Houlihan’s Restaurants Build Brand Advocates through Foursquare, other Social Networks

Whether it’s the Truckstop Fries with chipotle cheese sauce, Disco Fries with melty mozzarella and slow cooked pot roast and gravy, or just straight up with a side of ketchup, Houlihan’s restaurants across the county are giving away free Frites for every Foursquare check-in.

Houlihan’s upped the ante for loyal guests who become Mayor of their local Houlihan’s restaurant; the user with the most check-ins at participating Houlihan’s restaurants will receive a free Small Plate, up to $6, featured on the new, flavor-packed menu of 30+ tapas-like dishes.

“Sure, we want to reward guests for telling their friends that they’re eating at our restaurants, but we carefully thought about which menu items they’d actually want to talk about and recommend to their social networks,” said Jen Gulvik, Vice President of Marketing and Creative Director for Houlihan’s Restaurants, Inc. “It’s one thing to get a new guest through the door for a freebie with common items like chips and salsa for example, but we see more talk value in items like our Pickle ‘Fries’ served with dipping sauces or Goat Cheese and Artichoke Poppers. We’re growing our base of brand advocates, not just check averages.”

For the past few years, Houlihan’s has methodically entered the social media space. The brand quietly formed its own social network of ‘HouliFans’ in early 2008, inviting select customers into an innovative online community called ‘HQ.’ The site engages customers with company leadership in forums where ideas and upcoming plans are shared for feedback, along with disseminating food, beverage and music-related content consistent with the brand’s hip personality. HQ’s 10,000+ HouliFans are also a resource for crowd sourcing and ultimately, greater building brand loyalty and sales via members-only tastings and exclusive events. Fans partake in word-of-mouth campaigns for rewards such as kitchen gadgets, professional cookware, and even trip packages.

In early 2009, Houlihan’s emerged on Facebook not with a corporate Fan Page, but a profile for their cheeky in-store coaster persona named ‘Coaster McGee’ (www.facebook.com/coaster.mcgee) whose quips like “I like lovers like my coffee…rich and hot,” built a following of loyal guests that appreciate the brand’s sarcasm. Houlihan’s later formed an ‘official’ company Facebook page as well, and this month, launched a campaign to donate $1 to Vh1 Save the Music Foundation for every new ‘Liker,’ in September, up to $30,000. (www.facebook.com/houlihans)

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