No Free Lunch (yet) from Foursquare…

Today’s blog post addresses the use of Foursquare by businesses to interact with customers.  As a new Foursquare convert, I was eager to experiment with a new offer I discovered online.  If you too use Foursquare, you can find me here.

I met Bonnie (@mswas) years ago, about the same time Jeff Bezos started Amazon and Tony Hsieh was still growing Link Exchange (read his new book – wonderful resource for entrepreneurs).  We weren’t nearly as successful at the internet game as those two guys, but we’ve been close friends and sometime coworkers and collaborators ever since.  Bonnie now works for Rutgers (our alma mater), and as we all know, I’m a teacher, sometime entrepreneur, and now local film producer who’s near obsession with social media is no secret.  Add our children and the distance between where we live to the mix and you have a friendship that’s short on face time.

We try to get together for lunch when our schedules permit, a much easier accomplishment in the summertime when mine time is so flexible.  Today, we decided to meet at the Chili’s on Route 18 in East Brunswick.  This morning, I noticed an article posted on Twitter about Chili’s experiment with Foursquare users.  According to SocialFresh, Chili’s would give free chips and salsa to any patron who checked in on Foursquare and showed the checkin to their server.  They were even kind enough to provide the coupon code to readers in case servers were unsure what to do when faced with this new offer.

The word “free” to me is like WMDs to George W. Bush: I will hunt them down no matter what the cost and feel justified even if I find out the free offer was just a rumor.  (Did I mention I live on a teacher’s salary & have two teenagers?)  That, combined with my new curiosity about how business people could harness the use of Foursquare by all of these people checking into venues across the country, clinched the lunch date’s location.  Bonnie commented that she’d be more motivated if they were giving away free Coronas, but she’s not that serious about her social media (or maybe she just has her priorities).

Of course, I was late.  Assuming all the traffic would be going south on a Friday in July, Bonnie waited at a table for me and put her order in before I sat down (she’s very time efficient).  After the waiter took my drink order (don’t judge), I remembered the Foursquare promotion.  My iphone was out, on, and logging into Foursquare before you could say, “I just unlocked the ‘Super Mayor’ badge on @foursquare!”  Chili’s was right at the top of my choice of nearby places, I quickly checked in just as the waiter put my cold, much needed chardonnay down on the table (I said don’t judge).  Flashing my iphone in triumph, I showed him my checkin confirmation, told him about the promotion and even provided coupon code 23 to help him put in our free chips and salsa order!

He looked at my iphone, shook his head bewildered, and said, “I don’t know anything about that stuff, but hey, I’ll get you some free chips and salsa for trying.”

Yup, we got our free salsa.  However, I think Chili’s would do a better job if the server not only knew what the offer was but at least recognized Foursquare and his employer’s promotion.  They don’t have to use Fourssquare, just take 5 minutes to find out what it is and how his employer is using this new marketing tool.  We didn’t select a place for lunch until after I read that SocialFresh article, so the Foursquare offer definitely influenced our choice.  (The vegetarian fajitas also helped – quite a good choice for the meat and dairy challenged.)

It was disappointing to get such a lukewarm reaction to something this customer was excited about.

(It also didn’t help that the server spilled my 1/2 my wine while he removed our empty plates, but he did offer to bring another one.  I declined knowing that I was hitting the mall after lunch, and we all know the one thing worse than drinking and dialing is drinking and shopping! … and yes, I checked in on Foursquare at all the stops I made on the way home!)

What’s my final take on Chili’s promotion?  I think like most first adopters it’ll be rough going as their employees and customers learn how to use the service not only to drive business to their locations but for customers to maximize the benefit of their experience when they dine.  After all, there are a lot of restaurants vying for my patronage, and in this economy, harnessing a new yet simple way to interact with customers may make or break many a business.  Kudos to Chili’s for making the effort, now they need to take the next step and educate employees and customers alike!

STAY TUNED: My next Foursquare adventure will be a scavenger hunt!


5 responses to “No Free Lunch (yet) from Foursquare…

  1. If he had just BS’d enough to say, “Oh yes, coupon code 23” that would have helped. It’s unfortunate, because he would have appeared way cooler and thus earned a bigger tip, if he had known what we were talking about.

    He didn’t care what his customers were so clearly enthused about, and that (plus the wine spilling) just made him look like a dope.

  2. Pretty sure you get free chips and salsa anyway…?

  3. Nope, Chili’s doesn’t give away free chips and salsa. Bonnie made the same assumption until we got there and discovered, no, they’re $2.99.

  4. Joanna Carides

    With your foursquare retail/promotion visit, you’ve put a new spin on the meaning of ‘activist’. I think this calls for an added Webster’s definition:

    * ac·tiv·ist [ak-tuh-vist] – one who takes an active role by showing up in real life at a venue.

    Promotions like the simple one offered, but not successfully executed by Chili’s, will continue to prompt people to ‘show up’ in person at their favorite restaurant (or try a new one). Social media takes marketing to the street and geo-location takes it to the brick and mortar storefront.

    Bravo! Well done. I look forward to your scavenger hunt reporting.

    (By the way, I think the only thing worse than drinking and dialing in this era is drinking and tweeting.)

  5. I enjoyed your post and sadly I am not surprised to see that your server had no idea. Especially when Chili’s gave you the code to give to the server 🙂 It’s the little perks that can influence a buying decision. I completely agree with everything Joanna said above.

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