Posts Tagged ‘mad river’

At my tech-savvy friend Ross’s suggestion, he and I spent this past Saturday afternoon foursquaring some of the Upper East Side’s local businesses that were offering, well, free drinks.

If you’re familiar with foursquare, you know that many bars and restaurants use the service to offer check-in specials in the hopes of getting people off the street and into their establishments. Once there, the theory goes, customers will realize how wonderful the bar or restaurant is and spend lots of money there.

However, some establishments are limited by their naiveté. Meaning, just because a fancy French restaurant offers me a free drink for checking in one time doesn’t mean that I’ll be spending $35 on a three-course prix fixe meal as a thank you for their progressive approach to marketing.

So, with that in mind, here’s a look at how our afternoon went down:

First stop: Brasserie Julien on Third Ave between 81st and 82nd Sts
foursquare special: Free cocktail with 1 check-in

I arrived before Ross with my BlackBerry in hand, already having checked in from the street. At 3:45 pm on a Saturday, the place was pretty dead. When the bartender greeted me, I politely explained that I wanted to use the foursquare special and asked what beer she recommended. She was polite in return, but it was obvious that because I had come in with my foursquare guns blazin’, she wasn’t taking me too seriously as an upscale customer (the dollar tip I left did little to change her mind).

While I waited I perused the menu, which looked really good if not a little pricey. When Ross arrived he requested his own foursquare free drink. The bartender turned to me and said half jokingly, “What, you told all your friends to come here and get free drinks?” Ross tried to deflect her annoyance, explaining that we wanted to check out the place and that he and his wife were looking for a new French restaurant in the neighborhood. Still skeptical, she admonished us that “bartenders remember customers’ faces pretty well,” ostensibly implying that if we came in again tomorrow or the next day for free drinks (completely within our rights as foursquarers), we wouldn’t be looked upon so kindly. After about 20 minutes we decided to move on to our second stop.

(As far as the place itself, I’d consider going back in for dinner with my girlfriend, but I’m not likely to stop in just for a drink again–free or otherwise.)

Second stop: Mad River Bar & Grille on 82nd St and Third Ave
foursquare special: Free domestic beer with 1 check-in

Much of foursquare‘s appeal for small businesses is that it literally puts them on the map. It raises awareness among customers who either have never heard of a business or who have walked past it but never decided to go in. This wasn’t the case when it came to Mad River.

Ross and I had been to Mad River many times for their generous Friday night happy hours, which are particularly popular among the early 20s crowd (if you “win” one, you and your friends pay a $5 cover and get $1 drinks for three hours). So for us, checking in there wasn’t a recon mission; it was simply to get a free beer and watch the Yankee game. I nursed my free Bud Light for a while before breaking down and actually paying for a $4 Blue Moon. They only had a handful of customers besides us and from the looks of them, they weren’t there for the foursquare special. Unlike Brasserie Julien, the bartender at Mad River wasn’t as suspicious about our use of their foursquare special and was content to let us sit and talk and watch the game.

(At this point we made a detour from the free beer bar crawl to grab wings at Bar Coastal, 78th St and First Ave. We’d both been there before and knew how good their wings were–especially their off-menu “Kerry’s Way” wings–so we were willing to buy a late lunch and catch a few innings of the game. FYI: Bar Coastal’s foursquare special is 10% off your bill of $25 or more if you check in 3 times in 14 days.)

Third stop: Southern Hospitality on Second Ave between 76th and 77th Sts
foursquare special: Free domestic beer with 1 check-in

We showed up in time to catch the end of the Yankee game. The bartender was friendly and didn’t give us too much trouble when we ordered our free beers–they were also starting to seat dinner guests at this point so we weren’t a priority. We spent about a half hour hanging out at the bar, relatively out of the way of paying customers, and then headed home.

So, what was learned from this experience? Well, I learned that if you’re willing to put up with slightly dirty looks from bartenders, you can cash in on three free beers within a few blocks’ radius. But it’s not really about what we learned about gaming the system. It’s about what businesses should be learning from our freeloading.

In the case of Brasserie Julien, a free drink foursquare special doesn’t make much sense. If you’re willing to spend over $100 on dinner for two, you probably don’t care about getting one free beer with your meal. If anything, perhaps a 10% discount on your bill for frequent diners might work, but offering a free drink with every check-in will do little to attract your ideal customer, i.e. not Ross and me.

Mad River’s happy hour is already so good that one free beer isn’t going to make me go there more or less, and certainly not entice me to spend a ton of money there. I’d recommend they offer a half-price appetizer with every check in as long as a customer spends around $10 (about two beers). Most of their customers are there to drink, but why not let them sample the food in the hopes of upselling them on the rest of their menu right then and there or on a future visit?

Southern Hospitality is more restaurant than bar. With plenty of competition from established BBQ places like Brother Jimmy’s (right up the block on Second Ave between 77th and 78th Sts), a deal that appeals to frequent customers is probably the right fit for them.

It’s not news that some businesses are better at marketing than others. But as services like foursquare continue to pop up, it will become more and more critical that small businesses not only use these services, but use them correctly.

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