Earls and Invoke Serving Up Facebook Engagement With New Menu

Vancouver is one of the most competitive economies in the country; if companies make their fortunes in Toronto, they spend them in Vancouver, where high rents and higher living expenses keep prices high on just about everything.  Vancouver’s restaurant industry is particularly competitive. The best chefs in the city are routinely courted by restauranteurs of other cities. They invariably choose to stay–the perks of plying their trade in Vancouver, to a discerning customer base that loves them-are legion.

It’s not just the creators of haute cuisine that have to compete. Vancouver’s also home to many chains of restaurants promising great food, comfort, service, and affordability to its customers, all while defending the bottom line.

Thankfully for these businesses, some of the world’s best marketing comes from Vancouver, where companies fight tooth and nail for every spare consumer dollar.

Up until yesterday, no real ground had been claimed in terms of social media. Many restaurants use their Twitter and Facebook profiles to highlight specials, holiday hours, or special events–but the engagement, on the whole, is not that high. It’s safe to say that the first victory’s just been had by Earls, with a new social media menu that’s meant to harness customers’ love of their dishes and create a community of Earl’s patrons across North America. The platform was built by Invoke Media, best known as the parent of HootSuite, with help from Facebook.

Sam Wempe, Earls’ Account Manager at Invoke, sat down with me to discuss the platform.

“We spent about two months doing in-depth research on them and their competitors for Facebook, and what we found in their analytics was that seven out of the top ten things on their website were clicks concerning the menu. People want to go look at the menu, and the highest performing content on the Facebook page is food porn. This was not a surprise. Earl’s fans have big attachments to their favourite dishes. So this is about exploring individual menu items. We wanted to focus on the textures of the food, and the social feed tells you what your friends have liked, and what’s been liked on a global scale. You can select the most popular items, and give the ones you like the stamp of approval. It’s going to create news feed items in the same way that Netflix or Songcloud does. This proves that you can interact with food in a similar way.”

The merits of the platform for discovering what to order at Earls are plain, but Sam sees the app really appealing to hardcore Earls fans, who want to show off their expertise in picking what to order. The app has a roadmap: Sam assures me that  ”there’s going to be quite a few extra features integrated in the next six months.”

There’s no restraint in his praise. “I think it’s the most innovative thing any restaurant’s done on Facebook. Not just their competition. I haven’t seen anything close to this, and that’s what makes me so excited. It seemed so straightforward. There’re restaurants using hashtags on Instagram. That’s it. This is different.”

The match of Invoke and Earls is a good one.  Earls was the first to introduce the concept of the “upscale casual” or “casual fine dining” category to the North American restaurant industry, and the chain was founded in Edmonton thirty-one years ago. Invoke earned the prestigious Facebook Preferred Marketing Developer badge, only one of five Canadian companies to receive the honour in 2012. If anyone is fearing that the platform will be abused, Earls’ Communications Manager Cate Simpson can put those fears to rest.

“It’s fun, it’s interactive, I think guests are going to have fun interacting with it. It’s more of a toy than a tool–Earls staff can’t access the menu. Invoke told us it would be a great fit, and asked us if we wanted to take it further. We said yes. Instantly. They developed it to a point where it looks fantastic.”

It looks as good as the food. If this whets up Earls’ fans’s appetites, then people at both Invoke and Earls will be eating well indeed.