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Tweet ’n’ eat


Metro restaurants have embraced social media to spread their message to tech-savvy diners.

Greg Horton March 23rd, 2011

“We had a rough Saturday night,” the tweet read. “We want to apologize to everyone we had to turn away. We’re a small restaurant & sometimes mistakes happen.”

The message on Twitter came from Ludivine, 805 N. Hudson, one of the metro’s newest fine dining restaurants, and it was going out to more than 900 followers. The place had experienced a bad night with service and space, an expected growing pain for new eateries. The tweet enabled management to apologize to everyone at the same time — not necessarily personal, but an amazing bit of honesty and transparency.

Kyle Fleischfresser, the bar manager, has been handling most of Ludivine’s social media since before its opening. Although he uses Twitter, he said he prefers Facebook and YouTube.

“I think they’re more effective,” he said. “The response to our videos has been very good.”

Fleischfresser used the videos to introduce the “locavore” concept, offer a sneak peek at the restaurant and introduce the staff. After Ludivine opened, the videos started to focus on quick trips to local food providers, like Peach Crest Farm or farmers’ markets, and short, step-by-step instructions on mixing Ludivine’s signature cocktails.

Diners now have multiple options to track their favorite restaurants, and Ludivine integrates social networking as well as any in the metro. Rare is the restaurant these days that doesn’t have some kind of social-media presence. It may not be essential yet, but restaurateurs agree that it is a critically important blessing and curse.

Keith Paul, president of A Good Egg Dining Group — the parent company for Cheever’s, Iron Starr Urban Barbeque, Red Prime Steak and Republic Gastropub — said his company recently expanded one of its marketing positions to include managing its social media.

“Each property is responsible for their own Twitter page,” Paul said, “but we have a person who monitors all our concepts. I read our Twitter feeds at least once a day to see what’s being said, and it’s a powerful tool. We have customers sitting at our tables tweeting about their experience. We have been able to correct problems immediately, thanks to Twitter.”

That immediate communication has always been important in the restaurant business. But Brad Johnson, executive chef for the Hal Smith Restaurant Group — parent company of restaurants such as Charleston’s, Ted’s Cafe Escondido and Upper Crust — said social media creates a whole new set of problems.

“We’ve been on the block since 1987. That’s when the first Charleston’s opened,” Johnson said. “We have always been committed to making things right, to ensure our customers have an outstanding experience. Rating services like Urbanspoon and Yelp allow anonymous comments, and we aren’t given an opportunity to respond to negative comments, nor to correct the things that led to the bad experience.”

Paul agreed. “I’m not a big fan of Urbanspoon,” he said. “I get a 60-80-percent response rate when I reach out to commenters on Twitter. I’ve yet to receive a single reply from Urbanspoon.”

Bruce Rinehart, owner of Rococo Restaurant & Fine Wine and Rococo Northpark, also has had bad experiences with Urbanspoon.

“In theory, this is a great tool,” he said, “but you cannot validate comments or track them to see if anything really did happen. I’m not a fan at all.”

All agreed that what they really want is not anonymity, but a real person speaking to them in person or on the phone.

“Give us a chance to fix it,” Johnson said. “You don’t like the crust at Upper Crust, call me over to the table or talk to me on the phone. We want to fix it. We rely on your input.”

Open Table, a reservation site that also has comments and ratings, is increasing in popularity with foodservice professionals, including Paul.

“I think Open Table is one of the best services out there,” he said. “Maybe it’s because there is a process from reservation to check-in to review, so that the service is utilized stepby-step through every phase of the experience.”

Rinehart said it’s a good way to reach guests.

“It does drive some sales for us,” he said. “I can’t imagine the daily life of our restaurants without it.”

J. Mays, co-owner of Cafe 7 Delicatessen & Pastaria, uses Facebook for most of his social-media work, including nontraditional advertising, such as posting menus, promoting specials and posting pictures of food.

“I use Facebook because it allows me to do all the social networking from one app. I don’t know any of my customers who aren’t using it,” he said.

Although one of the best at it, Fleischfresser isn’t convinced social media and networking is vital yet.

“I grew up in the business,” he said, “and my dad’s restaurants never even utilized commercials, and he’s the most famous chef in Oklahoma.”

The social networks

A Good Egg Dining Group Find it on Twitter @goodeggdining

Cafe 7 Find it on Facebook at cafe 7

Ludivine Find it on Twitter @LudivineOkc

Rococo Find it on Twitter @rococos

Hal Smith Restaurant Group There are 12 restaurants in the dining group. Upper Crust is on Twitter @okcbestpizza

 
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