Foursquare for Restaurant Marketing – Best Practices

Foursquare for Restaurant Marketing

How to Use Foursquare for Your Restaurant

No doubt by now that as a restaurant owner you’ve probably heard of Foursquare. And I’m sure you’ve heard some different things about it, some good and some bad. You’re also probably wondering what are some of the best practices as a restaurant owner for using Foursquare for your restaurant.

In this blog post we’re going to explore what type of check in specials that Foursquare allows you to create as well as some of my personal recommendations of best practices of using Foursquare.

Please note that this is quite a long and detailed blog post, so be prepared to be packed with information.

What exactly is Foursquare:

Foursquare is a mobile app (available on Iphone, Android, Blackberry, and a few other mobile operating systems) that allows users to “check in” at businesses or places. Let’s say that you happen to be eating at the Happy Mother’s Restaurant and you want to let people know that you’re eating at that restaurant. You would open the app on your smartphone, push the “check in” button and now your friends on Foursquare, and potentially Twitter and Facebook know you’re eating there.

This is the basic premise of Foursquare.

Why is this so appealing to some customers?

The initial appeal, and there still is some, is that Foursquare was designed as a game. They were giving out mayorships. This meant that if you checked in the most at a location that you were declared the mayor of that particular place. This would stimulate a sense of competition, and in theory would drive your best customers to come back more often to keep their mayorship.

But on top of that they also gave out virtual badges. When people started going to different sushi restaurants or different malls they would earn a badge. They offer virtual badges such as the “Superstar Badge” or “School Night Badge.” Imagine Scouts, but you’re getting badges for checking in to a variety of different businesses.

The app’s appeal was its gaming elements and the fact that it only took a quick second or two to “play.” Let’s face it, if you’re waiting in line at a coffee shop or at a restaurant, why not take the extra second to check in, earn a badge and have that badge tell you how great you are for completing a task.

Now it seems really simple, and almost childish, but this childish gamification has lead to Foursquare having 20 million users and growing.

But it’s also appealing because businesses started to see the potential in using Foursquare to promote their specials to grab customers that were walking by. And social media savvy customers love knowing that they are getting special treatment on Foursquare.

The Mind of a Potential Customer who Uses Foursquare

Patrick decides that he wants to eat at a restaurant. He’s already an avid Foursquare user, and decides to check his 4square account on his Iphone and see what’s nearby. Happy Mother’s Restaurant has a Foursquare special, Homer the Domer Restaurant next door doesn’t.

Happy Mother’s Restaurant says when you check in, you get a free apple pie when you order an entree over $15. Homer the Domer Restaurant has nothing.

Based on first impression, with all reviews and things being equal, where do you think Patrick is going to head off to? Chances are he’s going to head off to Happy Mother’s Restaurant.

Foursquare allows your restaurant to create businesses offers to attract only the most geographically immediate customers. As I’m typing this right now, I can see that the farthest place to check in is about 300 metres away, and within that 300 meters there’s about 4 specials. Only one of them being relevant to me at that moment.

Foursquare only shows restaurants that are hyper geographically targeted within a walking distance. The only other way to reach a customer at that point is if you happen to have a staff member who can read minds, locate Patrick, and then tell him that if he comes in at that moment to the restaurant that he gets an apple pie with his meal. And that’s probably not going to happen. But Foursquare can make it happen.

What are some of the specials you can create to drive guys like Patrick into you restaurant?

The Newbie Special

This offer is given to people who check in the very first time at your restaurant.

When you’re a new restaurant and starting to build up your customer base for the first time, it can be incredibly hard to get local traffic and new traffic to come into your restaurant. This particular offer can help drive new customers into you restaurant door if you offer a great special.

If your special is great enough, let’s say you offer you a free appetizer, than this can give incentive for Foursquare users to take the leap of faith and try your restaurant.

If your restaurant is hidden away from the big streets, then this is a great offer to create. And one that I recommend for all restaurants as this offer can only be redeemed once. After they’ve come in, the staff need to work their magic to ensure that this social media customer becomes a loyal customer for life.

The Mayor Special

The special that launched Foursquare is the mayor’s special. This works on the basis that if someone checks in enough times and becomes mayor of your restaurant, you can offer that one single person a special. This might be a free upgrade every time they come in. Or, as an example, they get 25% off their total order every time they bring a friend.

I remember reading that one buffet restaurant said that the mayor of their restaurant got to skip the line on Sundays (their busiest day at the restaurant) and get straight to the food. Depending on the type of restaurant you run, the mayor could have his or her own private table, something an Arby’s did.

If you happen to have a lot of people using Foursquare in your area (and when you sign up for merchant account you’ll get an amazing amount of rich data available to you that will tell you this) you can determine if this is the best approach.

If there are frequent and many users that check in a lot, it can be assumed that there’s some competition to be mayor of your restaurant. And that you have quite a few loyal customers, so holding a mayor special in this case is worth it.

I’ve known people who have told me that they’ve gone back to cafes and bought something because they couldn’t stand the idea of losing their title of mayor in that cafe. Human nature is like that. We’re motivated by the sense of loss.

