A City of Mayors

Want free food? Try Foursquare

Want free food? Try Foursquare

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Anyone wondering why their friends on Twitter feel the need to religiously update others on their location obviously hasn't heard of Foursquare.

Running on most app-friendly phones, Foursquare encourages users to create listings for the places they hang out at, check-in when they go to them, and earn points and followers in the process. Check in somewhere more than anyone else, and look out, you're the mayor — at least until someone bumps you off the top spot. The program already has 700,000 users and is currently growing at a rate of 60 percent every month.

Having successfully made itself a tool for consumers, restaurants and other hotspots are getting in on the Foursquare action. Functioning like a tech-friendly frequent visitor card, users are encouraged to come back to their favorite spots often — and in doing so promote the restaurant via the latest social media platform.

Jeff Vallone's Amici and Ciao Bello restaurants are among the first in Houston to offer Foursquare benefits. Any guest who 'checks-in' at either restaurant five times earns a free margherita thin-crust pizza, as does anyone elected 'mayor' of Amici or Ciao Bello. In addition, Vallone is offering a free dinner for six for anyone who is mayor of Amici by April 30. 

Vallone said he joined the Foursquare community because it's "cost-effective and allows us to connect with new customers and develop relationships with our patrons."

Also jumping in with Foursquare are The Coffee Groundz, a local pioneer of creating a following via social media, offering a free Texas beer or medium coffee to the 'mayor' each time they check in; FIT Athletic Club, where the mayor or anyone on their 12th check-in gets a free smoothie; Four Seasons Hotel Houston, which has a special happy hour deal on Tuesdays for anyone who checks-in on Foursquare with $1 bruschetta and $5 house wines from 4-8 p.m.; and Three Brothers Bakery, which gives out a free gingerbread man to the current mayor.

Even chains as diverse as Wagamama, Carrabba's, Pinkberry and Fatburger are showing interest. Carrabba's locations nationwide, for example, are offering mayors a free dessert with the purchase of an entree. [Note: the Carrabba's on Kirby is not part of the national chain, and is not participating in the Foursquare deal.] 

Will people make the extra effort to up their Foursquare posting in the hopes of free goodies? Perhaps. The Coffee Groundz says that someone claims their free drink as mayor about once a day, but that only about  four to five regular customers fight amongst themselves for the honor. 

But for those who already document their every move on Twitter, Facebook, and the like, it's nice that restaurants are finally figuring out ways to reward their fans.

This all raises the question: What would you do for free grub? Is Foursquare a foregone success? Discuss.

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