It used to be that chefs needed mastery of culinary techniques, dedication, and a great work ethic to become successful. But now there's another requirement: social media skills. As the restaurant scene evolves, chefs are discovering that the dining public requires more than culinary technique and great-tasting food to compel them. Now, thanks to the growing popularity of free social networking tools like Twitter, chefs can reach out to customers, 140 characters at a time.
A rumor was what first brought Ludovic LeFebvre of Ludo Bites and his wife Kristine to Twitter. “I signed him up so we could find out who was saying he shut the restaurant one night because he was in a bad mood,” says the chef's wife and business partner. Without joining Twitter, she says, “you don't even know what people are saying about you.”
Other than keeping tabs on community gossip, LeFebvre uses Twitter to document his everyday struggles running a restaurant, including the arrest of employees and the odd reasons for food orders not showing up.
Eric Oberholtzer, owner of Tender Greens, uses the social networking application to announce daily specials. Sandwich boards on the sidewalk may be a good way to attract a handful of pedestrians, but menu specials posted on Twitter can reach hundreds–if not thousands–of potential eaters within seconds. Oberholtzer adds, “Twitter isn't a marketing strategy. It's more community outreach.” Tender Greens customers following Twitter also receive status reports on construction delays. During final inspections of their West Hollywood location, “we used Twitter to explain in real time health inspector issues,” Oberholtzer says. “We tweeted our frustrations and, eventually, the mayor got involved. It showed how powerful Twitter can be.”
“If you work in Culver City and need to eat five days a week, getting chalkboard specials is awesome,” says Quinn Hatfield of Hatfield's about Twitter. But for his fine dining restaurant, Twitter is used in a very different way. “I went into it from the sort of micro-blogging stand point,” Hatfield says. He uses Twitter to talk about an upcoming bike race or share some farmers market finds. “I didn't want to have anything to do with the marketing side of Twitter. Having a PR company set up a Twitter, or say something like 'mention Twitter and get a free glass of wine!' is never something I would do.”
Other chefs take a more visual approach to Twitter. When Akasha Richmond isn't posting weekly specials at her Culver City restaurant Akasha, she shares snapshots of favorite meals or her newest farmers market finds snapped with her phone's camera.
The recent Twittering chefs phenomenon hasn't gone unnoticed. Jo Stougaard, writer of the Los Angeles food blog My Last Bite, started Chefs Who Tweet, a website dedicated to the subject after she compiled a rather lengthy database of names of chefs who Twitter. Some of Stougaard's Tweeting chef favorites? “Not Wolfgang Puck, you can totally tell it's not him [Tweeting]. It's marketing whorish. I like Rick Bayless. He's been posting 30-second films.” Another favorite, “Chef Ludo. He makes you feel like he's talking to you directly.”
Akasha Richmond @AkashaRichmond
Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger @BorderGrill
Ludo Lefebvre @chefludo
Roy Choi @kogibbq
Quinn & Karen Hatfield @twoHatfields
Tender Greens @tendergreens
Wolfgang Puck @WolfgangBuzz
For a more complete listing, visit Chefs Who Tweet.