- May 17, 2013
Business: Brooks Gourmet Burgers & Dogs
Generations: Todd Brooks and his wife, Rylee Brooks
Family Ties: Small, family-owned businesses can harness the power of social media to gain customers.
Todd Brooks will leave little doubt in your mind that TripAdvisor is now the online authority on hospitality.
His small 56-seat hamburger restaurant in Naples recently ranked among the Top 10 Burger Joints in the country by TripAdvisor based on traveler reviews. Brooks Gourmet Burgers & Dogs joined other legendary hamburger destinations on the exclusive list such as Black Hills Burger & Bun Co. in Custer, S.D., and MEAT Eatery and Taproom in Islamorada.
Although he declines to disclose financial performance, Brooks estimates that online social media such as TripAdvisor bring in as much as 40% of his business. He's now spending 100% of his marketing budget on this form of advertising and promotion.
Even in Naples, which Conde Nast Traveler recently deemed one of the nation's top culinary destinations because of its fine dining establishments and celebrated chefs, Brooks Gourmet Burgers ranks sixth best out of all the restaurants in the area.
How did Brooks do it?
Start with the fact that Brooks actively seeks reviews, personally asking his customers as he makes the rounds in the restaurant and by using cards on each table to urge customers to write them. At last count, the restaurant had 578 reviews on TripAdvisor, most of them excellent. “My marketing is shaking hands,” he smiles. “We've never paid for a review.”
Typical of the reviews is one posted by someone using the name Captain Bulldog: “I have had burgers all over the country and this is one of the best. We ordered nine burgers for the family and they were all cooked perfect by chef Todd and his staff,” he gushes.
Brooks, 43, says travelers are more adventurous today and they're using sites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp to look for unique dining experiences. “People love finding niche restaurants and craft beers,” Brooks says.
And it's not just Americans. “Trip-Advisor is huge with the Europeans,” Brooks says.
Meanwhile, hugely popular shows such as celebrity chef Guy Fieri's “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” on the Food Network breathed new life into independently owned eateries. (Brooks has enlisted the help of public relations expert Nannette Staropoli of Naples-based Markit Group to try to land him a spot on Fieri's show.)
Brooks serves a private-label red ale he calls Brooks Red and he uses a custom blend of meat with more fat and chuck, which gives hamburgers more of a steak flavor. Milkshakes are made with 11% fat and his menu includes the Donut Burger, a hamburger patty with bacon and American cheese between two glazed donuts. Of the 300 burgers he sells a day, Brooks says about 20 of them are his signature donut burgers.
Local diners used to know the place as Lindburgers Restaurant until Brooks took it over in 2010 after moving to the area with his wife, Rylee, from Kansas City, where he was vice president of a nine-restaurant chain. Despite his wife's misgivings, Brooks cashed in their retirement savings and bought the business for $150,000, investing another $30,000 in new equipment and fixtures. “We closed for 40 days and did nothing but clean,” Brooks says.
Brooks occasionally gets a bad review, and he says it's nearly impossible to get TripAdvisor to remove it, even if he suspects a competitor might have posted it. “I will not sleep for three days,” he says. He'll send a private message to the person who wrote the negative review and includes his cell phone so he can persuade them to give his restaurant another try and remove the bad review.
Brooks tells his employees the restaurant's mission is simple: “We do not ever, ever want to be out of the top 10.”
Follow Jean Gruss on Twitter @JeanGruss