Do you own a restaurant and wonder how social media can help your business? well you don’t need to go far, just google few keywords like order food and your favorite cuisine and you will be surprised to see the number of restaurants offering the same thing. There are some pointers on how you can own what is rightfully yours.

Claim Your Brand

There are a number of places online where it is critical that restaurant owners/managers make sure their business information is correct. If you don’t do this, it is easy for there to be incorrect information listed online (e.g. office phone numbers, wrong addresses, misspellings, etc.). Because of this, you need to make sure that you “own” you brand online.

Google Places – This is where you will tell Google all the correct contact information for your location, and to properly claim your address for Google Maps. If you don’t do this, you’re leaving it up to the Google spiders to figure out your address, phone number, etc. I know of two local restaurants that have incorrect phone numbers come-up from a Google search.

Yelp – It’s my understanding that bad reviews are the bane of every restaurant. You can’t stop the reviews, but you can make sure that you’re aware of them. In social media, you don’t get any points for ignoring negative comments, but can win gold stars for being responsive. Make sure your info here is up-to-date, and that you address any negative rants quickly. As a rule of thumb, think about what you would do if this person was making the complaint in person.

Foursquare – While still building steam, this is the most popular location-based social tool. If you leave it up to your fans to create your venue, there could be several instances of your location. Make sure the address, name, and contact information is correct, and ask Foursquare to merge any multiple instances. Also, Foursquare gives you the ability to offer specials to users.

Promote Yourself

Once you make sure that you’ve planted your flag, the next step is to start making sure that it’s easy for hungry surfers to find you. The ultimate goal of promotion through social media is to get people in the door. Because the focus of social media can shift quickly (does anyone remember MySpace?), you don’t want to focus all your online marketing on one service you can’t control. Always, always, use your own web site as the base of your activities.

Facebook – The current 800 lb. Gorilla of the social media world. Set up a Business Page and let people “Like” you. Fill out the basics, post specials, use the Open Table integration (if applicable), and put up pictures of all your great dishes for people to “Like”. The great part of Facebook is that your updates will show up in the News Feed of your fans, and if they comment or like anything that you post, it will then appear in the News Feed of all their friends, letting you reach another audience.

Flickr – Flickr is a media-sharing site and is one of the best places to post pictures. As a restaurant, every plate is an edible piece of art. Takes pictures of everything and post them to Flikr (and Facebook). Use the captions to describe the dish, as well as include a link back to your site. If you want to get advanced, allow your pictures to be used by others, with attribution,  under a Creative Commons license.

Twitter – Twitter is going to be a great way for you to publish your specials, get yourself into the minds (and phones) of your followers, and listen for mentions of your name. Start by creating an account, updating the profile information, picture, and background, and then get tweeting. If you aren’t familiar with Twitter, download HubSpot’s free Twitter for Business Kit. I would also suggest that you do a search for other local restaurants & chefs to follow. Also, Twitter becomes much easier with a tool like TweetDeck.

Those 6 sites/services are great places to get started using social media for your food business. The important thing to remember is that social media isn’t a “set it & forget it” thing; it isn’t a billboard that you create once. You need to be active in the space. Check your accounts once a day, post something new at least one a week, and get out in front of any negative comments. Social media doesn’t have to be scary.

YMApps – Build your restaurant online, accept orders, create menus, provide discounts, fill tables…. and the possibilities are endless. It will be like create another restaurant without the infrastructure cost.

Update- A good friend of mine, once, offered this suggestion: Have your staff, especially bartenders, update their statuses to say that their working. He said it’s amazing how much that will help fill an extra couple of seats for the night.