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Bart Fricks, COO of the Copper Cellar Family of Restaurants, brings more than 27 years of restaurant experience to the table (yes, pun intended J). Previously with Mr. Gatti’s and then Ruby Tuesday, the man behind the Calhoun’s Restaurant Twitter handle @Calhouns, says being part of the “social party” gives him the opportunity to stay close to customers.  Fricks says that managing their many restaurant concepts within the Copper Cellar brand is a challenge but customers follow and engage with the restaurants they enjoy most. Their team, Fricks says it is definitely a group effort at this point, uses tools such as Hootsuite to help space out their posts so they don’t bombard customers all at once with messages from each concept.

The locally-loved restaurant brand first launched into the social web with Facebook pages for Smoky Mountain Brewery and Copper Cellar in the fall of 2009 followed shortly with pages for Calhoun’s and Chesapeake’s. By the end of 2009, the brand had accumulated 1,518 followers. It wasn’t until the group really started joining in the conversation that they saw the biggest increase in followers. Posting each concept’s daily specials, events, and responding to customer feedback and suggestions quickly has driven much of their success in continuing to grow in the social space.  Twitter proved to be a bit different story for the brand. Fricks says that in 2009 and 2010, they didn’t do a very good job with Twitter. He took over as the voice behind @Calhouns and began thanking people for following them, retweeting, and jumping in the conversation especially on #FollowFriday where you suggest that your friends “follow” others on Twitter. “More is better on Twitter,” says Fricks, as he encourages the group to be active in the space and comment on what others are saying.

Posting great food photos and monitoring searches like “Where to eat in Knoxville” has helped the brand expand their reach. Fricks says it’s easy to go after big numbers, using an app to buy followers for example, but he’s not interested in that.  His goal is for the brand “to be great at a few things” and not try to be everywhere such as places like Foursquare, Flickr, or Pinterest. For now, the brand is focusing on cultivating great conversations with their customers mainly on Facebook and Twitter.

My favorite conversation point of the luncheon is when Fricks exclaims, “I hate coupons.” Most people assume that restaurants are just going to be in the coupon business. He goes on to say that in his experience coupons have a way of abruptly bringing in clientele which the restaurant isn’t quite prepared for, and then service and food quality suffers. “You can’t just hire servers for 4 weeks and expect them to provide great service then let them go,” which is what would be required for a huge influx of customers which a deep offer coupon. To Fricks, great service and quality of food every time a guest comes in to one of their restaurants is the ultimate goal of the brand.

The Copper Cellar Family of Restaurants is continuing to expand its real estate in the digital and social space. New websites for each restaurant concept are coming soon, and Fricks says they are looking into hiring someone to manage their social strategy. So keep on the lookout for new great things coming from this local restaurant family!

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