After reviewing a number of online dining guides recently, I realized social networking hasn't broken free from MySpace and Facebook like I expect it eventually will.
Most newspapers still use the old fashioned feedback tool that lets users rate a restaurant between one and five stars. The system tells you how many people voted and calculates an average score. The mindset of a star rating is born from print, where reviewers traditionally offer stars and what-not to rate a restaurant or movie.
Instead, invite users to "recommend" the restaurant to others. They proclaim themselves as fans, a.k.a "friends." The restaurant with the most fans becomes the highest rated and appears highest in search results.
That's sure to boost viral marketing of your dining guide. When restaurants hear that the more fans they have, the higher on the page they'll appear, they're more likely to tell patrons to go to the site and sign up. I much prefer getting the public to do the marketing work.
A business that gets involved in sending fans to the site is also more likely to buy upgraded fields on the dining guide. For example, the restaurant should have to pay to post a menu or photos to its profile page.
Infusing your business guides with social networking is the jumping off point for a lot more functionality. All of my favorite restaurants should appear on my personal profile page. And when the restaurant uploads coupons, I should get an e-mail. Or use the "fans of this restaurant also like . . ." sort of approach.