7 Foursquare Deal Ideas for Restaurants

Foursquare has its own culture that is somewhat separate from Facebook or Twitter. It’s different in fundamental ways. As you are sharing your location, Foursquare relies on a group of close friends (who contact each other) participating together.  What would be the point telling people your location if you haven’t spoke to them in years (like our Facebook friends). In theory, that makes Foursquare a powerful source of word of mouth marketing.

Foursquare has not done enough to use their full potential. At this point, the promotional power for small businesses of Foursquare exists independently of the game part as it did a year ago. It doesn’t have a social component at all. Yes, it rewards people for using Foursquare and yes, they notify their friends. But because there is a special, it doesn’t notify their friends that they value the venue in the same way someone does when they share something on Facebook. Of course, they could be the “mayor” but there is only one “mayor,” so it really doesn’t have a big effect.

I sometimes wonder: How long does it take to implement badges directly for the venue (or Karate belts or something else clever)? This would interest small businesses (as going to a place  even if they had to pay Foursquare and give a freebie to someone who earned a belt. If you are the kings of social gamification and geo-location (see Facebook Places’ launch and death), why haven’t you made the game any better over the last 2 years? Their partnerships, with American Express and Groupon/LivingSocial, have not been incorporated into Foursquare.   They just received 500 million dollars. It’s about time to actually fill those shoes, because currently they aren’t doing much better at business than Wikipedia.

However, Foursquare does have seven promotion types, which can make a difference. Since Foursquare doesn’t charge you for promoting, it is a good idea to use the 2 promotional spots available to make your own unique Foursquare promotions. These promotions can be powerful if you use a little creativity and some understanding of Foursquare users. I will discuss them all and ways to get the most out of them.

Word of advice: It should be noted that you shouldn’t radically change your Foursquare specials as Foursquare users may plan on taking advantage of them. If you do plan on changing one, wind it down by putting an announcement in the promotion box a month beforehand. Loyalty specials are more or less written in stone. A Foursquare user who is trying to reach a certain number of visits would feel cheated if you got rid of a loyalty special. Even if you would honor it, they may see that it’s not posted and not even ask.

Newbie Special

You want new customers to visit your restaurant and Foursquare searches do send traffic to restaurants, depending on demographics and location. But the Newbie Special forces you into a Loyalty Special. If you only have a Newbie Special, you seem out to only attract new customers and not really engage Foursquare users.

Not only does it feel you are “using” Foursquare, you take away the incentive for Foursquare users to check-in in the future. Your special stands in the way of something that is normally organic. The Loyalty Special addresses this, but you surrender some flexibility.

IDEA: If you do chose a Newbie Special, it should be something “new” and highly social. For the Newbie Special, offer a freebie (such as a generous dessert) that isn’t on the menu and advertise it as a one-of-a-kind experience to share with friends (limit one per group). This will encourage them to bring other friends with Foursquare to your restaurant.

Friends Special

You could take advantage of the Friends Special in much the same way, which may cause 3 Foursquare users to check in together for say the chocolate mousse. But this could get habitual and not in a good way. Normally, you want 3 customers to visit regularly, but you do not want it when their visits are reliant on a promotion (something you may have to take away).

Eventually, these groups are likely to lose interest in everything but the special. They may order less, and setting a significant minimum order is awkward for three people, especially for a freebie. A discount is even less desirable (as it feels like you have trouble filling seats).

IDEA: For a friends special, choose a higher number (4 at the very least). This makes it much harder to gather that number of people together, and normally increases the possibility that someone will really have a go at the rest of your menu. You could, of course, tie the special to another dish. “Bring three friends and with each entrée, get a free appetizer.

Flash Special

Flash Specials have certain problems. They normally apply to a very short period of time (normally a certain time on a particular day). So they fill one of your 2 spots for more time than they are available. Secondly, if you have a Flash special for the first 10 check-ins at 8pm on Cinco De Mayo, don’t expect to enforce it religiously, unless you want a really pissed-off 11th person. You already need some significant traffic from Foursquare (average of 5 per day) for this to be effective.

Therefore, give the illusion that you will only give out a certain number and don’t expect to pay for the promotion with the Foursquare users that show up later and aren’t in the first 10. Because you run a restaurant and if a person visits your restaurant for a promotion, they should get it (you aren’t Ticketmaster). It would rather silly to expect that Foursquare customers 11 thru whatever pay for the promotional item Foursquare customer 1 thru 10 receive.

But as you may guess, this isn’t the way to run your business’ promotions. Smart business owners don’t come up with a random promotion day every other week. So when do you use it?

IDEA: Flash Specials are for special days. That means you are talking about holidays, days of special events (for bars think about the big games) or days significant to your restaurant or bar. As soon as you are done, go back to a more sustainable promotion and use this only a couple times a year as it wears out quick.

Swarm Special

This special puts a lot of pressure on your restaurant. You don’t want to put out a special that seems rather unattainable, but in many senses, few people bring a swarm of Foursquare friends with them.

The Swarm Special has logistical problems that I am not sure Foursquare has overcome. You don’t check out in Foursquare, so could someone count to the 40 people needed and not receive the benefit.

IDEA: Swarm Specials should be around periods of a lot of street traffic. Foursquare users should believe that because it’s Mardi Gras or Octoberfest that the offer will be activated. You could of course set it up like a flash mob but really give Foursquare users a reason to be there other than the offer. A flash mob (if you don’t know) is traditionally built around a crazy idea, where people do something fun together normally in sync at a specific time. Now that’s a challenge without interrupting the normal flow of business.

Check-in Special

The check-in special is the most basic promotion. Other than using the promotional space on Foursquare, it normally is the least interesting of Foursquare promotions and normally, restaurants offer the most ordinary deals.

Of course, anyone can take advantage of the Check-In. But on the other side, no one wants something that everyone gets. Still, the effort is not inconsequential if customers see how popular you are on Foursquare.

IDEA:  For a check-in special, the promoted item should be something that accompanies a meal, like a drink, appetizer or dessert. A discount on the whole bill devalues your food and has absolutely nothing to do with your brand.

Loyalty Special

Loyalty Specials have potential in the right restaurants. It is even better in bars. As Foursquare appeals to younger urbanites, they aren’t necessarily loyal customers, but nearly everyone has a place that they always come back too. Additionally, finding a new restaurant is a more valuable check-in to their friends. Still, Foursquare is a way to reward loyal customers who are always a valuable marketing asset besides their repeat business.

IDEA: For the most part, urbanites want to try new things, so anyone loyal should be treasured. You can take advantage of the curious nature of young people. Your loyalty special can change as they get to different milestones (5,10,20) or things that are off the menu. These people are the 20% that drive nearly 80% of your business and they are the source of the most word of mouth promotion of your restaurant.

Mayor Special

The “Mayor” of your restaurant is the person who has visited your restaurant the most in the last 60 days. At many venues, customers try to be the mayor especially if there is a promotion behind it. But the more competitive it gets the more beyond reach it may seem and the more likely someone cheats.

It would be nice if you could offer a big reward for becoming the mayor but this encourages abuse. Customers should want to become the mayor because they love your restaurant and are proud of their frequent visits.

IDEA: For the Mayor, I’d nurture their relationship with your restaurant and not give out a cheap freebie. With a certain size bill (say $60), they get a free piece of merchandise (something valued around $20; one of restaurant has blankets with the restaurant’s logo). Provide a big deal for a big bill. They are the mayor (even if they cheated a little) and are likely to say good things about your restaurant when they bring family and friends, even if they got it through dishonesty.