The only trouble is that the system can be cheated. If I live nearby, I can check in every day, and become the mayor and get my special. That’s one of the downfalls of Foursquare. It was never designed for verifiable check ins.

That’s why I advise giving a mayor special that’s not going to hurt your business if someone does cheat the system, but is still a great offer that it makes them want to come in and use that offer.

The Loyalty Special

The third special is the loyalty special, which allows you to reward people based on the number of times they’ve checked in. Notice I said checked in, not the number of times they’ve purchased. This system requires the honour system. And that means that you have to trust your customers not to cheat, though a small percentage will. It’s just a given fact.

Let’s say a customer checks in 10 times, then you can give them the offer of a free sandwich on their 10th check in. It’s assumed that the person actually did buy those ten times.

In my opinion this is a bit risky. People will check in for fun after hours, or they might legitimately check in eight times and then cheat on the other two. Though only a small percentage of people will actually cheat.

In my opinion this one is of the highest risk. If you want to see if the offer would be successful, I would suggest doing a trial period and see how it goes. See how many people are checking in during after hours, and keep track of how many of these specials you’re giving away by having a tracking code attached to the offer that requires your server to punch the code into the POS.

This way you know exactly how many of that particular special you gave away and can start comparing to your costs in case there’s shrinkage.

The Flash Special

A flash offer is an excellent way of driving in customer traffic during slower times of the day. How the flash deal works is that you get to limit the deal to a certain amount of check ins, let’s say the first ten check ins, and those first ten people get something special like a $10 gift certificate when they come in for an entree.

And this check in deal can be set between very specific times, so that it encourages people to come in during your slower hours. This might be between 2-4pm for example.

This is a great check in offer to drive traffic during slower times, and you can limit how many people get to use it.

All these offers can be made in real time, and so hold a flash deal the moment you feel it’s necessary, or decide to plan one out a few days or hours in advance and promote it on your social networks like Facebook and Twitter.

The Swarm Special

The swarm special is a little bit trickier to execute because it requires random co-ordination of groups. The basic premise of the swarm special is that if a certain amount of people check in to your restaurant within a 3 hour period then that special is unlocked.

This type of offer can only be unlocked once per day for your restaurant.

This deal would work well during really slow hours of your restaurant when you can afford to have customers potentially hanging out for three hours. The industry standard of table turnover is two, so personally I don’t recommend it.

However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t many uses for it. Let’s say that you plan regular networking events at your venue, and you want to create more social buzz. Since an event will most likely last more than three hours you can create the swarm badge so that when, let’s say 50 people have checked in, that they unlock an offer for a free gift from a sponsor, or everybody gets a free beverage when they show the offer to the bartender.

Friends’ Special

The friends’ special is where an offer is given to a group of friends on Foursquare who check in at business at the same time. As a restaurant owner you get to set how many friends must check in at once before the offer is unlocked.

There’s a lot that you can do with the friend special. If you feel that your restaurant is small, and that you mostly have a lot of pairs come in to eat, then you might want to create an offer that if two friends check in then a complimentary appetizer is given.

Or if your restaurant can accompany large groups, then to encourage large groups to come more often, you might create an offer where a minimum of 8 people check in at once then they all get 15% off their total bill.

Check in Special

And lastly, the one that is the most plain Jane is the check in special. This is a special given to someone that checks in to your business every time regardless whether they are new or not. If you find that your area is very competitive with similar businesses, then this offer could be helpful in giving a competitive edge.

For example, if you know that there’s another cafe that’s about 6 stores down, then you might offer a check in special that allows someone a free up size on their coffee every time they check in. This way you can maintain a stronger and loyal relationship with that particular customer, and ensure he doesn’t head next door if there’s a long line up.

Foursquare Allows for Social Sharing

The great thing about Foursquare is that it not only allows for people to share that they’re eating at your restaurant with their Foursquare friends, but with Foursquare, people can share their location information on Twitter and Facebook.

Some of my Foursquare friends have push notifications on, so every time I check in they’re aware of exactly which restaurant I’m in. Again, more free advertising for your restaurant.

People that tend to be social media savvy won’t just check in, they’ll spend that extra .5 seconds to share with their other two networks. So when your customer checks in and shares on a network, she’s sharing that information with dozens of people. If it’s someone really popular on the social networks, then most likely it’s reaching hundreds.

Now imagine that this person checks in at your restaurant often. Eventually people on Facebook, Foursquare, and Twitter notice. This is a quiet way of suggesting that it’s a good restaurant to eat at.

Foursquare itself is quite a powerful tool for referrals, but its ability to spread the message of where people are eating, and then having them notice how often is even more powerful.

Not bad for a tool that’s provided for free to restaurants.

For more information on how you can craft a Foursquare special for your specific needs, feel free to contact us at vince at or call us at 604 782 0801. And we’re happy to offer a quick one hour free consultation for your restaurant.

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Written by Vincent NG

I’m a social media marketer, particularly for Pinterest, It all started back in 2010 when Pinterest was in beta. It was the fastest independent website to get 10 million unique visitors in the U.S. This really struck a chord with me, and it was then that I knew that Pinterest was going to be a powerhouse in the world of digital and social media marketing.