Apps Your Customers are Using

July 17, 2012

Yelp isn’t the only place to check when you’re wondering what customers are saying about your restaurant after they leave (and increasingly before they even finish eating!).  New services are popping up every day to help customers decide where to eat, and how to share it with their friends.  Here’s an overview of what you should be checking into if you want to keep up with your brand’s unofficial digital image.

The Source

Get Ready, Foodies – Apple Is Adding A New Food & Drink Category To The App Store — Alex Heath, The Cult of Mac
The All-Important Apple App Store, the store that started it all, is bringing new emphasis to food-related apps, and has, in part, inspired this post. With more information available on the go, customers will be making decisions about where to eat, what to order, and what to expect based increasingly on an establishment’s social presence. Certainly this doesn’t affect every eatery, but it never hurts to be aware of what’s out there.

The Tools

The Foodspotter App — Foodspotter is a beautifully-designed, image-based mobile phone application.  It’s meant to be used at a restaurant, shockingly enough, while dining.  So, if you see customers pointing their phones at their plates between bites, they may well be using this service to share your creations with the world.  These images are paired with short reviews, so just looking good is not good enough for this app (:P).  Other users can compare photos and reviews of the same dish, and the overall impression of each dish is calculated in terms of each “Sighting”.  So essentially, this is  Foursquare for cheeseburgers.

The GrubHub App — GrubHub has been making a huge splash in cities all over America, as it expands from humble beginnings as a tool for two hungry guys living in Chicago. Here’s the scoop: users tell the app where they are, and the app tells them what restaurants deliver to them. There doesn’t seem to be any ‘sign up’ responsibility on the part of managers to get listed, but it wouldn’t hurt to make sure it’s as accurate as possible for your establishment, right?

Complain About a Business Directly By Texting the Manager — Jesse Kunze, Gadgetica
This entry may have been more at home in our Guide(s) to Social Media for Restaurants, but it’s going here because this collection is all about how technology is shaping the way restaurants build relationships with their customers over technology. This app is subscription-based, paid for by the establishment, and allows customers to directly communicate with the manager. Proponents say it is a great tool for minimizing (and even capitalizing on) the fall-out of an unfortunate dining experience, because it allows them to address complaints immediately.

The “We’re Not Groupon”

GrubWithUs — We’re not here to pass judgments on daily-deal sites, but this service is quick to point out how different the two services are. With GrubWithUs, a diner looking to meet up with other food lovers sets up a meal with a participating restaurant. Other diners join this meal through the website, and if enough people join, the first person pays in advance for the meal and a reservation is made. The goal of this site is to connect people who want to share a delicious meal with new people, a stark contrast with the target customer base of Groupon and other daily deal companies. Often these diners are from out of town, or otherwise unfamiliar with the area, so this may be their only chance to discover what you have to offer!


Sustainability and the Kitchen

July 10, 2012

In light of the news surrounding the foie gras ban in California, we’ve chosen to revisit a common debate: Should a chef need to be concerned about how his materials are sourced?  Should chefs necessarily take a stance on the conditions under which food animals are raised, or the environmental impact of growing each plant?  Champions of sustainability say yes, yet those who exalt the creative prowess of the chef above all else may say no.  Naturally, this question stands for any artist and their medium, so let’s take a look at this question as it stands in the American culinary community today.

Thomas Keller and Retort

For Them, a Great Meal Tops Good Intentions — Julia Moskin, The New York Times
An interview with Thomas Keller and Andoni Luis Aduriz on their views toward cooking with sustainability in mind. In this case, the title sums it up: for them aesthetics and delicacy trump all, at least when it comes to fine dining. To focus on anything else would be to disrupt the artistic process of the chef, preventing him for adequately performing his duties.

Thomas Keller’s Disappointing Stance on Sustainable Cooking — Nick Wiseman, The Huffington Post
A contrasting opinion in direct response to the positions laid out above. Mr Wiseman notes the power of well-known, respected chefs to effect great change in the world, or at the very least to influence public opinion. This article occasionally reads more like a lament than a call to action, but the points being made are certainly valid.


Finding Sustainable Burgers in TexasThe Daily Meal
This article is really more of a restaurant guide than a newspiece, but all the same its observations of a state known for its steaks reflect the condition of finding sustainable meat across America.

