Ever wonder whether you could have gotten a Facebook deal for your favorite dining spot if you had "liked" the restaurant before you left home?
Now, restaurants and retailers are giving you that convenience on the spot.
The Facebook Like Machine, created by Palm Beach Gardens resident Will Damhuis, has been popping up around South Florida at restaurants and sporting and charity events.
It's an instant way for customers to "like" their favorite retailers and restaurants on the popular social-networking site, enabling the businesses to build a relationship with them. Customers reap savings, rewards, deals and freebies.
Damhuis developed his Like Machine to solve a convenience problem.
While millions use Facebook, they often don't have access to it when they're in businesses they frequent. Most people use Facebook on home computers, and only 37 percent have access from a smartphone, according to Neilsen's 2011 social media report.
"The Facebook Like Machine allows a business to take its social media campaign to a new level," said Damhuis, president of Konnected LLC. "The business owner puts it in a high-traffic area, and it really creates a buzz."
Duffy's Sports Grill, with 24 restaurants in South Florida, uses them; Rocco Mangel of Rocco's Tacos tried one. Burrito Bros. has one in its Jupiter restaurant. National retailers Dairy Queen, Land's End and Golf Pride are using them too, Damhuis said.
The machines contain a custom-configured iPad that is set to the business' fan page. It is positioned in a waiting area, and customers can use the kiosk to access the fan page. Monthly leases for the stand-alone version start around $199; the desktop model can be purchased outright for $995.
Duffy's leased machines during the Honda Classic golf tournament last month and for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers' home opener at Lockhart Stadium this month.
"It caused quite a stir," said John Smith, director of sports marketing and social media for Duffy's. "The best part about the Like Machine is that it creates a unique way for customers to interact with your brand. We saw 4,000 people during four days [at the Honda Classic]. At least 10 percent used the machine."
Duffy's Sports Grill has more than 20,000 Facebook fans, offers free meals through its MVP reward program and raffles free tickets to sporting events. Rocco's Tacos, with 21,000 fans, offers a free shot of premium tequila when you "like" its page and check in on arrival.
Getting customers to "like" a business' page is invaluable, said Dr. James Barry, associate professor of marketing at Nova Southeastern University in Davie. Barry teaches social networking for entrepreneurs at the business school.
Customers can benefit beyond the discounts.
"You can offer suggestions and voice opinions. Customers like to give opinions on products and services," Barry said.
Miami Beach-based public relations firm Social Thinkking is leasing and deploying kiosks on behalf of clients. The firm will have three or four set up at Share Our Strength's Taste of the Nation charity event in Fort Lauderdale next month.
"It helps us build a relationship even more, especially with a non-profit," said Jennifer Kaminski, Social Thinkking's owner. "We can easily update patrons about the cause."
Social media offer the same benefits for for-profit operations, and the Like Machine makes it even easier to connect with customers, Duffy's Smith said.
"With just a couple of clicks, we get demographic information, which is always helpful," he said. "You've got to see the machine in action. It's a great conversation piece."
See the Facebook Like Machine in action. Go to SunSentinel.com/LikeMachine
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