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LivingSocial pairs real-time discounts with room service and delivery options

room service

LivingSocial continues to breathe down Groupon’s neck as it paves its own way through the daily deals business.  While the coupon curator definitely takes cues from Groupon’s success and mistakes, it’s also injecting its own flavor into new site features, including its new Instant service.

LivingSocial Instant is the site’s take on Groupon Now, which gives Groupon users real-time deals based on their location that you can buy and redeem on the go—and better yet, which give automatically reimburse you if you aren’t able to use them within the allotted time period.

instantBut Instant has some new features that differentiate it from Groupon Now. Instead of making immediate plans to eat somewhere based on your location, Instant lets you order meals from a restaurant offering a discount so your meal will be ready right when you arrive to take home. There’s also an option for delivery as well as dine-in specials.

Part of the delivery feature is Room Service, an option to inject a little high class in your experience. Basically, Room Service brings not only the food but the restaurant to you, with table, glassware, and top-notch presentation and food to boot. It will be available on Thursday and Friday nights.

At the moment, these features are only up and running in the Washington, D.C. area, home to LivingSocial headquarters.

While Groupon seems to have clung to its bargain bin roots (perhaps with the exception of some of its Groupon Getaways), LivingSocial appears to be taking a note out of Gilt Groupe’s book. The site hasn’t gone full scale upper crust, but it’s clearly trying to embrace the idea of enjoying the finer things in life, and a good part of its Instant service is tailored to this. And dining has been one of the most popular discount items for daily deals sites, so this could easily be a popular feature for for the site.

No word on when the ritzy services are heading to you—we’ll keep you posted. 

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Feeling hungry? You will soon find restaurant menus on Facebook

Adding a new feature for restaurants and bars that currently promote their business using a Facebook page, the social network now allows business owners the ability to upload their entire food or beverage menu onto Facebook. Using a tool called SinglePlatform, restaurant owners can split up the menu to list different courses or types of food as well as list prices and details about each dish. Detailed within a post on the Facebook for Business blog, the service is open to all businesses within the United States and Canada. For anyone outside of those countries, Facebook is providing a tool that will allow page owners to upload a PDF of their menu.
This new feature would be particularly advantageous to restaurants that are still using Flash as the platform for the business's website. As pointed out by QSRWeb, restaurants are abandoning Flash in droves due to the inability to load Flash on iOS devices like the iPhone or iPad.
Despite that trend, the percentage of sites on the Internet that still support some form of Flash element is around 16 percent. Rather than pay for a site redesign at the moment, a restaurant could list their menu on Facebook, as well as Yelp, in order to accommodate anyone that's searching for information about the restaurant.
In addition, it's likely that any search result for the restaurant with a Flash site would link to a social media page first in the listings since Flash isn't very SEO-friendly. It's more difficult for Google to crawl a Flash site, thus information about specific dishes may not pop up in a typical search. Flash sites are also expensive to maintain and typically require technical expertise when attempting to make simple alterations like changing items on the menu or changing the listed hours that tell the customer when the restaurant is open for business.

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Hotel owners complain of being held ‘hostage’ by TripAdvisor users

A group of hotels and restaurants in England are noticing an increase in direct blackmails from patrons threatening to leave a negative TripAdvisor review, The Telegraph detailed this week. Much of the hotel industry, especially bed & breakfast lodging, is dependent on sites like TripAdvisor to increase booking volume during the year. To initiate the threat, the customer usually mentioned that they are a regular TripAdvisor user and will post a negative review about their visit if a demand is not met. Demands include freebies during a meal like a bottle of wine or dessert, a reduction of the total bill or room upgrades.
Speaking about the blackmail threats, British Hospitality Association deputy chief executive Martin Couchman said "While it’s very difficult to put an exact figure on how widespread the problem is, it is clear that a small minority of online reviewers are directly blackmailing – or sometimes subtly blackmailing – restaurants for their own gain."
Couchman continued "People will either attempt to blackmail during the meal, or sometimes, more worryingly, people who have not even been to the restaurant will post a bad review to try to get a free meal, or a free stay in a hotel’s case. While it can be difficult to prove that somebody has blackmailed you, we would advise that business owners do not respond – or make free offers – to reviewers they suspect are malicious."
The question of how widespread this issue probably depends on the establishment date of the restaurant or hotel. Organizations attempting to build a name for themselves on online sites like TripAdvisor are probable more sensitive to a damaging review. The manager of the Double Barrel Steakhouse and Grill in Rotherham, South Yorkshire claims that about three percent of guests will claim to be a 'senior TripAdvisor reviewer' and demand some form of free item off the menu. 
Responding to the situation, a TripAdvisor representative said "Allegations of blackmail or threatening behavior by guests against property owners are taken very seriously. If an owner experiences this, we urge them to contact us immediately. We have a way for owners to proactively report threats before a corresponding review is submitted."
Businesses within the United States have had similar problems with Yelp, although the accusation is often directed at the online review site itself. Many small businesses have claimed in the past that Yelp forces the business to pay for advertising in order to feature positive reviews more prominently than the negative ones. According to this recent report on the Philadelphia ABC affiliate, Yelp told one business owner to pay $350 a month to raise his score from one star to three stars.  
However, that doesn't stop businesses from directly contacting online Yelp reviewers to bribe them to remove negative reviews. According to this report published by the San Diego ABC affiliate, a San Diego man was offered a $100 gas card by an attorney that was representing a construction company that received a negative Yelp review from the man.

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Restaurant researches diners on Google, social media before reservation

Detailed on Grub Street, a maître d' at NYC restaurant Eleven Madison Park spends his afternoon Googling anyone that will be dining at the restaurant later in the evening. Attempting to glean information off social networks and other public sites, maître d' Justin Roller searches for clues about special dates like birthdays or anniversaries as well as information about hometowns. For instance, Roller states "If I find out a guest is from Montana, and I know we have a server from there, we'll put them together."
Conceptually, the restaurant is attempting to use familiarity to improve on the guest's experience. Even further, the maître d' will look for specific interests. For example, if a guest publicly likes jazz music on their Facebook page or Twitter feed, they are paired up with a server that has similar interests and can naturally bring it up in conversation. Beyond personal information, Roller also scans through publicly posted pictures to link a face with a name as well as look for pictures of wine glasses or white coats. Those pictures could indicate that a wine connoisseur or a chef will be dining with the restaurant that evening.

Hypothetically, this type of research could benefit any restaurant that needs to make sure important guests are taken care of, especially guests that are particularly active on Yelp or food blogs. Of course, there's a definite element of creepiness that could come across if someone's private information isn't handled properly.
There's also the potential that this type of research could completely backfire. For instance, someone from a particular state or city may absolutely hate their hometown and wouldn't appreciate talking to someone from the same region. The same goes for someone that's trying to avoid celebrating their birthday and simply wants to have a private meal without any fanfare. 

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