Hamachi Crudo with Chiles & Lime - From anbui.tumblr.com

Hamachi Crudo with Chiles & Lime - From anbui.tumblr.com

Taking pictures of beautifully plated food and uploading them to the internet makes my friends jealous. They ask me all sorts of questions about the food and its preparation; these questions would be better directed to the chefs.

So that got me curious – which chefs are blogging and sharing information about the happenings in their restaurants? Since I live (and work and play) in Seattle, I thought I’d share some of the blogs by Seattle-area chefs:

Maria Hines of Tilth has been blogging since August 2007. She shares menu information, recipes, awards and other juicy tidbits.

Gordon Naccarato of Pacific Grill lets readers know what he’s eating, serving and what others are saying about Pacific Grill. He also dishes up tasty pictures of food p0rn.

Tasting Menu, the joint blog of Hillel of Jackson Fish Market and Dana of Poppy, shares two different perspectives. Hillel, a self-described professional eater, gives his view from behind the plate. Dana, a professional pastry chef, shares her perspective from behind the stove. They’ve been blogging since 2001.

What chef blogs do you read? What do they talk about? Please share in the comments!

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Coffee with Fresh Whip & Scharffenberger Cocoa Powder

Coffee with Fresh Whip & Scharffen Berger Cocoa Powder

This morning I found a pre-paid latte card in my purse, a Buy 10 (upfront, same drink) Get 1 Free card to a local coffee shop here in Seattle. I went in and picked up my 10th latte, which I had paid for in the far distant past.

Why the Coffee Shop Wins:

This coffee shop received $40 up front for a 3.5″x2″ piece of card stock that says the bearer of said card will receive one latte when s/he presents the card. Multiply the $40 or so dollars by the number of regular patrons and this coffee shop has collected significant revenues without delivering product yet. This cash flow can be used to make improvements, alleviate the need to dip into credit lines, and represent additional liquidity. Not all of the lattes purchased in advance will be collected. It’s the same principle as the one behind the profit margins behind gift cards.

Not only that, customers who’ve purchased one of these cards are saying that there’s a reasonable belief that they think they’ll get to the 11 (read: free) latte, so are (or intend to be) repeat customers.

But oh no, there’s more:

This same coffee shop also has a second frequent coffee drinker rewards program. You can Buy 10 (of any drink) Get 1 (of any drink) Free card on a pay-as-you go basis.

Why the Customer Wins:

The above loyalty program is more beneficial to the customer – it doesn’t require an initial upfront investment from the customer. The coffee shop must book revenue as purchases occur and does not have to reward customers with the loyalty latte until it’s earned, same as the above program.

So what’s the problem?

Where’s the incentive for the customers to choose the first program? If you only allow them to participate in one or the other, don’t be surprised If they choose the latter. Of the ones who’ve chosen the first program, when informed that precludes them from participating in the second program, do you think they’ll appreciate being told that they’ve opted into a suboptimal program?

In the first program, the coffee shop already has the money – what’s the incentive to continue to delight them? Could the first program, offered in conjunction with the second program, build brand detractors, instead of brand advocates?

In the second program, the coffee shop has to provide an experience worth repeating EVERY TIME. If it does, it will have loyal, satisfied customers.

The solution to having both problems would be allowing those who are providing the initial investment or buy-in to also participate in the second program – essentially, buy 10 lattes, get 2 free. Doing so builds a loyal base of brandvocates, who feel like they’re receiving value for their upfront investment.

Twitter Makes Me Hungry

November 27, 2008

Twitter is a communication platform.  It is a hub where people discuss where they eat, get recommendations, learn, interact, and plan gatherings.

People are social.  They eat, they meet with each other, they talk about their experiences.  If you are a restaurant, you want to be part of this conversation.

When looking in Twitter, restaurant owners often search for conversations relating directly to their restaurant.  “Am I being talked about?”  So they will search for “Bick’s Restaurant” and be happy with the results or lack thereof.

But do you understand the conversations that are actually happening that make your restaurant relevant?

For example, questions like “Where should I eat?”  The results are numerous.  Are you the response they are getting back?

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What are they saying about restaurants in general? When people are dissatisfied, is it because of the food, the service, the experience?  If we search “restaurant sucked” or “excellent food” what do we see?

