Several times a week, the WiseGuys Facebook page is updated with dinner specials, promotions or maybe just photos of patrons tipping back glasses of wine. In response, guests will post compliments or stories about their most recent stop at the Hilton Head Island eatery.
Like WiseGuys, more and more local restaurants are getting on the social networking bandwagon, starting up pages on Facebook or feeds on Twitter. The sites can be cheap and easy ways to advertise, chefs and owners say, but the question remains: Does it actually bring in business?
The concept behind something like Facebook is relatively easy. People or businesses start a page and then post comments, photos, video clips or whatever they like. Others register to follow their sites. Twitter is similar, just on a smaller scale. There, posts -- called "Tweets" -- are short and sweet and sometimes followed with a link to more information.
This leaves prime opportunities for a restaurant to directly reach its customers. But there are a few tricks to leading a successful social networking life.
Think of it as a personal network, chefs and owners say, just online. It's something that needs to be culled and groomed. Relationships need to be maintained. Just having a page isn't enough. It needs to be updated frequently to keep people interested. But there's a balance to maintain -- post often but not too often. Don't overwhelm your fans. If so, they just might block you.
The sites aren't a replacement for advertising or person-to-person networking -- just another way to engage an audience, said Terry Bergeron, a local marketing professional who consults with restaurants about social media.
In an online world, Twitter and Facebook can open opportunities for creativity in promotions, she said. WiseGuys, for example, is currently offering a contest where Facebook fans post photos of themselves at WiseGuys on the page, and the winner of the best photo gets a $50 gift certificate to the restaurant.
In March, Aqua Grille and Lounge started posting pictures of dishes served at its new Sunday brunch. Facebook was the only form of advertising Aqua used since the brunch's start, and attendance has been solid, said general manager Chris Katon.
Katon said he finds Facebook, in particular, to be an ideal form of advertising. There's no cost, and it's getting a message directly to fans of the restaurant and then allowing them to comment on that message.
"It allows a constant conversation with our guests," he said.
In resort towns such as Hilton Head Island, establishing personal connections to locals and tourists via Facebook or Twitter is a way to rise above the competition.
"In this area, with this type of competition, if you can create a personal relationship, it can go far," Bergeron said.
Chef and caterer Christine Bohn started her own personal page on Facebook in October, and then started a page for her retaurant, Christine's Cafe, in March shortly before opening her new location near the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina.
By the time it opened earlier this summer, the Christine's Cafe page had 350 followers. Bohn began sending out Facebook notices and e-mail blasts about her opening. For the first two weeks, mainly by online advertising, they had a wait during the lunch hour outside the small cafe -- a sign of the power of social media marketing, Bohn says.
Bohn now checks her Facebook several times a day, posting daily specials, deals, recipes and tips. She also posts stories about her from local media and her appearances on the WHHI show, "Girl Talk."
Bob Masteller, owner of the Jazz Corner, started using Twitter and Facebook to preview menu items and upcoming shows, and to convey little bits of jazz history.
On a short-term basis, Masteller has found it a useful complement to his weekly email blasts to let people know what's coming up. If anything, Masteller's found that he's managed to get across what his jazz club is about -- good music and food in a friendly atmosphere.
"I'm a novice -- a real novice," said Masteller of his newfound online presence. "But we quickly realized in our case, it's a good tool for networking."