Food for Thought: Should You Follow Your Favorite Restaurant on Twitter?

Increasingly, local restaurant owners are using social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook to entice customers with last-minute happy-hour deals and dinner specials — and keep track of what’s being said about their businesses. And while online networking is no doubt gaining in popularity, the people using it are still a very select group — and the return isn’t always obvious. Is it really worth the effort — either for restaurateurs or customers?

For Snackbar owner Jonathan Makar, whose business rests on the shoulders of loyal clientele who frequent the restaurant more than once a week, it seems perfect. He used to pick up the phone and call the regulars when he knew they would be interested in a certain special, but now, thanks to Twitter, he can get the information out more quickly. (A July 19th tweet: “Tonight: Caprese salad featuring some ridiculously pretty heirloom tomatoes.”) And he says definitely sees an increase in the orders for a specific dish when it is posted on Twitter that day. (Follow Snackbar.)

Alison Barshak, with an older and more suburban clientele at Alison at Blue Bell and Alison Two, takes a different approach: Her tweets cover everything from a recent trip to a market (where she bought asparagus and talked about how she planed on using them) to a July 18th tweet that said “I overslept & I can’t find my glasses.” Barshak has always had a close relationship with her customers, and the interactivity of Twitter is an extension of that philosophy. “Twitter is more of an exploration than just a website,” she says. “It’s weird to say, but after using social networking, it always seems as if the internet is static.” (Follow Alison.)

But what about restaurants that are actively trying to bring new guests in the door? Stephen Starr’s Pod — which doesn’t have its own individual Twitter account, but is part of the larger Starr Restaurant Organization Twitter page — had big plans to use Facebook this summer, updating their page each day of the week with a different item or special. (They have an impressive 600 Facebook fans.) But manager Eric Thomas hasn’t seen the influx of diners he was hoping for, and they’ve since scaled their aspirations down to updating three times a week. So even if it’s more about strengthening the ties to the customers they’ve got, they’ve got to keep it up. For a cutting-edge organization like Starr’s, it would be a marketing opportunity that they can’t afford to miss. (Follow Starr Restaurants on Twitter or become a fan of Pod on Facebook.)

RC members, let’s hear what you think: Do you follow any of your favorite restaurants? Have you gone to a restaurant based on a last-minute tweet or Facebook offer? — Erica Beinlich