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And when these people on Twitter have a gathering, are they coming to your restaurant? What gatherings are forming?  Who is forming them?  Here there are 4 pages of tweets talking about this particular dinner.

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There are a massive number of sites on the web where people might be talking about your restaurant.  Key sites like Twitter are communication hubs that often point at other information.  Here we see blog posts that mention restaurants that are broadcast over Twitter.

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You can search Twitter by using The Twitter Search Utility  or you can use tools like Twitscoop which give you graphs showing how often you are discussed.

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In the end, it’s not necessarily the tool you use to make the search.  The power of a pool of information like Twitter is how you search.  What is that key piece of information that Twitter is hiding that can bring in more customers?

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I met @PCC (Ricardo), the official spokestweeter for PCC Natural Markets, the other day and came away inspired because I met someone who saw social media as a platform for engaging the community, where the community already exists. Ricardo uses a variety of social media tools to connect with the customers.

Ricardo likened Twitter to the phone – it’s a tool for reaching out to customers. PCC responds to both positive and negative comments, as these comments are opportunities to reach out and really understand the customer. A quick Twitter conversation check demonstrated engaged consumer interaction with the brand:

Successful Online Consumer Brand Engagement - PCC Natural Markets

Successful Online Consumer Brand Engagement - PCC Natural Markets

PCC has also found value via Facebook Fan Page, as it enables valuable two-way communication along several axes. First, it respects customers’ time because customers must pull the message, by becoming a fan and visiting the page. Thus, this mechanism is less intrusive. Second, updates must provide value, or enable customers to gain something. Random “Come shop at PCC!” messages don’t come from PCC (though I’m sure PCC would love to know if/that customers are saying that to their friends and family). Third, PCC recognizes that the Facebook Fan base is an opt-in system, and respects that. Period.

PCC Natural Market - Customer Feedback via Facebook Fan Page

PCC Natural Market - Customer Feedback via Facebook Fan Page

Ricardo and PCC get it – they get how to give their brand a personality for people to connect with.

Gary Vaynerchuk vlogged about being yourself in social media.

With or without social media, to build an authentic relationship, you have to be yourself. To be yourself, you have to know who you are. Thus, to build an authentic relationship, you have to know who you are.

If you’re a brand knowing who you are is even more complex.

Some restaurants have a unique advantage in establishing their brand identities, especially smaller, local restaurants. Generally, the owner/manager, chef and/or sommelier are uniquely positioned to drive the voice of the restaurant because (1) they are individuals, with personalities; (2) they’ve invested, personally and professionally, in the success of the restaurant.*

The thing is – these organizational leaders must know who they are so they can consistently communicate that to the customer. If the restaurant doesn’t know who it is, how can customers? If customers don’t know, how can they decide if the restaurant resonates with needs/wants?

What if a restaurant doesn’t know how to connect with its clientèle and wants to, to get more butts into seats? Start by talking to those passionate about human connectivity and social media. Why social media? Because social media is a scalable platform that can power conversations and connections among individuals, brands and organizations when used appropriately.

If a restaurant doesn’t want to develop relationships with its patrons and/or doesn’t know who it REALLY is, social media is just a distraction. To quote Mack Collier: “Social Media is NOT a Silver Bullet.”

*if there’s an owner, manager, chef or sommelier who isn’t personally invested in the success of the business, I’ll eat my hat. And my words.

I went to the TriCities, or Kennewick-Richland-Pasco, Washington for the First Learn About Web Conference. Speakers from Columbus, Ohio; Florence, Alabama; and Reno, Nevada flew in to talk about social media, search optimization, usability, Web site architecture and other topics to teach small businesses how to leverage the power of the web to drive new business.

These speakers, bloggers, consultants often travel. From TriCities one weekend to Las Vegas for PubCon the next week, the many places they go affords them the opportunity to the local cuisine. What if you just want to solve the food problem? How do you decide where to go?

Brand Promise – P.F. Chang’s in Three Locations:

Average Rating Given Number of Reviews

Average Rating Given Number of Reviews

Where x = TriCities, Washington; diamond = Seattle, Washington, and triangle = Palo Alto, California.

Why P.F. Chang’s? Because it provides a consistent Asian bistro experience, patrons know what to expect. From 3 to 131 reviews for each individual restaurant, ratings appear to converge to 3 stars on yelp. For a predictable, low variance experience, PF Chang’s fits the bill.