Tuesday, September 16, 2014     Volume: 15, Issue: 27
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Santa Maria Sun / Eats

Facebook and food: Santa Barbara County restaurants are using social media to bring in computer-savvy diners

BY WENDY THIES SELL


MARRIED WITH CHILDREN (AND A RESTAURANT)
Talented culinary couple Amy Curti and husband, Chef Alfonso Curti, own the Old Town Orcutt restaurant Trattoria Uliveto.
PHOTO BY WENDY THIES SELL

Trattoria Uliveto, the terrific traditional Italian restaurant in Old Town Orcutt, is one of several Central Coast restaurants using modern means—social media—to market its business.

Whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or Linkedin, restaurants are posting pictures of appetizing specials, advertising events, revealing new menus, and hosting giveaways.

Last month, Trattoria Uliveto offered one such contest on its Facebook page, asking customers to name the one appetizer from the restaurant that they couldn’t live without. All who replied to the post were entered into a drawing for a free appetizer.

The contest caught my eye. I eagerly entered my favorite Trattoria Uliveto appetizer, the Parmigiana di melanzane ($12): baked eggplant, tomato sauce, mozzarella, Parmesan cheese, and basil. I order the delicious dish practically every time I visit.

 Eighty comments later, the dish with the most votes was the Rollino Veneto ($14): rolled pizza dough with braised radicchio, onion, and smoked mozzarella baked in Uliveto’s pizza oven like a calzone and topped with fresh tomato, garlic, basil, and olive oil. It’s a super starter, but some customers eat it as their entrée with a salad and wine.

While I didn’t win the giveaway, I was soon on the phone with Amy Curti, Uliveto’s charismatic marketing guru and wife of chef Alfonso Curti.


PREFERRED ANTIPASTI
A popular dish at Trattoria Uliveto is the Rollino Veneto ($14); rolled pizza dough with braised radicchio, onion, smoked mozzarella, and topped with fresh tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and basil.
PHOTO BY WENDY THIES SELL

“The next day I had several people come in and say, ‘We’ve never had the Rollino.’ Everyone was writing about it,” Amy told me.

She posted a photo of the Rollino to announce the winner, and I admitted that I was ready to head over to Uliveto’s to try one for myself!

“You saw that fresh tomato, basil, and garlic and you’re thinking, ‘sign me up,’” Amy said when I told her that the image grabbed my attention.

She explained that photographs make the best posts, and the time of day she posts on Facebook is important, too.

She has learned from social media experts that first thing in the morning and at the end of the workday are the times that most people log onto Facebook.

And a surprising trend with Uliveto customers: “The most influential posts have been usually about cocktails and drinks rather than the food,” she shared. “Isn’t that interesting?”

So Amy soon followed up the appetizer contest with one involving Uliveto’s signature cocktails, showing a photo of its Pink Guava Martini.

Amy is always thinking of new ways to market the restaurant using social media. She said the question “how am I going to keep us fresh and updated?” is on her mind every morning.


Traditional Italian, modern marketing
Trattoria Uliveto is located in the heart of Old Town Orcutt at 285 S. Broadway. The phone number is 934-4546. The website is trattoriauliveto.com.

“We’re finding it’s all about Facebook,” she shared. “This is a free tool for everyone to have. For someone to negate it or to not take advantage of it, it’s really a waste. This is the new generation’s major tool … so if you want to stay ‘in the know’ and you want to hear the latest, and you want to have your finger on the pulse, you have to just give in.”

Many other Northern Santa Barbara County restaurants are embracing social media, too, thinking of clever ways to convince customers to walk in their doors.

Jamie Gluck’s Bell Street Farm in Los Alamos recently posted an enticing photo of its rotisserie chicken and suggested to Facebook friends, “It’s a perfect Monday for a Chicken-to-go!”

And during one sizzling hot Los Alamos afternoon in June, Bell Street Farm posted this comment: “Okay…I have the A/C on full blast! Nice! Here are the specials for this weekend. Come and get cool.”

The Ostini Family of The Hitching Post in Casmalia also does a good job marketing their historic restaurant using social media. 

During the week of the county fair, they wrote this on their Facebook page above a photo of Hitching Post baby back ribs: “Anyone tired of eating fair food? Why don’t you pay us a visit and get some REAL food! Chef Phil Meza is behind the pit tonight and would love to cook you the best meal ever!”

The newly expanded Succulent Café Wine Charcuterie in Solvang wrote this to send its Facebook followers to Twitter: “Follow this little piggy on Twitter… @Succulent_Cafe.”

Full of Life Flatbread is also social-media savvy, with daily posts and pictures. The restaurant thanked Facebook friends and readers of this publication for selecting it Best Restaurant in Los Alamos, with a link to the Sun’s 2013 Best Of issue.

And Rooney’s Irish Pub in Old Town Orcutt put out the call for even more Facebook followers, posting this in late September: “WoooooHHHHHooooo! 4,000 Likes! Thank you for the support and we have something big planned for the 5,000 mark!! So share, share, share!”

So follow your favorite restaurants on Facebook and other sites to find out about news, events, and contests, giving you even more reasons to patronize the many excellent eateries on the Central Coast.

 

Sun wine and food columnist Wendy Thies Sell wants to hear about your favorite appetizer, entree, or dessert. Contact her at wthies@santamariasun.com.