Pei Wei is currently running a contest looking for a blogger to travel across Pei Wei’s five Asian countries to meet farmers and chefs, eat all kinds of food and capture the experience through video and daily blog posts. After going through the various applicants, they’ve narrowed it down to five candidates. One of those candidates is Marian Bacol-Uba of Orange County, California.

Known to many as “Marian the Foodie,” Marian began blogging in August 2009. Though her blog began as a recipe site for her friends and family, it’s quickly evolved into a hub for food-related news and reviews. She’s now established herself as a reliable food critic and gets approached by restaurants to attend events and relay stories about them.

Restaurants can learn a lot from bloggers like Marian and the factors that play into her decision to dine or not dine at certain spots.

When considering where to go eat, Marian always alludes to social sharing sites to make an informed decision. A primarily site of choice is Yelp, which outlines all the major details of a specific venue, and then allows people to review them. People now regularly use Yelp to identify what’s closeby, what a particular restaurant may be known for, if/when it’s open, etc. It allows consumers to learn from other consumers particular details like a restaurant’s best dishes along with other such opinions that can’t be impartially evaluated by a restaurant itself.

In this light, when composing reviews for Yelp or her blog, Marian likes to highlight things that people wouldn’t normally know about. She recently reviewed a sushi place in Tustin called Maki Zushi, an eatery she frequently passed by, but had never tried. A self-proclaimed “sushi snob,” Marian is always able to evaluate different kinds of sushi and whether it’s fresh. Maki Zushi’s omakase blew her away, so, when she tells people about Maki Zushi, she emphasizes to go there for the omakase rather than regular sushi. This type of specific detail isn’t something you’d learn about from the restaurant’s website.

When exploring Yelp herself, she takes restaurants’ interaction highly into account. She considers a really good restaurant one that pays close attention to what’s being said, and reacts accordingly to improve. For a while, reviews weren’t that important, but now it’s become vital for restaurants to pay attention; the conversation IS happening, regardless, and there’s so much to be said for listening, engaging and responding to customers’ woes. Restaurants are now inadvertently being held more accountable.

Marian’s yelped about some negative experiences, and when the locations respond, it changes her perspective of the destination and she’ll usually give them another shot. For those restaurants not paying attention and not responding, they’ve just lost a customer, along with all the potential ones influenced by Marian’s opinions.

Yelp: User Reviews and Recommendations of Top Restaurants, Shopping, Nightlife, Entertainment, Services and More

Customer service can also be conveyed on Twitter and Facebook. Response time is critically important. Marian will often tweet about heading to a certain restaurant, and when the restaurant quickly responds, with any comment, a new-found respect is established for the brand: it’s personified, and clear they care about their customers. Occasionally, chefs themselves will reach out, which says a lot about them, that they’re not just in the kitchen, impartial to needs of their consumers.

Twitter and Facebook are also excellent hubs for news. Facebook pages usually feature current specials or events, whereas websites themselves may not. People don’t call restaurants anymore for information; instead, they visit the restaurant’s Facebook page. Marian goes straight to a restaurant’s social media pages before their actual website, and only visits websites to find the social media links.

A great way for restaurants to garner attention before they even open is to create a social media presence. This builds up hype about the brand before they even open their doors. Many such restaurants are now hosting events where they invite bloggers and other relevant social media players to experience their food and venue before it’s open to public. This is brilliant marketing in that it provides intimate exposure to those with large followings and further gets people excited before they’ve ever experienced it. It’s also economical in that the restaurant will now receive a ton of free advertising and PR.

When asked about the future of social media marketing for restaurants, Marian thinks that restaurants that don’t embrace social media will eventually be phased out. There is already so much competition for every kind of dining, and those who aren’t putting themselves in front of people, in the places people are now looking (social media channels), aren’t going to be seen. Even well-established places should get on board since all up-and-coming restaurants from here forward are going to be.

What predictions do you have about how restaurant use of social media may evolve in the future?