Isle restaurants learning the value of social media


POSTED: Wednesday, June 10, 2009

If all your friends were jumping off a cliff, of course you would not do it, too. That would hurt.

The social-media phenomenon, however, is not a cliff, so the Hawaii Restaurant Association is inviting restaurateurs to take the plunge to market their businesses.

Social media and social networking dominated many a conversation had by HRA Executive Director Gail Ann Chew during the National Restaurant Association's annual show last month.

“;Other state associations were chatting about the growth of this form of communications marketing, or whatever you want to call it,”; she said. “;There's ... a growing list of local restaurants”; who are into it, she said.

Nicknames of local chefs, restaurants and food businesses using Twitter include @ChefMavro, @OLAISLIFE, @RedMango, @ryansgrill, @KFCHawaii, @umekemarket, @TopofWaikiki, @HighwayInn, @BigCityDiner and Lane Muraoka, its owner and president, as @BCDLane.

Twitter is one site businesses are using to engage with customers and potential customers and market to them.

Muraoka can't be at the class, though his experience would be valuable.

“;I think more than anything, it's top-of-mind awareness, like a radio commercial, television commercial or banner ads. It's all about keeping your brand identity out there,”; he said. Relationship-building via social media takes time and effort, “;but it's all worth it,”; he said.

“;We have groups come out to the restaurant that will post their location online and invite others to join them.”;

Social media can be a double-edged sword, however.

If a server is tardy taking an order or bringing food or drink, that is likely to get posted. Such complaints should be handled in a timely fashion, Muraoka said, though he is not online 24/7.

Barefeet Studios partner and Social Media Club Hawaii founder Roxanne Darling will be a presenter. The social-media expert hopes a projector will be available for her “;show-and-tell”; demonstration of updating one's social-media presence via computer or mobile phone, and will cover the basics of what it is, how it works and how to avoid common mistakes.

“;I think the 'what not to do' is just as important as the 'what to do,'”; she said.

Funny thing about restaurants — the busier they are, the more desirable they can seem, even with a long wait. The trouble is, this economy makes empty seats more common than lines out the door. The coming fall season is slow for the industry, and we're already in a downturn, Muraoka noted. Having Facebook or Twitter groups of up to 20 diners gather to share a weekly meal — and they do — could be the difference between a restaurateur making the rent or not, he said.

Staying top of mind can be free or low cost if an owner, partner, public relations person or freelance writer can engage the public on the restaurant's behalf.

“;I'm always looking for tools and resources that will help our restaurants thrive and do things in a cutting-edge way that will really promote dining out,”; said Chew.

Social Networking for Beginners will be Monday, June 22, at Morton's Steakhouse, free for HRA members and $25 for nonmembers, who can choose the 9 a.m. or 2 p.m. session. Reservations can be made by phone at 944-9105 or on the HRA Web site.

The social-media phenomenon “;is not going away, and if it's not going away, by golly, our restaurants need to find a way to use it to their advantage,”; said Chew.


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Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Reach her by e-mail at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)