Twitter is inane. At least, that’s what I thought. Then I discovered journalists, wine connoisseurs and chefs all tweeting away. Turns out, Twitter is not only about telling people what you’re doing; it’s about sharing news, discussing events and connecting with the people around you.
More and more Canadian restaurants are discovering Twitter. By creating an online presence, they reach out to and beyond their community. For some, it’s all about marketing — promoting their menu and major accomplishments. For others, the focus is on initiating a dialogue with food lovers. Connie DeSousa of Calgary’s Charcut and Nathan (Nate) Box of Edmonton’s Elm Café are two tweeting chefs who each take a different online approach.Connie and her partner in crime, John Jackson, started tweeting about Charcut a year before it opened, creating a buzz for the Italian and French chef-inspired cuisine. With over 4,000 followers, they reach a larger customer base than would be possible with traditional word of mouth or local passersby. Charcut’s tweets announce their events and their menu, and while Connie was competing on the Food Network’s Top Chef Canada, the next big episode.
“We wanted people to be a part of Charcut from the ground up.” Connie said, adding that this helped build a distinct community for the restaurant. “Twitter has nurtured a core group of the city’s die-hard food lovers who show their excitement and loyalty to Charcut, its people and service. I can say that we’ve truly made friends this way.”
By forming and maintaining relationships with his followers, Nate has also built a distinct community for Elm Café. “For us it’s also about creating an authentic relationship with the online community — something that a lot of chefs and restaurateurs are unfamiliar with — and good relationships take time,” Nate tweeted. An avid tweeter prior to starting Elm Café in 2010, Nate approaches social media with a you-get-what-you-put-in frame of mind. He’s on Twitter every day trying to reach his minimum daily goal — posting the breakfast and lunch menus. But Nate prefers to do more than that. When he’s not tweeting about his menu, he’s suggesting events in the community and giving advice, like where to find the best pasta maker.
Luckily for Nate, Edmonton has a prominent community on Twitter (try searching the #yeg hashtag). Local businesses, such as Duchess Bakeshop — which supplies the muffins Nate has available for breakfast — are also active, working together to foster a feeling of community. Nate has had the benefit of drawing from their experience, and working with them while he built Elm Café.
Tweeting a menu may seem like a bit of a risk; but the benefits overpower the occasional grumblings that emerge when a tweeted dish isn’t available. Reading Elm Café’s lunch menu: “Hot: pulled pork, apple, carm onion, fontina. Cold 1) tomato, fresh mozza, basil aioli… 2) prosciutto, eggplant, asparagus, provolone. Soup: Borscht. Salad: potato, pepper, tom, cuke, greens…” or Charcut’s dinner dish: “Porchetta ‘Whole Loin and Belly of Spragg Pork with Fennel, Garlic, Rosemary and Olive Oil’” makes my mouth water, as I’m sure it does for their followers. So, the question is, having already tweeted the menu, what does a chef do when he or she runs out of ingredients for that dish? “Most really understand and enjoy the changes,” said Connie. Likewise with Elm Café: “People know we’re different and learn to work with us.”
Which is a good thing, because it seems to happen often.
Whether it’s with a marketing spin or just having a good time speaking with their community, Canadian chefs are starting to make their presence known online. Next time you head out for dinner, check Twitter for your restaurant du jour. It’ll give you a good idea what to expect that night. And when you’ve finished, you can tweet about your meal. Just don’t forget to give your compliments to the chef.