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Hot Tamales Tap The Twitter Vote

Now that Los Angeles chefs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken (aka The Too Hot Tamales) have launched a social media-driven campaign to help them snag a new location for their legendary Border Grill, we hope others explore a similar tactic. Many operators bemoan the treatment their restaurant’s reputation gets on the Internet. Why not turn the tables by mobilizing your fan base to get something you want?

You’d think star chefs like Feniger and Milliken could get any site they want in Los Angeles, where they’ve been beloved fixtures for decades. At the moment, they covet a spot in the Los Angeles International airport where they want to install an outlet of their flagship operation, Border Grill. Given this restaurant’s reputation, and given the ever-expanding wait times spent in airports, you’d think the airport commission would be begging the Two Hot Tamales to get that Border Grill up and running ASAP.

But it’s not that easy, even for someone of the Tamales’ popularity and stature. Why? Let’s just say “politics.” So they’ve decided to get out the vote, relying on the online masses to turn up the heat on the airport authorities.

Step one is an e-mail campaign accessed via the Border Grill website. Visitors are urged to fill in some personal information and then send the following message in the body of their e-mail:

“Dear Decision Maker,

“I support the bid to have Border Grill restaurant at the Los Angeles International Airport. For over 25 years, Border Grill and chef/owners Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger have been shaping the food culture of Los Angeles. Border Grill is a reflection of L.A., setting the standard for gourmet Mexican food in the city. It's what our community wants to showcase to the world. And, it's what I want to eat when I'm at the airport.”

The sender can add personal comments if they want, but the general idea is to flood the in-boxes of airport commissioners with this message.

Step two taps into the power of social media, i.e., Twitter. Thanks to its Border Grill truck, there’s an army of customers who track the truck’s movements via Twitter. These customers can’t directly tweet the airport commissioners. Instead, Border Grill’s Twitter followers are encouraged to show their support by linking back to the website and sending a copy of the standard message found there.

Here’s the pitch they see when they follow the link on Twitter:

“Help us bring Border Grill to LAX! Wouldn't it be great to have the delicious Mexican food of Border Grill at the Los Angeles International Airport? With a Border Margarita and a Carnitas Taco, suddenly getting to the airport two hours early isn't that bad. Grab a Carne Asada Quesadilla to go, and you'll never go hungry on a flight again.

“Please let community leaders know that you support our bid to have Border Grill at LAX by adding your name and comments to the letter below.”

The Tamales have reached out to their Facebook friends, too, in a similar manner. If customers respond as asked, Feniger and Milliken will have built a critical mass of opinion that airport commissioners will be hard put to deny.

We hope Feniger and Milliken get their desired site at the Los Angeles airport. But the message here to other operators is this: You’ve spent plenty of time and money building a website, developing and maintaining an e-mail list, and tapping into social media platforms. Don’t be afraid to ask the people who visit you there to help you out when the time comes. Your virtual “friends” could turn out to be actual friends, collectively becoming a powerful ally when push comes to shove in your business.