New Technologies Create New Opportunities

The Chez Pascal food truck brings tasty food to a location near you.

The Chez Pascal food truck brings tasty food to a location near you.

It’s not very often that a new technology comes along and is immediately embraced and put to use by small businesses.  The fax machine was one such technology and it was huge boon for small businesses. Now Twitter is the  new technology that small business are embracing enthusiastically. Still, the first reaction whenever I mention Twitter is “I don’t care what somebody has for lunch”. You know what, neither do I most of the time, that is unless it’s a really good lunch like @chezpascal.

But Twitter can offer so much more. Like most things in life you get out of Twitter what you put into it. And one subset of businesses immediately saw the value in the free, short messages because every business owner already has a cell phone. Restaurants, and to be specific, mobile restaurants have jumped on the bandwagon. As a veteran of the restaurant business, I know that having good food and service isn’t enough to be successful.  Those are usually necessary, but they aren’t sufficient. You also have to get customers, manage your expenses and manage your staff among the endless list of things that have to be done well just to survive.

Marketing is one way restaurants get customers, picking a good location is another.  Traditional marketing techniques for restaurants can be costly and not always efffective. Initially the web created some new ways for business to interact and find customers with many restaurants  just putting up a simple landing page, maybe with a menu or a link to a rare review and not much else. This is all that many restaurants still do.

The web continues to evolve with sites such as Citysearch or getting the word out to potential customers with reviews by actual (hopefully) customers. The drawbacks of course are that neither web presence is very dynamic, making it difficult to communicate specials or updates. Even emails can be a challenge, since maintaining and using an email list can be a bit much for a small business whose focus is creating and serving great food. That’s where Twitter comes in.

Using a cellphone and 30 seconds to tap out a message announcing a location, a food special or run a contest,  businesses are able to reward and strengthen the bonds with their customers. Advertising on TV or Radio might reach a larger audience, but would you rather broadcast a message to 200,000 people most of whom won’t be near your business or 200 people who live within a 2 mile radius of your restaurant – and who’ve already eaten in your fine establishment. After all if your restaurant only seats 50 people – paying to let 200,000 know about it might not the be the best use of your limited marketing budget.

Now for a few examples of businesses who are using Twitter very well.

First, the very famous Kogibbq truck – @KogiBBQ . If you haven’t already read about them, they are essentially a mobile food truck but instead of serving up run-of-the-mill food truck cuisine they serve incredibly delicious and tasty Korean BBQ tacos. They do it in Los Angeles and to get out the word they started twittering their location to let their loyal customers know where they would be.  This allowed them to let people know as soon as they pulled up to a new corner. Now they have 40,000 followers on Twitter and are in high demand for private events and they’ve expanded from one truck to three trucks and a restaurant. Twitter alone isn’t responsible for their success, but it’s doubtful they would have been able to grow as quickly as they have without it. 

If you don't know Adobo, get to know it, now!

If you don't know Adobo, get to know it, now!

 @adobohobo– is a great SF Bay area food cart serving very tasty adobo. If you’ve never had Adobo you need to get yourself some, it is to put it simply – lick your fingers tasty. I first had Adobo in the Navy where Pork Adobo was a staple. On the submarine we had for it for lunch or dinner at least once a week. How and why a Filipino staple like Adobo made it onto the US Navy standard recipe list is a story I’ll save for another time. I’m just glad I learned about it  and that the @adobohobo is bringing great Filipino food to the masses.

The Gumbo Cart, @GumboCart is another Bay area foodie cart which is using Twitter’s free service to help drive customer loyalty and revenue. You still have to produce memorable food and do the hard work of making your customers happy but with a little effective marketing via Twitter you are well on your way to getting those customers.

Even an established restaurant like Providence’s  Chez Pascal  is discovering that a simple, 140-character message can drive customers to a new venture. Chez pascal’s owners, Matthew and Kristin Gennuso,  recently launched their new Hewtin’s Dogs Mobile – a mobile food truck serving up more than just great hot dogs. Matt makes all the sausages  himself as well as all of the toppings.  Easily the best sausages I’ve eaten, anywhere. If you are anywhere near Providence, RI – the sausages offered by Matt in his Dog Mobile are out of this world. Well worth a detour.  Recently Matt tweeted that he was serving up BBQ Ribs and Veggie burgers in addition to the usual fare. It was such a successful day that they ran out of food and had to shut the truck down early. You can follow all of their tweets @ChezPascal .

Still another great Providence restaurant, La Laterie, uses twitter to keep people up to date, run contests for cheese and create a window into the burgeoning empire that is Farmstead. owners Matt and Kate have done a fabulous job growing their business and for them their twitter feed, @CheeseMatt, is just another way to touch their customers. They already sell extraordinary cheese and fabulous food in their restaurant which helps create loyalty, but their twitter feed is a good way to jog people’s memory –  speaking of which maybe I should pick up some cheese on the way home tonight.

Who knows what the next year or two will bring for Twitter or for small business owners, but at least right now businesses are discovering a new way to communicate with their customers. Who’s your favorite restaurant tweeter? Let me know and I’ll give them a shout-out. -Thom

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