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Food and Drink Features

Through the timeline

Local restaurants use social media to connect with people in search of the next great meal.

Greg Elwell October 30th, 2013

Restaurants are all about mouths.

Feeding mouths, for instance, is very important. That’s how places make money. But for businesses that want to survive and thrive, the words that come out of aforementioned mouths are vital.

Word of mouth and traditional advertising are still important. With the changing communication climate, social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and apps are used to generate excitement, as well.

“The great thing about social media is that you end up swimming in circles you wouldn’t normally be swimming in,” said Bruce Rinehart, owner of Rococo Restaurant & Fine Wine. “I’ve developed a lot of friends that way.”

Though he first joined Twitter just for business, he found he was making personal connections — and that was key to his success.

Rococo was home to one of OKC’s first Tweet-ups, which has cemented plenty of fans for the restaurant. But the first step, said Rinehart, is starting a conversation. Rinehart has two Rococo locations: 2824 N. Pennsylvania Ave. (the original location) and 12252 N. May Ave.

“You just connect with people. You banter. Somebody says, ‘It’s chilly outside,’ and I say, ‘Hey, we’ve got a fire going.’ And pretty soon, they’re sitting in your restaurant for the first time with a glass of wine,” he said.

Wedgies unite
Much like Rinehart, Elena Farrar is on Twitter to represent her restaurant. As general manager at The Wedge Pizzeria, she runs one of the liveliest feeds in the city, mixing her personality with a little business. The Wedge is located at 4709 N. Western Ave.

“I’ve built many personal relationships on there (Twitter), and it’s opened the door to meet and get closer to our clientele,” she said. “You can’t just sell to people. I don’t want to be fake. It’s important to have real relationships with people.”

It’s a tricky balance to keep professional and personal life in the public. Farrar has learned that sarcasm is not well-accepted by some and that it’s best to keep hot-button issues off the professional accounts. However, it still allows Farrar plenty of room to be creative and interact regularly with her followers and clientele.

“We’re all human,” she said.

“Why hide that?” And for The Wedge, being human and engaging with people is a way to get people thinking about a meat horn for breakfast or a truffle shuffle for dinner.

Camp wiener
While Rinehart and Farrar represent restaurants and other employees online, Gale VanCampen is the whole show for Hot Dog OKC.

VanCampen is the owner, operator and social media chief for the popular hot dog cart.

“You have to be aggressive and put yourself out there a lot in order to get a good response,” she said. “I’d say 75 percent of the gigs I get are through Twitter. That’s how I met people with the Thunder. Oklahoma City University had me come out, all through word of mouth (online).”

Both The Wedge and Hot Dog OKC use contests as a way to attract new followers and hold on to old fans. The Wedge teams up with Oklahoma Employees Credit Union to give away breakfast once a week. VanCampen gets retweets and new followers with the promise of a free hot dog.

“There are new people on Twitter every day,” she said. “When I joined, I think I knew every one of my local followers. Now, there are so many, I just try my best to follow everybody back and interact with them.”

VanCampen also weaves in other platforms, posting Instagram pictures and Vine videos to both Twitter and Facebook. And it doesn’t always have to be about hot dogs, she said. Often, updating followers about her life leads to new visitors to the cart — or lets them know she just won’t be able to come out to cook some nights.

“I don’t know what I’d do without social media,” she said. “It plays such a huge part.”

Taco talk
One of the biggest social media successes in Oklahoma City is Big Truck Tacos, which gained nearly 31,000 fans on Facebook and more than 12,000 followers on Twitter. Its brick-and-mortar location is located at 530 NW 23rd St.

It’s all about community building, said Kathryn Mathis, who owns Big Truck with Cally Johnson and Chris Lower.

“When we first got on Facebook, it was just to keep friends and family posted about the construction,” she said. “We hit 500 fans, and I thought, ‘Do we even know 500 people?’” Those pictures translated to customers because they would line up out the door. It has made them better restaurateurs, Mathis said.

“We wanted to be a neighborhood restaurant, so we post pictures and talk to our fans online,” she said. “We tell them where we’re at, what we’re doing. And when people have a problem, they tell us.”

Online complaints are actually a blessing, Mathis said.

“People who have a bad experience let us know, and we can do something about it. We can address it immediately, buy them lunch and fix it. People like to be heard,” she said.

So Big Truck listens. It takes suggestions, and it lets fans suggest names for salsas. It gives away gift cards online when a car sporting a Big Truck sticker is spotted.

“We just try to have fun with it,” Mathis said. “We learn who our customers are because we see them online all the time, and then, when they come in the restaurant, we know them and they know us.”

She said, “It’s like Cheers.

Everybody wants to go where people know their name.”


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