The Lunch Ladies of Oviedo put the social in social networking.
Looking for a new place to eat? Consult the Lunch Ladies of Oviedo, a super-fun female foursome who regularly meet up for the midday meal and review the restaurants they visit on Facebook.
“This started out as a bit of a joke,” admits ToniAnn Armijo, reflecting back on the group’s genesis about one year ago.
It was Irene Jenson’s birthday, so the four friends went to celebrate at a Japanese eatery that recently opened in the area.
“It was new at the time, and it was really good,” says Jeannine Osgood.
“We thought, ‘Does anybody know about this place, and with everything opening up, shouldn’t we tell them about it?’” recalls Irene.
After agreeing that they would definitely spread the word about the restaurant to other friends, the idea for a Facebook group took off like a shot. Before they knew it, the women were discussing a group name, a logo, and even joking about merchandise.
“We decided it was our mission in life to share,” laughs Jeannine.
Irene and ToniAnn met at Gymboree when their oldest children (now 15) were only four months old. About that time, Irene met Jeannine at a baby shower (Jeannine’s oldest is 15, as well). The fourth member of this quartet, Jen Lindsey, lives in the same neighborhood as Irene, so they’ve known each other for about six years. There are 11 kids between these four moms, and they attend the same schools, so the women have been constantly crossing paths – at school, the gym, and in the neighborhood – for years.
“Had it been anybody else with us that first day, the dynamics might have been different,” says Irene. “It just worked out.”
The ladies came up with their name during that first lunch.
“We thought maybe Ladies Who Lunch, but that doesn’t really sound like us,” says Irene.
“I think I came up with Lunch Ladies,” recalls Jeannine, “and it was hairnets up from there,” she jokes, referring to how the group rates an establishment.
An excellent eatery garners four hairnets up from these friendly patrons.
“I went home that day and created a logo on my phone,” says ToniAnn. “I printed some cards out, and we just leave one when we’re finished.”
Indeed, a You’ve Been Visited by the Lunch Ladies of Oviedo card means a meal has been enjoyed and a concise Facebook review is in the works.
Jeannine made an official Lunch Ladies Facebook page, “just to prove that I knew how,” she says. The group is not necessarily anonymous – their friends know they do this, and ToniAnn’s mom is their biggest fan, consistently posting positive, appreciative comments in response to the ladies’ posts.
“She’ll go into restaurants, and say, ‘You should really invite the Lunch Ladies here,’” says ToniAnn. “And I’ll say, ‘Mom, stop! We’re not Guy Fieri or anything!’
The Lunch Ladies Facebook page took off, and soon a woman in Irene’s Zumba class consulted her about a recommendation for a dinner out with her husband, eventually reporting back that the suggestion was awesome. Another woman, whose daughter dances in ToniAnn’s class, asked her for input about a certain eatery. The Lunch Ladies also have been recognized at venues around town.
How do they decide where to nosh next? It’s all very official, they joke, as Irene unveils the list – a collection of suggestions she keeps on her phone. The Oviedo area is booming with new restaurants, so the ladies keep an eye out for new places to try based on a suggestion, a local ad, or an old-fashioned drive-by.
“If we see something that someone posts on Facebook, we add it to the list,” says Jen. The Lunch Ladies have sampled everything from Korean to barbecue to Asian to Mexican to Italian cuisine, from larger places to mom-and-pops.
The ordering experience flows well, with each lady choosing something different and sharing with the others. Jen is less adventurous, so sometimes she orders first.
“Nobody else is going to eat pizza, and I like pizza, so I’ll get it so we can try it,” she says.
“Hmm, to take one for the team, should I have a mimosa?” Irene asks.
They concur. Jeannine tries a latte. Photos are taken for posting purposes. A typical Lunch Ladies meeting includes plenty of rapid-fire chitchat, musings about the food, and a hearty dose of laughter. It’s really just an excuse to get together on a regular schedule, they say, but their input does seem to have an impact on where people eat. Followers tag others, and the ladies post on local social pages in Oviedo, Chuluota, Geneva, and Winter Springs to get the word out.
“Oviedo today,” pipes Jeannine, “Ellen tomorrow!”
The hairnet rating is based on collaboration.
“I guess we could each vote, say, half-a-hairnet each, or three-quarters, but that’s too much math,” laughs Irene.
“We generally agree,” says Jeannine
The ladies take turns writing the posts following a visit, consulting details from their group text message circle. For restaurants with more adventurous menus, the ladies might invite Irene’s and Jen’s oldest boys, who, they say, will try anything.
In order to sample even more variety, the Lunch Ladies usually order something for a fifth guest, Jason, who, regrettably, is constantly unable to make the lunches in person.
“He’s a Jason in quotation marks,” explains Jeannine. “We do not refer to him in any other way. We take leftovers for Jason. We take desserts home for Jason.”
Jason, who is actually Jeannine’s husband, does not see any of this food.
“We know Jeannine is really eating that carrot cake in her car!” laughs ToniAnn.
Most of the group’s Facebook posts focus on the positive and make appropriate mention of the not-so-great, when necessary, but they consider the fact that the eatery might be new or particularly crowded on the day they visit.
“We have to look at the whole picture,” says Jen.
To celebrate their one-year anniversary, the Lunch Ladies of Oviedo, of course, went to lunch. Irene hates to call attention to her birthday, so from here on out, January 10 will instead forever be known as the Lunch Ladies’ anniversary.
Jeannine adds, laughing, “And that’s the real benefit to all of this. Irene never has to have another birthday again!”
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