Sustainable Seas

3 Apps For Eating Seafood Sustainably — Eleanor West, Food Republic
This quick bite of a story profiles 3 simple apps that help diners choose their fish dinner based on the fish’s ecological condition. In each app, fish are marked by an ecological evaluation of how sustainably each is being fished, noting those to avoid and those to go for.

Chilean Sea Bass: It’s Baaaack! — Brad A Johnson, Food Republic
Mr Johnson admits to having ‘fallen off the wagon’ when it comes to avoiding Chilean Sea Bass, a fish that is frequently avoided in the name of sustainability. In light of his newly-re-discovered guilty passion for the fish, Johnson comments on the fish’s actual ecological state, and the nature of the predicament surrounding its place on many chefs’ ‘Do-Not-Fry’ list.

What We’re Following: Foie Gras

July 1, 2012

The end of a long period of waiting has finally arrived: the 7 and a half year long difference from the signing of legislation to ban foie gras in California and the date the law goes into effect has finally shrunk to zero  (For more on the history of foie gras legislation, check out the companion to this post, our Foie Gras Timeline).  In light of this contentious landmark, we present here a condensed overview of the final months in this debate.  Please feel free to add any further resources in the comments below.  As this issue elicits so many strong emotions from both sides, all the articles below should be read with an eye toward an Op-Ed context. For readers with shy stomachs, some, perhaps, should not be read at all. Articles with particularly graphic description have been noted in our annotation.


Foie gras isn’t forever — John Burton, LA Times
Mr. Burton, who wrote the bill for the ban on foie gras nearly 8 years ago, revisits the conditions under which the law came to be. He highlights that a major factor in providing such a long grace period was to give farmers the opportunity to develop alternative means of producing foie gras that were less offensive to the animal’s nature. According to Mr. Burton, this is an agreement that has failed to produce the promised results.

Foie gras is torture in a tin. It’s time for a ban — Steven Berkoff, The Guardian
Opinions from across the pond, in England, where ‘gavage’ (but not the sale of foie gras) has been banned for some time now, and where the source of the dish, France, is closer to home. Mr. Berkoff focuses on the graphic detail of conditions in foie gras farms, but distinguishes between those found in America and France, with the latter being described as generally less humane.

Foie Gras Fighters Make False Resys to Thwart Service — Kat Odell, Eater
The title says it all. In the wake of the foie gras ban, the California culinary world has become increasingly confrontational, and this article takes a brief look at a few of the tactics being utilized.

Opponents: The CHEFS Movement

Chefs Say Foie Gras Ban Could Spread Beyond California — Elena Ferretti, Fox News
The headline does not get to the real meat of this article, which concerns threats allegedly received by several chefs over their insistence on continuing to prepare foie gras until the ban takes effect.

Waddling into the Sunset — Jesse McKinley, The New York Times
An almost-elegaic portrait of the steps taken in the weeks before the ban’s effect by those who oppose it, peppered with the commentary of those who support it. Some still hope for a successful appeal, while others are just hoping to enjoy their last taste of the versatile dish (at least until they head out-of-state, of course). The commentary by food-focused journalist Michael Pollen on the second page is worth clicking through for.

With foie gras ban, chefs say state is force-feeding morality — Jonathan Gold, LA Times
Mr. Gold presents the stance of chefs who favor foie gras in parallel to the move of so many individual Californian chefs removing Bluefin tuna from menus, in light of the threat of extinction for the fish.  He thereby argues that the chefs affected by this legislation are chefs whose sense of morality is well-adjusted, and fully in accordance with their menus.  This piece, probably the most opinionated of this post, is included for the clarity with which it seems to capture the general sentiment of the CHEFs members.

A Foie Gras Timeline

July 1, 2012

2004 – SB1520 passes in California, allowing producers 7.5 years to arrange a different means of foie gras production

2006 – Chicago passes law prohibiting the sale of foie gras within city limits, with 90-day grace period; meets with repeated deliberate infractions as a form of protest; only a single establishment fined — a gourmet hot dog stand

2008 – Chicago foie gras ban repealed, under criticism from then-mayor Daley

2012 – CHEFS, or, Coalition for Humane and Ethical Farming Standards, union of pro-foie Californian chefs formed by several well-known Californian chefs

             – Pro-foie chefs begin ‘foie-mageddon’, preparing an unprecedented number of foie-based dishes for patrons in anticipation of the law’s enactment; anti-foie activists attempt to thwart these statements by making false reservations, and picketing outside participating restaurants

             July 1 – California law enacted in full.


