The Green Owl.jpg
The Green Owl Cafe, see here, is one of the Madison restaurants using social networking sites to offer good deals.

Jennie Capellaro, owner of the vegetarian Green Owl Cafe on the near east side, recently offered a $20 gift certificate through Groupon, the popular coupon service. It was wildly popular, selling out all the 1,250 Groupons available.

“We were actually kind of relieved we set a limit on it,” she said. Diners pay $10 for the Groupon, but have twice that amount to spend at the cafe.

For diners willing to spend a little time navigating social networking sites and popular coupon services like Groupon and LivingSocial, there are other good deals to be found. At the same time, local restaurants that experiment with such new-media tools are building connections with their customers and promoting specials to attract new diners.

Capellaro said it will be hard to judge how successful the Groupon is in building a new crop of regulars. But with 1,250 people coming to the Green Owl to use the coupon, it’s likely they’ll bring at least one friend, upping that number to 2,500. And most will probably spend more than $20.

She’s had success with social networking before. Even before the Green Owl Cafe opened, the restaurant had a Facebook page that helped build buzz. She regularly announces specials on the page and just joined Twitter, too (@GreenOwlHoot).

She likes that Twitter is “less intrusive” to people compared to email blasts.

“They can take the initiative to follow us,” she said.

Ken Monteleone, owner of Fromagination (@fromagination) on the Capitol Square, said starting this year, 10 percent of their small marketing budget is used for Facebook giveaways. The cheese shop, known for its fancy sandwiches and fondue lunches, has used Facebook to poll customers about new products (asking what new microbrews the shop should stock), offering the chance to win prizes (in that case, a six-pack of beer).

“We found that to be very beneficial,” Monteleone said. “Customers weigh in and give us some great insights.”

He’s found that it works better to use social networking to foster dialogue with customers instead of just listing specials, for instance.

“The more we made it ... a conversational dialogue, the more interest it generated,” he said.

At the Weary Traveler, chef Joey Dunscombe (@Wearychefjoey) posts the nightly specials on Twitter and uses the tool to banter with customers. Some ask for recipes or ask questions about the menu or cooking in general. And does it bring in more customers?

“We’re always busy so I don’t know,” he said. But after reading the specials, some followers will tweet back that they are coming in that night.

Among the many local restaurants using Twitter are Francesca’s al Lago (@Francescas_Lago), Roman Candle Pizza (@TheRomanCandle) and Barriques (@barriques).