Restaurant owners feeling the power of social media

Many have heard the old saying "A picture is worth a thousand words", but these days, for restaurant owners, a picture could be worth a thousand "likes" on social media.

Social media has become big business for local restaurant owners who are looking to bring in more customers. Pictures posted to Instagram or Twitter can bring in a flood of new customers.

In the heart of Old Town Gilbert, an area booming with new restaurants, one can find "Liberty Market", a popular restaurant that opened on the corner of Page Avenue and Gilbert Road in 2008, back when the area was still pretty sleepy.

"Business has just slowly and steadily gone up, with more neighbors moving in and more businesses," said David Traina, chef and partner of Liberty Market. It's been a real nice growth.

Traina said all the word of mouth that brought in customers in the early days is nothing, when compared to the power of social media over the past few years.

"It's the best free advertising, or the best free way to connect around," said Traina.

Liberty Market's Instagram page is constantly updated with the daily specials or certain desserts. Pictures that look good enough to eat are racking up the "likes" and "shares".

"We'll get people on Instagram who will tag friends and say, 'let's go for breakfast' or 'let's go for dinner or dessert after things'," said Traina. "So, that's what is really interesting to see, is how people use it."

"We get so many people that see us on Instagram or Facebook, or they read about us on Yelp," said Carol Meyer, owner of Zookz Sandwiches. "So, so many customers come to us through social media. We use it a lot."

Meyer, like Traina. said the power of social media cannot be overlooked.

"I don't know sometimes how restaurants made it before social media was around," said Meyer.

Meyer said she took that into account when she opened Zookz, making sure it was filled with bright colors and flooded with natural light, so customers could take the perfect pictures of their sandwiches to share with their followers.

"You have to be perfect all the time," said Meyer. "I mean, you really, really do in this day and age."

To show how truly "worldwide" social media's reach can be, Meyer had customers come in from Italy who saw her restaurant's food on Instagram, and made it a point to visit her restaurant, when they were in town.

"They put it on a list of places they were going to try, when they came to Phoenix," said Meyer. "They came in, I speak Italian, we had a wonderful lunch together, and they came back this year."

Traina said Liberty Market's Instagram page became so popular, with more than 10,000 followers, they hired a professional photographer to get the most bang for their buck.

"It used to be more 'insta' Instagram," said Traina. "Now, it's a little more, 'hey, let's make sure that picture looks good', and we'll serve food to people and they won't eat it right away. They'll take out their phones and take pictures. It's so wild to see how things have changed."