Fuel Charleston

Fuel Charleston

Anyone who manages or owns a restaurant knows that responsibilities go beyond the food, the staff, and the guests. Today, it’s increasingly important, even essential, that you manage a successful online presence through various social media channels.

But while many restaurateurs turn to PR professionals for help, there are some in management that still deny the importance of strong social media practices, perhaps because they are resistant to change, unfamiliar with the process, or even intimidated by creating an online presence. Social media becomes something easily placed on the back burner or skipped entirely, especially when marketing budgets are tight or otherwise allocated for other areas.

What restaurateurs may not realize is that there is likely a resource right under their nose they can utilize to make the process easier: current employees. Not only do they already know the business, but many are well-versed in favorite social media platforms, as well. If they’re engaged in their work, chances are they have already expressed a desire, at least amongst themselves, for your restaurant to have a stronger online presence to help attract guests, publicize events and specials, and communicate with customers to increase loyalty.

28-day dry-aged Tomahawk at Cowford Steakhouse
28-day dry-aged Tomahawk at Cowford Steakhouse

For Alexandria Klempf, social media was all in the family. Her father had purchased the building that was to become Cowford Chophouse in Jacksonville, Florida, and when she completed graduate school, she returned home to help write grants for historic preservation of the building.

“When I started working for my dad, there was nobody doing social media for his [then multiple] restaurants, and maybe because the partners were all over 40, they didn’t see a need for it,” Klempf recalls. “I joined Facebook as soon as I could when I went to college, and as I grew into adulthood, it just became a part of how I interacted.”

So she convinced the team to consider social media, and then became the coordinator for all the restaurants, eventually growing it into a full-time position that the company then hired for. As her father’s entrepreneurial focus shifted to include Cowford and other ventures, Klempf remained on to handle the social media, which has now become part of her diverse job duties.

“Every Friday, I look at our engagement on Instagram for the week, and then I repost images from five guests that tagged us,” she says. “To me, that creates a feed that says, ‘Hey this is how good our food looks in real time,’ as well as proving that our guests are having experiences they share with friends. Sure, this is a job that is far away from writing grants, but I’m a potpourri person who likes to do a lot of things, and I get satisfaction from the interactions and the brand we’re building.”

Stagioni. Photo Credit: Stefanie Haviv
Stagioni. Photo Credit: Stefanie Haviv

For Joshua Broome, proprietor of Fuel Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina, his social media usage got an upgrade simply because he was observant of what staff was already doing in his restaurant. “Kadie [Huey], who handles our social, was always taking pictures in the restaurant of various food, drinks and events,” he says. “I could tell through our daily interactions she clearly had a passion for helping to create an identity for Fuel that resonated with our customer base, and Fuel is a blue-collar spot: cheap, cold beer, tacos, burgers and loud music.”

That identity was something that Broome was comfortable creating in a restaurant that has been a mainstay in Charleston for years, but his social media presence was another matter. “I’m 35 and Kadie is in her early 20s, and this alone is an important data point. You need to harness the ideas, lexicon and preferred method of delivery in order to maximize the effectiveness of your social media footprint. Is the image and message relevant? Should it be a Facebook post or an Instagram story? From a customer’s point of view, all of this plays a role in how we consume content, but having said that, I clearly needed help staying ‘in touch’ with the younger generation.”

“I clearly needed help staying ‘in touch’ with the younger generation.” -Joshua Broome


Broome found that expertise right in his restaurant and now provides a salary for Huey’s marketing efforts in addition to allowing her to continue to earn tips as a bartender and a server. Fuel has close to 8,500 followers on Facebook, an impressive number in a town dominated by its restaurant culture.  

Stagioni. Photo Credit: Stefanie Haviv
Stagioni. Photo Credit: Stefanie Haviv

Bruce Moffett, executive chef and owner of the Moffett Restaurant Group and a pioneer in the blossoming Charlotte, North Carolina, dining scene, also benefited from having a photographer in his midst. Part-time server Stefanie Haviv “had taken some pictures of Stagioni for her blog, so I knew she was talented and liked her work,” Moffett says. He also knew that she had done social media at another restaurant in town and was eager to do it again, so the idea grew organically. Now she has the title of social media coordinator, and the compensation that goes with it, as she manages the photography and content for Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for Good Food on Montford, Stagioni, and Barrington’s. Plus, she still serves from time-to-time.

“My team and I really liked that she worked in one of the restaurants, so she had that internal understanding of the posts we wanted to see and knew our team members,” Moffett says.

And while handing over passwords and creative control can be intimidating, and take time as both sides get on the same page, restaurants can benefit from management empowering employees to make the most of their skill sets.

“After working together for awhile Kadie and I developed a good rapport and she began to operate more autonomously,” Broome says. “She pretty much has carte blanche here. She runs all the accounts and I just provide feedback if I see something that needs tweaking.”

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Written by   |  
Stephanie Burt is the host of The Southern Fork podcast and a writer based in Charleston, SC. Her bylines regularly appear in The Post and Courier, Extra Crispy, Zagat, and Bake from Scratch, and she focuses on researching heirloom ingredients, interviewing passionate people creating good food, and in the kitchen, perfecting her roasted chicken recipe. (Photo Credit: Leslie McKellar)