Further Reading:


Chicago Prohibits Foie Gras — Gretchen Ruethling, The New York Times

Chicago Overturns Foie Gras Ban — Nick Fox, The New York Times

‘Foie-Mageddon’ :

With Time Running Out, California Is Gorging Itself on Foie Gras — Ben Worthen, The Wall Street Journal


The CHEFS group is covered at length in our companion post —  What We’re Following: Foie Gras 

PENPals’ Guide to Social Media Guides for Foodservice Brands, Part 2

June 26, 2012

And we’re BACK with PENPals’ Guide to Social Media Guides for Foodservice Brands — Part 2, our quick collection of treatises that will, we hope, help you stake out your piece of the social media landscape.  We focus even more on the crowd in this edition, in light of new development along the Yelp front, and a major change coming from Twitter.


Your Tweets Are About To Get Longer— Farhad Manjoo, Slate
Twitter is moving into longer-form messages, though not the way you’d expect.  Basically, certain sources will have the opportunity to inject more detailed meta-content into links from their sites, so users who post them can see more about the link before clicking on it.  There is currently something of an application process to be one of those special few brands, but all signs point to this becoming a more important feature in the long-term.


5 Ways to Promote Your Restaurant on Pinterest — Christopher Lower, Above the Buzz
Mr. Lower here provides an excellent overview of the potential value of maintaining an active Pinterest account for your business.  He tends to focus on the SEO benefits, which, while nothing to shrug off, are not the only way of maximizing on your time.  Pinterest is fundamentally an image-based sharing network, allowing companies who produce stunning visuals to easily present themselves to the world.  Sound like a great place for an interactive online menu?  We think so.


Social Media on a Small Business Budget — Liana Evans, ClickZ
A nice overview of how some have managed their resources around a social media campaign, be it a short-lived push or a long-term presence.  If you’re unsure of where to begin, this is a good place to start.
TripAdvisor Aims To Beat Yelp With Social, Revives Restaurant “Local Picks” Facebook App
More competition for Yelp, and another online stockpile of reviews to at least be aware of.  TripAdvisor, usually associated with making travel arrangements and providing an easy way of learning about unfamiliar local offerings, is making a move to capture more of the local market.  What does this mean for you?  Probably not much, but it’s good to be aware that local customers may be seeing more opinions from out-of-towners as they make their dinner plans.


When is it Okay to Write  a Bad Yelp Review?
This blogger considers the many things that customers should take into account before venting spleen on a restaurant’s Yelp page.  Surely most of this won’t be news to those in the food industry, but this may be worth passing around to the staff as a smart refresher of what is at stake when customers feel mishandled.

Testimonials: Martha

June 23, 2012

“I am not one for being good at vocalizing my opinion but I will say that I have enjoyed doing most of the the evaluations and have watched the PEN Pals site develop and grow over the years. It has been pleasurable being part of the program.”


PENPals’ Guide to Social Media Guides for Foodservice Brands, Part 1

June 19, 2012

Everyone and their sister has written a How-To for Social Media, so in lieu of doing so ourselves, we’ve set out to collect the best resources we’ve found on the topic, with emphasis on using social media as a foodservice brand.  We’ve sought out articles that seem to present the “Golden Thread” of success, and thereby avoid too much contradiction or overlap, though suggestions may vary between any two articles.  Anyway, without further ado, we present to you PENPals’ Guide to Social Media Guides for Foodservice Brands.


How to Use Timeline for Brand Pages: New Feature Details — Josh Constine, TechCrunch
This article popped up right as Facebook was about to make the new Timeline layout mandatory for all business pages.  Instead of going over a whole tutorial-esque introduction to engaging customers on Facebook, try out just this article, which will give you an overview of the features available with Timeline.  You’ve got to know which tools you have before you know what tools to learn more about!


Google+ beefed up with Zagat, which is now free for all — Jeremy C Owens, Mercury News
We posted this story last week, but feel it belongs here as well.  The ever-tighter integration of Zagat reviews with Google+ searches (those aimed specifically at finding local eateries) has implications for patron relationships I’m sure we don’t need to wax poetic over here.


