track more food trends.

©2010 Food Channel, LLC. All rights reserved.

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