Facebook knows how to make news. When it launched Facebook Places, its new geo-location service, Facebook received more media coverage than Foursquare, the dominant player in geo-location, did over its whole existence. And with 500 million members, Facebook can get away with more or less replicating Foursquare and still declare it newsworthy.

So what does this mean for restaurants? It makes everything a tad bit more complicated than before. Yet, in large part, what holds true for Foursquare holds true for Facebook Places. But before we talk about how a restaurant should respond, let’s go over the characteristics of Facebook Places and how it directly affects the restaurant industry.

From a marketing angle, special offers and promotions are the most important consideration. Similar to Foursquare, Facebook Places allows business to promote their restaurant through special offers but it doesn’t feature the special in the same way as Foursquare. Instead, the promotions show up on the update screen, which probably will be browsed after the customer already checks-in. It is therefore less effective at attracting first-time customers who does not know about your business. Nonetheless, do not underestimate the reach of Facebook.

With that in mind, there are several steps your restaurant needs to get the most out of Facebook Places.

Make sure your restaurant is on Facebook Place, so Facebook Places users can find your restaurant. It doesn’t automatically happen if your restaurant has a Facebook Fan page. After that, you must claim your Facebook Places page. This allows you to make updates that can notify those who check-in of promotions, information and events. So that you don’t have two sites and it’s easier to manage, it’s best to merge it with your Facebook Fan page. Facebook gives instructions on how to do this: http://ads.ak.facebook.com/ads/FacebookAds/Places_advertisers.pdf

With Facebook, it isn’t as straightforward for customers to give feedback. There aren’t tips like Foursquare. Rather, those who check-in can update the wall with photos or reviews. This prevents the same efficient exchange of information that Foursquare users love.

Many of the weakness from Foursquare carry over to Facebook Places. There isn’t, at this time, a way for businesses to target the people who have already checked-in at their restaurant. Essentially though, from the business angle, Facebook Places doesn’t offer any distinct advantages, and may be slightly less business-friendly.

But like social media itself, don’t ignore Facebook Places, nor forget about Foursquare. Already Facebook Places has had millions sign up in the first month, building a slight lead over Foursquare. And Foursquare, overwhelmed by its growth, has spent the summer dealing with scaling, keeping up with the ever-growing number of check-ins (a problem that Facebook is unlikely to confront). So the best course is probably to merge your Facebook Fan page with the Facebook Places page and design, with the help of an experienced online marketing team, a unified marketing strategy for both. Trying the exact same approach as one might with Foursquare disregards that Facebook doesn’t have an issue with the number of users (and Facebook Places will dominate for the foreseeable future). Instead its biggest hurdle is access to visitors. If Foursquare doesn’t counter with innovation, the outcome is inevitable. But, despite their premature predictions, no one knows how this will play out.