Foursquare, a new social networking platform, is catching the attention of marketers in the quick-service industry for its ability to act as a consumer acquisition and retention tool.

Foursquare users accumulate badges and points when they visit participating establishments. Like Twitter, users employ their mobile devices to interact with the Foursquare site, which automatically updates their actions and shares them with the rest of the Foursquare community.

“We are trying to get folks out exploring the cities that we live and visit and incentivize them to do so,” says Tristan Walker, Foursquare’s vice president of business development.

On the customer-acquisition side, quick-service restaurants can promote Foursquare-only deals, specials, and coupons. More than 1,000 restaurants were running promotions on the site by March.

“Each of those specials are geo-tagged,” Walker says. “If anyone loads the application within a certain radius of that store or that chain, they will see a special that will say ‘check in here and get a free drink,’ or the ‘mayor’ of this location will get a free burger.”

A user becomes the mayor of a quick-service restaurant when he frequents the establishment more than any other user.

Tasti D-Lite, a national quick-service dessert chain, has a rewards program based on points linked to Foursquare. When a customer’s rewards card gets swiped at a store, the company sends a message and, at times, a coupon to the customer’s followers on Foursquare as well as their Twitter and Facebook accounts.

“We have people signed up and using this with 1,300 followers on Twitter,” says BJ Emerson, director of information and social technologies at Tasti D-Lite. “Then there is subsequent conversation about Tasti D-Lite after these messages go out. It’s all a very interesting dynamic that this brings to social space.”

California Tortilla, a burrito franchise chain on the East Coast, has been testing Foursquare with a handful of its stores since January.

“You have to make sure that your cashiers or servers understand the platform and that someone is not going to come in and it’s going to be weird since they are going to show them their phone,” says Stacey Kane, director of marketing at California Tortilla. “Don’t be disappointed if you only get five people on Foursquare in a month. This is the kind of platform that will build in popularity.”

Quick-service restaurants can also use Foursquare to retain customers by using behavior analytics gleaned from the system. They can tell who checks in, when they check in, and where they go before and after they visit a restaurant.

“Cost per check-in is the new cost per click,” Emerson says. “The business owner can go in and say they are spending X number of dollars on a coupon campaign on Foursquare and got X number of check-ins. That’s pretty easy to measure your return there, so you can make better decisions because you have more information.”

By Brendan O’Brien

News, California Tortilla, Tasti D-Lite