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Location-based tech gaining ground with restaurants

More operators luring customers with services like Foursquare and Facebook Deals

More restaurant chains are embracing location-based technology, offering deals through social media or creating loyalty tools of their own.

McCormick and Schmick’s Seafood Restaurants Inc. said Wednesday it is offering a free dish off its bar menus to patrons who "check in" using Foursquare. Meanwhile, CKE Restaurants Inc. is preparing to unveil a proprietary, geolocation-centered application for smartphones to anchor a new rewards program for its Hardee's and Carl's Jr. chains.

And last week, Chipotle Mexican Grill, McDonald’s and Starbucks were among the foodservice brands to sign up for Facebook Deals, a service that enables marketers to reward Facebook users who check in at restaurant and retail outlets using the Places feature from their mobile phones.

According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, young adults are among the heaviest users of location-based apps, though the overall population of users of such technology remains relatively small.

The study of 3,001 adults, completed in September, found that 8 percent of online adults, ages 18 to 29, use location-based services, such as Foursquare, Gowalla and Facebook Places, which is significantly more than online adults in other age groups. Overall, Pew said, 4 percent of online adults use such technology.

Portland, Ore.-based McCormick and Schmick’s said it is looking to attract a younger demographic with its Foursquare offer, which gives guests a free item off the bar menu, excluding cheeseburgers, with the purchase of any happy hour beverage. The 96-unit full-service seafood chain also is offering a free entrée with the purchase of another entrée to each restaurant's mayor, or the person who checks in the most frequently.

“We have always considered our bars an entry point for consumers wanting to try the McCormick & Schmick’s experience,” said Bill Freeman McCormick & Schmick’s chief executive. “We are continually striving to broaden our guest base to include a younger demographic. Location-based mobile applications like Foursquare are on trend with their lifestyle, and we felt that providing a great Happy Hour offer through Foursquare could further connect this audience to our brand.”

CKE Restaurants of Carpinteria, Calif., said it plans to launch proprietary mobile apps for the iPhone and Droid phones later this year in support of a Happy Star Rewards program. 

Beth Mansfield, CKE's director of public relations, said the new apps will allow guests to check in at Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurants to earn rewards like coupons for free or discounted menu items, as well as prizes ranging from Sony electronics to Southwest travel vouchers. Users who check in the first time can spin the Wheel of Awesome — similar to the Wheel of Awesome on the chains’ Facebook pages — and every fourth check-in and additional random check-ins will also result in a spin, she said.

Mansfield said the rewards will increase in value with the frequency of visits, and noted that guests can choose to redeem their coupon reward instantly, or save it for later use.

The Happy Star Rewards app will include a store locator, along with its loyalty program functions, Mansfield said. It also will permit users to post social media updates on Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and will feature video streaming via Carl’s Jr. & Hardee’s YouTube channels and offer menu and nutritional information, she said.

CKE, which operates or franchises 3,150 Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s restaurants, said the GPS-enabled Happy Star Rewards app was designed by its digital agency in Los Angeles, 72andSunny.

The research by Pew, which it said had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percent for the general population and 2.9 percent for the Internet population, offered more insight on the users of location-based service:

•  7 percent of adults who go online with their mobile phone use a location-based service.

• 10 percent of online Hispanic consumers use geosocial services, compared with 3 percent of online white consumers and 5 percent of online black consumers.

• 6 percent of online men use a location-based service, compared with 3 percent of online women.

Contact Alan J. Liddle at [email protected].

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