How Social Media Has Changed the 5W's of Dining Out

By Mallorie Rosenbluth

A handful of years ago, when you were trying to decide who you should go out to dinner with, what you should order, where you should go, when there is a table available and why you should dine out; you could turn to some traditional ways of doing things. Whether it was picking up the phone, asking for recommendations, Google-ing "good restaurants in my city" or basically making some guess work; the process was a bit tedious. With social media though, our dining out experiences have been completely revolutionized. Here's how:

Who -- back in the "old days" when you wanted to go out to dinner with a friend you would pick up the phone and call them. Maybe you would shoot them a text, or even make plans in person (I know, crazy talk!). Now with social media, a simple Facebook status update of "Hey, anyone want to go to dinner with me tonight?" could yield you dozens of potential dinner dates. Have a specific friend you want to dine out with? I typically go with a Facebook wall post, private message or @ reply on Twitter. My social life is now really "social".

What -- Ok, so you get to a restaurant and you're not sure what to order. This is pretty much the scenario every time I go out to eat. It's almost embarrassing how utterly indecisive I am, especially in restaurants. Enter: social media. There are numerous sites that provide reviews and recommendations for what to order at an establishment. My favorite? Foursquare. I know some of you are probably thinking, Whatttt?! Foursquare for food suggestions? Why yes, of course. When I check in, I also make sure to check out Tips left by other visitors. Not only do I get recommendations on what to order, but I also get some insight about the service, the portion size, and much more. The reviews also tend to be much shorter than on a site like Yelp. And since I'm usually depending on this app while I'm sitting at the table, I prefer my ordering advice to be on the shorter side.

Where -- first things first; decide where you're going! This is where I Yelp. I select my neighborhood, my price range, and food style (among other categories) and by the magic of the Internet and social media, the recommendations come flying in. I have a friend who only eats at restaurants with 4 or 5 star Yelp reviews. I've never had a bad dinner with her. This site comes through in a big way. It's an encyclopedia of restaurants with all the information you'd want to know from location to website to user reviews. I find Yelp to be completely invaluable when I'm traveling in a new city. If you don't use it yet, give it shot!

When -- I made a recent discovery that of all the things my phone can do, making actual calls is probably the thing I do least often. I hate talking on the phone. I prefer to do everything via electronic means, so when I have to pick up the phone and make a reservation; I cringe. Thanks to Open Table, I never have to speak to another human being again. Restaurants that have this feature are restaurants I keep going back to. Select the date, select the party number and select your time. Open Table shoots out the times that are available and lets you make your reservation without needing cell phone reception.

Why -- need a reason to go out to eat? How about this: Because of social media and the complete 24/7 connected-ness we all experience; it's important to unplug and savor life. No social media site can help you do that. So next time you're thinking about hitting the town for a great meal, use some of the sites and means above to help and then disconnect and enjoy your dinner (right after you check-in on Foursquare and post some pics to Foodspotting)!

How do you use social media to improve and enhance your dining out experience? Let us know your favorite networks and food savvy ways in the comments below!