3 Steps to Determine if Social Local Mobile Is Right for Your Business — Jamie Turner, Social Media Examiner
A relatively general primer, more focused on helping you decide if you should even bother with social media (Spoilers: if you’re a restaurant, they say YES). There follows some discussion of how to make your targeted customers comfortable with engaging with you through this new strategy. All-around a good place to start when branching out!

Fund your restaurant via social media? It can be done — Bob Krummert, Restaurant Hospitality
Crowd-sourcing is one of those new buzzwords that seems to be everywhere, leaving business owners, and prospective business owners, wondering where they can get involved with this phenomenon.  The answer may be websites like, which creates an easy link between the project, or restaurant, and donors of any caliber.  Be very aware, though, if the project’s goal amount isn’t reached, the money doesn’t get sent!  With this in mind, however, many have made it work for them.  This article may help you succeed.

Testimonials: Vicky

June 16, 2012

“I think the PEN Pals and Product Evaluations programs are great! Not only do I get to provide input that helps to shape the face of new products in food service, but I get incredible benefits from it myself. I have gotten to try many new/test products in my restaurant, and have been able to receive many useful (or just fun) items in return. Some for the bar, some for the kitchen, and some for myself! I recently had enough points from all the surveys and test product placements that I was able to get a Sony home theater sound system for my bedroom. It is very high quality, just like all the rewards in your catalog. Thank you PEN Pals and Product Evaluations!”


What We’re Following: Foodservice Tech Trends, Part 3

June 12, 2012

Well, here we are again with another set of articles bearing technological prophesy for the foodservice industry! Last time we focused on the integration of tablet computers with POS systems of all persuasions, from the traditional to the cutting edge. This time around we’re taking a look at how some restaurants are taking advantage of tech resources to solve the timeless problems associated with growth.

Social Rumblings, Customer Engagement

Google+ beefed up with Zagat, which is now free for all — Jeremy C Owens, Mercury News
Last year, Google bought Zagat.  Now Zagat is integrated even more tightly into your food-related search results on the Internet giant’s social network, Google+, while not to mention also free for everyone on the Zagat website (don’t worry, the little red book will still be sold!).   Whether you’re a restaurant operator or a patron, this means unprecedented access to one of the most highly regarded restaurant review aggregators in the country.  Good food is becoming easier to find than ever before!

Skip Yelp; Text Your Terrible Experience Right to the Restaurant — Suzanne Choney, MSNBC
This service is almost exactly what it sounds like. For participating restaurants, customers are enabled to send anonymous text messages directly to the owners or managers of a restaurant, and the recipient is then able to respond immediately to the concern (as if they didn’t have enough going on!), in the hopes that a speedy resolution will prevent bad reviews on sites like Yelp.

Restaurants using iPad kiosks for customer loyalty —
Trade in that loyalty card for a new tablet!  Engage your customers with some exciting new technology, say these tech start-ups.  To be frank, anyone who lets me play with a tablet computer will always be considered fondly.  Perhaps the same will be true for your customers?

The Shady Side…If you catch my drift..

California restaurants decry ‘Yelp extortion’ — Doug Powell
Concern over a disgruntled citizen’s demand for gift certificate compensation for an alleged bout of food poisoning, at the risk of their leaving a negative Yelp review for the restaurant, has some considering the darker side of social media, and what it could mean for restaurants.  Like any other tool, of course, social media is only as good as those who use it properly.  A few crazy characters out there shouldn’t spoil the party for the rest of us! 🙂

Recap of Mobile Tech and POS from Last Month’s NRA Show

From the Floor: High Tech on the Front Lines — Barney Wolf, QSR Magazine
Contrasting a foodservice convention with one for consumer electronics should be a relatively simple task, notes Mr. Wolf, but now the edges are blurring.  Many of the most prominent features of this year’s NRA show were tech-heavy solutions to age-old problems in the restaurant business.  See what he has to say in this article for QSR Magazine.

Testimonials: S. Zurkamer

June 9, 2012

“What I would say–By participating, I get to see what is being looked at as far as new products/packaging/merchandising. To then see some items at a later date actually come to the marketplace makes you feel like you had a part in that happening.”

S. Zurkamer, OH