There’s another reason why so many Facebook (META) and Twitter users’ news feeds are crowded with status updates about where their “friends” or “followers” are eating and drinking around the city. In an attempt to entice diners out of their kitchens, restaurants and bars are creating their own Facebook and Twitter accounts, hoping customers will sign up to receive updates on their latest menu specials or wine-tasting events. What’s more, they’re encouraging their networks of “friends” to name-drop their businesses in status messages with iPhone applications; write up reviews on Yelp.com; or contribute pictures of their latest trips to their own Facebook “walls” and other online forums.
In exchange for these free plugs, some venues are giving foodie freaks special treatment—whether with shout-outs of their own, or special discounts.
This business model was already adopted by chains like T.G.I. Friday’s, which recently started a Facebook campaign suggesting users “fan” their No. 1 fan, “Woody’s” Facebook page. If Woody got 500,000 Facebook fans, each of them would get a coupon via email for a free T.G.I.F. burger. They reached their goal within a week.
Now the Upper East Side’s Southern Hospitality is offering a free order of fried pickles to their first 5,000 Facebook fans. Popular Spanish tapas bar Boqueria enticed customers during Fashion Week to mention Twitter while they were dining and receive a free glass of Cava. And Shake Shack, Danny Meyer’s modernized “roadside” burger joint, has an entire section on their Web site titled “Shack Fans.” “The fan area encourages friends of the Shack to connect with one another by posting photos, notes and videos, choosing the ‘send-to-a-friend’ option and linking to Shake Shack’s FaceBook page,” Theresa Mullen, a public-relations and marketing manager for Shake Shack, emailed The Observer: “Hopefully, this fosters a stronger connection between Shake Shack and our guests, and also keeps fans in the know about anything new.” Even Eleven Madison Park, the four-star jewel in Mr. Meyer’s crown, is not too fancy for a Facebook page covered in glowing wall posts from “friends.”
Earlier this summer, LivingSocial, one of the most popular Facebook applications, which lets users rank and share lists of their favorite things, started a special New York City program that gives users a chance to get one discount deal per day at a merchant, with up to 60 percent off at places like Elizabeth Restaurant & Lounge, Butterfield 8 and Brio Italian Ristorante. But a certain number of people have to sign up for the deal in order for it to be valid. So if a user can convince three or more friends to post about the restaurant discount on Facebook and other social networks, they can get their meal for free.
LivingSocial chief executive and co-founder Tim O’Shaughnessy told The Observer that participating in the program is a cost-effective strategy for merchants. They have enthusiastic customers who promoted the deal themselves, and the restaurant didn’t have to advertise in a newspaper circular or even build their own Web site to pass along the coupon. “People spread the word on Facebook and Twitter, so the program builds this incredible buzz for our partner,” he said.
And users of the Foursquare app, who “check in” at bars, restaurants or venues as they crawl across the city, can now brag on status updates whether they are having a beer at Schillers or slurping up noodles at Momofuku Ko for the evening—with an exact address included. The people who have the most “check-ins” at a certain spot during a 60-day time period are called “mayors,” and some of them are getting special deals. The Foursquare “mayor” of Park Slope bar Union Hall, for example, gets one free draft or well drink on the house. “If you are the mayor please show your screen to the bartender to redeem,” according to the ad on the application. Tasti D-Lite locations in Columbus Circle and at 86th Street and Lexington Avenue are offering 99-cent whipped frozen desserts to users—a $2.51 discount for any Foursquare user who can show they “checked in.” Destination Bar on Avenue A and the Bowery Wine Company on East First Street are also offering “mayor” specials.
But there is something about “fanning” a restaurant or shilling its goods on your personal Facebook or Twitter page that is, well, unappetizing. It can make a user feel like she’s being used–unless there’s free coffee involved.