How Facebook, Radio & Mimosas Saved A Local Restaurant

To see at the happy crowd at Bistro 17 (facebook|website) on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, you’d never think that just 3 months ago, they were close to shutting down for good. Owner Anna Buckingham says,

“Business was so slow at that point, even during the tourist season, that we were wondering if we should call it quits.”

But now this French-themed restaurant with mouth watering brie and an obsession with containers and dogs is a word-of-mouth sensation and always busy. In fact, they’re one of the few restaurants doing really well in the off-season.


From closing to thriving… To what do they owe this remarkable turnaround?

Fortunately for Anna, one of her regular patrons runs a Hilton Head Island Facebook page with 65,000 fans. Anna tends to make friends with all her customers. So they teamed up, and created this winning combination:

Partner With Large Facebook Pages

I’ve used this tactic myself in the past for getting more Facebook fans. When I was helping a Myrtle Beach hotel group grow its fan-base, we partnered with a large (200,000+ fans) Myrtle Beach destination Facebook Page to run a contest. The hotel group only had about 2,000 fans before this co-promotion. Within 24 hours we had crossed the 5,000 fan threshold and had 1,000 new emails from people who had indicated they were interested in receiving discount stay offers.

And it’s worth it to partner with smaller pages, too. Previous to this contest, we met another local marketer who had a Myrtle Beach themed page with 8,000 fans. He generously re-posted our contests for a few weeks and helped us gain hundreds of new fans.

Radio Style Call-In Contests

You’ve heard these all your life. I had too, so it was kinda thrilling to participate in one. And they work surprisingly well on Facebook. This means we should try to repurpose tactics that worked before the Internet and find out they work with the Internet.

Watch a video of how to answer Facebook contest call-ins!

Complimentary Alcohol? How Can You Go Wrong With That?

You have to be careful. Choose the wrong alcoholic drink, and you attract the wrong crowd.

But Bistro 17 chose to give away bottomless mimosas with breakfast. They’re not the first restaurant in the world to do this – in fact, none of what we’re talking about is completely new, but it all fits together and it gets more business. Fortunately, people who just want alcohol don’t tend to be attracted to the bottomless mimosa concept. It’s a common brunch item, and it fits the Bistro 17 menu. It’s also the kind of sparkly incentive that attracts more people and adds to the social lubrication that makes it fun restaurant to spend time at.

Passions and Promotion

Anna would shoot me if I didn’t mention her passion – Bistro 17 is dog friendly. They have dog bowls and treats on hand. She says,

“When people have their dogs here, they talk to each other more, and it’s a completely different place.”

For the business, it provides a unique advantage – one that increases social activity, which will solidify customer devotion and increase chances for word of mouth activities.

For example:

What can we learn from this to apply to promoting other local businesses? Having a secondary passion helps promote a local business.

Lessons: Social Is The Common Theme

If you haven’t noticed, being friendly and building relationships is core to all of the strategies mentioned above.

  • Make Friends: People with large Facebook pages don’t post your stuff for free if they don’t like you.
  • Focus on Service: No matter how much you promote a service business, if the people aren’t friendly, you don’t have service, and you won’t be able to keep or multiply the customers.
  • Alcohol makes people friendlier – generally ;-)
  • Use Social Objects: Both the Bistro 17 doggie dishes and the patrons’s dogs are social objects – they make conversations easier to start and they warm the heart, which is critical to Facebook page marketing. Smiles are more likely. And smiles at restaurants are good for business.

Brian Carter is CEO of the FanReach Facebook Courses, an AdWords consultant, and conducts Facebook training. And he loves dogs and Bistro 17′s brie.

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