Restaurant News Bites: Darden, Dunkin’, Dickey’s

Restaurant News Bites: Darden, Dunkin', Dickey'sSocial marketing can help restaurants attract new customers and connect with regulars, but few restaurants use this medium correctly. Zengo connects with its Facebook fans through contests and recipes, Havana Central has over 1000 Twitter subscribers, and Butter Lane Cupcakes offers cupcake classes instead of using a group discount club like Groupon. The Burger Shoppe offers free sides when customers check in at FourSquare, and Nombe created special scavenger hunts on Foodspotting. Engaging customers on social media websites properly can grow your business at little cost. has announced the coverage of seven special restaurants during the March edition of their popular “Behind the Menu” features. This month’s coverage will focus on American cuisine in its many forms. The Georgia Rib Company, Jimmy Love’s and Academe Maine Brasserie & Tavern are among the highlighted eateries.

Papa John’s announced their four Franchise Operators of the Year for 2011 at their Annual Operator’s Conference. The honorees included PJ Sound Pizza, LLC  for the National Medium Group Franchisee of the Year and PJ Korea, Co. as the International Franchisee of the Year. These winners were chosen for their high quality service and as examples of the Papa John’s company image. Franchisees are encouraged to use the four yearly winners as role models for their own businesses.

Dunkin’ Brands has awarded the winners of their Franchisee & Enterprise Awards for 2010. Award categories included 2010 Dunkin’ Donuts Developer of the Year, 2010 Supplier/Agency of the Year  and 2010 Baskin-Robbins Franchisee of the Year. Top franchisees and developers of Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin Robbins were recognized for their innovation and drive in 2010.

Tip sharing, as a method to reduce payroll costs, is becoming increasingly common among chain restaurants as the recession continues. Darden Restaurants, which includes Olive Garden, Red Lobster and Longhorn Steakhouse, has recently implemented a mandatory tip sharing system in their chains. Waitresses and bartenders receive a percentage of total tips, and a corresponding amount is subtracted from their wages. Wait staff in some of these restaurants complain that tip sharing has lowered their overall income.

Despite the traditional slow growth of franchise sales in the first quarter of any year, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit has seen 90% increases in sales this quarter. Part of their rapid growth is due to the low start up costs associated with a Dickey’s Barbecue Pit restaurant. They made the decision last year to pull in all sales and marketing attempts to an in-house team as well.

White Castle’s new casual dining brand Laughing Noodle won the “Casual Dining Award” as part of the 29th “Store of the Year Retail Design Competition. The contest was held by the Chain Store Age magazine. Laughing Noodle’s menu focuses on family friendly and affordable salads and noodle dishes.

Applebee’s is inviting March Madness fans around the country to visit their restaurants to watch the games. With large screen TVs showing constant coverage of the bracket games, Applebee’s also offers a wide range of appetizers and beer selections to enjoy as well. Employees plan to spend a total 8 million hours watching the games while working. Applebee’s encourages these workers to spend their lunch break or evening hours catching up on the games in their restaurants.

Fans of the NCAA March Madness tournament can vote in Domino’s new Pizza Bracket on Facebook. To celebrate National Bracket Day as fans choose their guesses for the winner of the tournament, Domino’s is asking Facebook fans to vote on their favorite pizza topping combination. The winning pizza will be announced during the final week of March Madness.

Famous Dave’s, a pit barbeque chain, is hosting a March Madness Bracket Challenge with a top prize of $1,000,000. If any of the visitors to their website pick a perfect bracket they will win the grand prize. Other prices are available for participants who pick regional winners or the final winner of the tournament.