Behind Restaurant Tweets, Part Two

Since it opened in Midtown Miami, Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill has been well known in the local "twitterverse" for its interaction with followers and diners. Responses are so immediate and personalized you have to wonder if someone's hiding somewhere in the restaurant monitoring it all. No one is. The person behind the tweets, Joanna Cisowska, is based in New York at the corporate offices of SushiSamba and Sugarcane. And she makes it no secret that she's a little crazy about Twitter, a tool she hadn't used much before she started tweeting for Sugarcane.

Cisowska credits Lee Schrager with helping popularity on Twitter. "He came to the restaurant the second or third night we were open and he tweeted about the chicken. That started a huge conversation about the chicken on Twitter. So a big thank you to him."

Here's what she told Short Order about her Twitter responsibilities and why she won't give up tweeting for Sugarcane. She made sure to specify that she does have a life.

New Times: How did you get the job of manning the Twitter account?

Joanna Cisowska: I made myself into it. [Laughs] No, it's really interesting how it started. When we were opening Sugarcane, I spent three weeks on location and in the past we had a person in the office doing that for SushiSamba and Sugarcane. When I was on location, I would just oversee it and monitor it and what I noticed was that a lot of people were tweeting from the restaurant. I didn't want to wait 'till the next day for them to get an answer. So I would sit there with my laptop and respond to the tweets. That's how it started.

When we opened Sugarcane, we had 27 followers and now we have 425 in four months. When I was there, a few of these people, I met them and I developed this relationship with them and that's why I told the office, moving on Sugarcane is mine and nobody touches it.

What's your actual job?

I'm the marketing and PR director. [Twitter] is part of the marketing department. I oversee it all but I personally tweet for Sugarcane. I mean I have four applications on my phone. People DM me to make reservations. At this point I have developed so many relationships on Twitter. It's almost like they're my Twitter friends. I was back in Miami in April when we did an Ocean Drive Magazine event and I met even more people in person. It's almost like a family.

What applications do you have?

I don't want to give away my secrets. I have Tweetdeck, Ecophone, HootSuite and TwitPic.

What's your strategy in dealing with Tweets? Do you respond to all of them?

I mean, no. I think it's important as part of the communication and obviously and it's part of the customer service. It's not about responding to people; it's about promotion if the chef has specials that day or if we have any promotions. [It's a] great way to promote our new dishes or things Timon [Balloo] is trying, to post new pictures, etcetera.

Of course if I see someone is at the restaurant and they tweet about us, I want them to know that we're listening. I don't mind. If I know they've been waiting for the table I call the restaurant. In a way it's kind of beneficial for you to follow us. I'm trying to do as much as I can customer wise. If someone is celebrating their birthday I try for someone to send them something. In a way it's part of the marketing strategy. It's been really great for us and I really enjoy doing it. I really don't feel like it's part of my job. I feel like my friends are texting me and I should answer. That's how I view it.

If there is a request or something that's not going right -- if I were physically there it would be much easier -- I just call the restaurant and tell them this person they've been waiting for the server. We're a restaurant and there are things that sometimes aren't going to go that great. With Twitter if someone isn't having a good time you can fix the situation in real-time.

Do you always call the restaurant to relay Twitter messages?

When it's a busy night I usually text the chef and the managers. If it's not as busy then I'll call.

A lot of people tweet about their dinner at night. Are you sitting at home responding to tweets?

I tweet from my phone a lot. When I'm in the office I have Tweetdeck open so I can see every time Sugarcane is mentioned.

How much time do you spend on Twitter?

When I'm in the office it's open all the time. It also depends on how many people are at the restaurant tweeting. Friday night was crazy. I was at my own dinner and my friend was like can you stop tweeting for once. I know it's annoying at times if you're on the phone. But it changes everyday. I can tell you I check at least every 15 to 30 minutes.

Have you gotten any weird requests over Twitter?

I was asked about dog treats. We have them at the front gate and people asked us if we make dog treats and no we don't, but it's been pretty normal.

Do people come in and introduce themselves by their Twitter handles?

Well, we have some people that for the longest time tweeted. You may know ER Gagit. I had not known his name until about a month ago when I went to Miami. When I make the reservations, I use his Twitter name and sometimes when I make reservations [for others] I make them with their Twitter names. At the beginning when I was doing that the managers looked at me like, what are you doing? Are these people really going to show up?

Sometimes I see someone tweeting and they don't know our Twitter name and I'll respond and they'll say 'come and say hello.' If I'm not there I will call the manager and say please go to the table of so and so and introduce yourself. Sometimes it's funny but it works.

I feel like Sugarcane is kind of like my baby. It feels too personal to give it to somebody else.

Follow Sugarcane @sugarcanerawbar. For other Miami restaurants on Twitter, check out this list.

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