The popularity of social media is undeniable, and restaurant chains are taking advantage of what sites like Facebook and Twitter have to offer.

One chain in particular, Souplantation & Sweet Tomatoes, uses Facebook and Twitter accounts, but it hopes that its newly redesigned Web site will grab a significant number of Internet hits, too.

With the assistance of Red Door Interactive, a strategic Internet presence management firm based in San Diego, Souplantation & Sweet Tomatoes launched a brand new Web site on Jan. 12.

“We feel like the new site really aligns with the freshness and the angle that our brand is about,” says Jill Trecker, manager of guest experience loyalty for Garden Fresh Restaurant Corporation. “It’s an authentic farm-to-fork experience; the whole site in general just has a fresher look, and it really relates well with our brand.”

Trecker goes on to explain that Souplantation & Sweet Tomatoes embraces social media, which the restaurant has highlighted on its Web site. In particular, the “Fresh Ideas” blog has been added to the site, a concept Trecker feels will be beneficial for both the company and its customers.

“We really see [the blog] developing a lot further,” Trecker says. “Right now we’ve got mostly just text postings, but we have big plans for allowing different people within our organization to talk and to let the guests know more about what’s going on and how we make our decisions. We foresee video and other uses of the blog. I think that’ll be the place that gets developed the most. The sky’s the limit.”

Aside from the blog, new social media features on the Web site include a Facebook fan box, a Twitter stream, and a “Share This” content function, allowing visitors to share various content, like displaying their fandom of Souplantation & Sweet Tomatoes, on their social networking sites.

Crosby Noricks, senior social media strategist at Red Door Interactive, says that the new Web site design represents what consumers want to see when they visit to the Souplantation & Sweet Tomatoes site.

“We actually leveraged the community and did research with several different audiences, one of which was our social media community, and we asked them for input on our Web site and features that they’d like to see, content that they’d like to see,” she says. “We actually incorporated their feedback into the design, so in a way, they actually participated in the design process. I think that’s really pretty unique, and it’s really indicative of Souplantation’s commitment to transparency and dialogue with their community.”

On top of providing a forum for discussion, making gift cards easier to order, and making the Club Veg e-mail marketing program easier to access, the new design of the Web site aims to celebrate the different options that are available at the restaurant, says Brandon Zelasko, business manager for Souplantation & Sweet Tomatoes at Red Door.

“That drove a lot of the design decisions, and you see that reflected when you look at the home page: the ‘indulge’ message with some photos of what’s available on the salad bar, and you see the cookies, you see a muffin, you see a pasta, you see those things that you may not think of when you think of Souplantation,” Zelasko says.

Trecker, Noricks, and Zelasko agree that the site redesign will do well in the future.

“It’s been exciting in the last week,” Trecker says of guests already posting on the blog, leaving comments, and starting dialogue among other Web site visitors.

“I have no doubt that what we’ve designed is going to be successful,” Zelasko says, “especially because of all of the research and the analysis that went into the planning process. … We know that there are a lot of things on the horizon for Souplantation & Sweet Tomatoes, and we wanted to make sure that when we designed the site we allowed it to expand over time and really grow as the company grows.”

By Jill Watral

Menu Innovations, News