Last night, Jim Benson, Corey Ladas, Andrew Woods, Michael Rice and others all congregated at the Palomino in Downtown Seattle. The night started innocuously enough…

Tweetup at Palomino Anyone?

Tweetup at Palomino Anyone?

Minutes later, Andrew Woods rebroadcast @ourfounder’s invitation:

Rebroadcasting a Public Tweetup Invitation at Palomino

Rebroadcasting a Public Tweetup Invitation at Palomino

Conversation in the Twitterverse mirrored real life discussions coordinating social interactions:

Will you make it? Want me to save you a seat?

Will you make it? Want me to save you a seat?

Seeing these conversations let me know that my friends were Downtown unwinding after a long day. I didn’t have dinner plans so I joined them. I chose Palomino because that’s where my people were. After an interesting conversation, a cheese pizza and a glass of wine I left with a lighter wallet. Twitter enabled us to connect online and continue the social interaction in real life.

Who benefited from Social Media? 🙂

Pay what you want?

November 20, 2008

A recent Seattle Times article talked about the success of a “Pay what you want” promotion at a local restaurant.

The idea is to allow the guest to decide what they want to pay for the food.


I like the idea – – a lot! The owners generated buzz (and business) during an otherwise slow time of the year.

Obviously, the PR and goodwill created by something like this is priceless, but I also find the results intriguing. Considered a branding exercise, the numbers might be viewed differently.


In the particular example mentioned in the article, 80% of the guests paid less than the menu price, a few paid the same, and a few paid more. What does this say about the “value” that diners find in this restaurant’s menu? To me, it says that only 20% of diners feel that they are receiving a good value for their money.


There is no magic formula for pricing. Owners and chefs that use a food cost percentage to determine pricing usually over or under charge. Competitors provide a benchmark, but there is no proof that their information is any better than yours. Ultimately, the market decides what your products are worth. Restaurant owners do not often have a method to ask their customer “What do you think my food is worth?” Perhaps a promotion such as this allows answers that many would not want to hear.

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.

The upside of a downturn . . .

Despite the gloom and doom of the financial news, this could actually be a good time for wise restaurant operators. Just consider:


People have to eat


Designer kitchens and Williams-Sonoma catalogs notwithstanding, many of your customers don’t do that much cooking. Hectic schedules and over-programmed children leave little time for preparing and serving a meal. Make sure that you are convenient and easy to use. You will be rewarded.


People want to drink


Alcohol sales have traditionally surged during tough economic times. Open your 401k statement, drown your sorrows. ‘Nuf said.


Misery loves company


A gathering place that provides warmth, food and beverage, and congeniality has a special appeal during tough times (“Cheers” premiered during the recession of 1980 – 1983)


Good people are looking for work


A career as a cook, bartender or waiter looks awfully appealing to many mortgage brokers, bankers, or stockbrokers. Use this as a time to upgrade your staff.


Costs might be actually dropping


Oil prices are down. Delivery surcharges should follow. Many of the increases that we have seen in the world commodities markets may be leveling out – – or actually dropping. Pay attention and purchase wisely.


Loyalty takes on a special meaning


Customers don’t want to risk their dining dollars. They will return to the restaurants that have taken good care of them in the past. Find a way to stand out while your competitors are cutting back. Try a new promotion. Mix up your menu offerings. Embrace regulars.

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.

Passion Puts Butts In Seats

November 8, 2008

image “Don’t people have better things to do than sit around and write about my restaurant?”

I get this kind of question a lot from clients. They are perplexed.  Why would people bother to go to sites like Yelp or Urban Spoon and talk about their restaurant?

Passion.  The same passion that carried you to open your restaurant is what carries people through the door.  In other words, they’re just like you.  They love food, they love being social, and they love to share that passion.

Increasingly, Yelp and Urban Spoon are the first stops people make to learn about a restaurant.  They do not go to the newspaper.  Why would they? The newspaper is new every day, there is no compendium of opinion.  There is no community.

So now, everyone who comes into your restaurant is a potential “critic”.  But go to Yelp and look at the reviews.  They are better than critics you used to suck up to.  They are enthusiasts.  Sure, they can be critical, but they are there for the passion, not the paycheck.

If they come in and have a good experience, they will tell others – actively and eloquently.  If they don’t, they will tell you how to make things better.  Their reviews put butts in seats.  Pure and simple.

If you have a restaurant, watch the reviews, learn from them and thank people for being passionate. They share your passion.  They are your community.