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Gather 'Round the Table - Restaurants and Social Media

By Anthony Todd in Food on Jan 10, 2011 7:20PM

WoWBaoSocialNetworking.jpg Restaurants and social media often lead an uneasy coexistence. Many chefs and owners don't quite know how to handle Facebook and Twitter, except as outlets for press releases, and mentioning the word "Yelp" can evoke pan-throwing from some chefs. As more and more people get their news and gossip through social networking sites, a few restaurants have risen above the pack and are attempting to figure out how to use this new medium to their advantage, and to the advantage of their customers.

We've had a number of conversations over the past few months with PR agents and chefs about the best ways to use Twitter and Yelp. A PR rep at one of Chicago's hottest hotels told us that they watch Twitter like hawks, ready to pounce on any problem. "If we're lucky, we can fix the problem before the guest walks out the front door," she told us. But can social media be more than a place to complain? Last week, Wow Bao's use of social media was discussed all over
the web. You can order from their Facebook page, use their Iphone app and follow them on Twitter. But the comment that stuck with us was from Managing Partner Geoff Alexander. He was discussing product giveaways - for instance, giving away a free Bao to anyone who mentioned their restaurant visit on Twitter. At first, this struck us as a huge expenditure on an uncertain market. But, he brought up an interesting point. “If I were to spend $10,000 on a billboard, radio ad or magazine ad, I have no idea what’s the return on investment is. For the same amount of money, I can give away 7,500 bao. I can touch 7,500 people and hopefully 100 percent of them are going to like the product and become hooked.”

Of course, this assumes that people like the product. But we wanted to hear from you. How do you use social media to connect with restaurants? Do you use it for anything beyond news-gathering? Have any of your complaints or concerns every been addressed in this way, or have you gotten free stuff from a tweet? Let us know!