I don’t even know how to begin to describe my love affair with food. Growing up in an Italian family, I was taught what real good food is all about. I love finding new places to chow down, and I can honestly thank the internet for that. What did people do before the internet? How did they find out who has the best fresh made mozzarella or where to get great tapas? It’s a world I don’t want to know. That being said, here are the BEST ways for you, the restaurant or food-centric store owner, to reach people like ME online.

Chowhound

If you’re looking for real food lovers who know their stuff, head to Chowhound. There’s not much you can do in terms of “promoting” your business, but you as the business owner can show off your knowledge of the local cuisine. Be helpful, and then when it comes time to provide a recommendation to someone, you can honestly say that you think your restaurant is a good fit. If you use the account how it’s intended, you could make some influential connections who may help spread the word about your restaurant if you impress them with your food.

Google Places & UrbanSpoon

I rely on Google Places to hear what others are saying about restaurants in the area – and I’m not the only one! Search engines are one of the first places people go to find local restaurants and shops. Encourage your happy, loyal customers to write reviews on your Google Place and UrbanSpoon listing. 52% of consumers are more likely to use a local business if they have positive reviews. So next time one of your good customers comes in, just simply ask them to take a minute before they leave to review your food – they can do it from their phone. To sweeten up the deal (pun intended) and show them your appreciation, provide them with some complimentary dessert.

For those of you who are saying, what about Yelp? I believe Yelp can be very harmful for your business because they filter reviews, so consumers do not get to hear everyone’s opinion. If they only filter your good reviews (which I’ve seen happen) then your Yelp listing is going to scare away potential customers. Approach warily, my friends.

Facebook

After I check out what people are saying about a restaurant, I ALWAYS check to see if they have a recently updated Facebook page. I want to know what the weekly specials are, and I want to see photos of your food! Those things always help me make a decision. If you don’t have a page with specials, photos, events, and details about your venue, then someone else will and potential customers may end up at their restaurant instead.

Foursquare

Although only a small percentage of the population uses Foursquare, millions of people do use it to find out about businesses and redeem specials. Lure new customers to your restaurant with great deals, or encourage repeat customers by rewarding loyalty. Here are some of my favorites to run:

Swarm Special: This is great if you want to get a bunch of people to an event. Once a certain number of people check-in to your location on Foursquare, they all unlock a special. This encourages people to bring their friends along!

Flash Special: This special gets its name from “Flash Sale”. You set the number of Specials that you want to unlock per day, then after that its first-come, first-serve. For example, first 10 people to check-in here for dinner get a free appetizer. That would have me running to the restaurant!

 Mayor Special: Your mayor is your most loyal customer -the one that comes in more often than anyone else. If you can’t afford to give away any food, offer your mayor the best table in the house! You know there is always one.

Go Mobile

The statistic in the upper right hand corner doesn’t lie. People are searching for restaurants on their phone, so get a mobile friendly website. For a limited time, Google is offering businesses free mobile websites, which are easy to set up and look great.  The tool offers free hosting for a year, professional templates, and premium features like “click to call” and mobile maps.

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