Compared with some people I'm not a big tweeter (and I keep well away from Facebook, which is why I'm not discussing it here). I look at Twitter several times a day and try to post at least a few cooking-related somethings a week (@TimeToCook). I sometimes don't understand what others are tweeting about -- popular culture is not my strong suit and fragments of private conversation are inherently obscure -- but some postings I connect with, such as those in which chefs or restaurateurs "talk" to diners or show off brand new dishes on their menus.
Of the handful of people I follow, my London friends Angela Hartnett (@AngelaHartnett) of Murano restaurant (@MuranoLondon) and the folks from the Canteen group (@CanteenLondon) are very good at this, though Ms. Hartnett's references to soccer go right over my head. So are various members of the Jean-Georges Vongerichten group in New York, including Mr. Vongerichten himself (@jeangeorges) and his son Cedric (@Cedvongerichten), who is chef at Perry Street (@perryst_nyc).
From the standpoint of engaging with and retaining customers, it seems to me that an active Twitter presence can be effective. When planning a trip, I am prejudiced in favor of restaurants that tweet -- given that I know them to be good in the first place. For instance, tweeted photographs -- often of ultra-seasonal dishes fresh from the market via the skill of the chefs -- have certainly set my mouth a-watering and have influenced my dining-out choices more than once. I can also see where it would be fun to read chefs' non-culinary banter with their colleagues: a glimpse into a community on which we rarely get to snoop.
Now unless you are a Mario Batali (@Mariobatali, with more than 300,000 followers and upwards of 8,000 tweets), this is not mass marketing. And many posts are in response to a single Twitterer but are of course seen by all followers; these send the positive message that a restaurateur cares about clients and admirers and pays attention to them as individuals. But it doesn't take mass marketing to fill even a big restaurant: Every table counts. So if a picture of market berries with champagne sorbet at Perry Street or Cornish sea trout with cucumber and potato salad at Murano spurs even one person to tap the smartphone screen and make an on-line reservation, the 30 seconds it took to tweet were well spent.
As I said, I'm not a world-beating tweeter, so my stream is not swollen with the heaviest possible flow of restaurant/chef postings. But once I noticed a few tweets of that kind I wondered how widespread they were. I was not about to search Twitter for every restaurant in the phone directory, so I devised a method -- nothing more than a little game, really: I'd use the Zagat website to identify the 10 "best" restaurants in New York, London and Paris ("best" in Zagat's crowd-as-expert terms, which yield results I often find baffling and just as often do not endorse), then see how each is represented on Twitter. Very unscientific and unrepresentative, but kind of interesting, at least in a trivial way.
I was a little surprised at how poorly the Paris restaurants did; most French people I know are pretty comfortable with computers and smartphones. Perhaps they'll catch up now that Minitel has been retired. I was particularly surprised that the sole Zagat "top-10" Paris restaurant that uses Twitter in a canny way was one of those I think of as an old stick in the mud: Taillevent. Maybe we'll have dinner there next time we're in France.
The biggest surprise of all was the outpouring from the little Oxfordshire village of Great Milton: Between Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons and its chef-proprietor, Twitter's servers are freighted with more than 15,000 tweets. Perhaps they have an intern who does nothing but carve the life of the restaurant into 140-character slices.
Here's a rundown of what I found. Take a look at the various Twitter feeds and see if any of them tempt you to log on to OpenTable and book yourself a dinner.
London - Zagat Top 10 for Food
The Ledbury I could unearth nothing from the restaurant or its chef, though the sister (parent?) restaurant, The Square, seems to find lots to tweet about (see below).
Pied à Terre (@PiedaTerreUK) One tweet doesn't count, and that's all there is on the restaurant's feed. But the proprietor, David Moore (@DavidPied) is a champion tweeter; the head chef, Marcus Eaves (@marcuseaves), tweets too, though with lapses.
Dinings Silence, though there is an empty account under the name of the chef, Masaki Sugisaki.
Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons (@lemanoir) More than TWELVE THOUSAND tweets, plus another 2,800 from chef-proprietor Raymond Blanc (@raymond_blanc). When do they find time to cook? I guess there are fewer distractions out there in the Oxfordshire countryside.
Le Gavroche No detectable tweeting from either the restaurant or chef-proprietor Michel Roux, Jr.
The Waterside Inn Its account has nearly 300 followers, but not a single tweet. Loyal customers, no doubt living in hope.
Hunan Nothing to be found.
Restaurant Gordon Ramsay (@restaurant_gr) A quiet little Twitter account with more than a thousand followers but only eight tweets. Mr. Ramsay's own account (@GordonRamsay01) is far more active and engaging, with scads of interaction -- and even recipes, which is a nice touch.
The Square (@square_rest) Lots of tweeting, not by any means all about the restaurant, but enough to keep people happy, and nice "conversations" with customers. The chef-proprietor, Phil Howard (@philiphoward8), tweets in a more general sort of way, and a junior sous chef (@cheftommyb) posts photos of beautiful fish and garden produce, along with odd scraps of kitchen banter.
Dinner by Heston Blumenthal I can detect no Twitter account for the restaurant. The man with his name on the door (@HestBlumenthal) is not a very energetic tweeter, and, while the restaurant's chef, Ashley Palmer-Watts (@APWChef), tweets with the best of 'em, he doesn't say all that much about what's going on at the restaurant.
New York - Zagat Top 10 for Food
Le Bernardin (@LeBernardinNY) General restaurant news, retweets and interaction with others. Not much by way of menu specifics or photographic food porn. Its chef-partner, Eric Ripert, has his own account (@ericripert) with lots of chit-chat and interaction, and a few pictures.
Daniel (@DANIEL_E65thNYC) Just over 20 tweets in total, providing little by way of menu news. The chef-owner, Daniel Boulud (@DanielBoulud), is a much busier Twitterer, offering a look into his activities; other restaurants in his group have their own accounts.
Per Se There is an inactive account in the name of the restaurant, but the executive chef and proprietor, Thomas Keller (@Chef_Keller), tweets about his activities and gives a bit of restaurant news; so does chef de cuisine Eli Kaimeh (@ekaimeh).
Bouley The chef-owner, David Bouley (@DavidBouley), is the restaurant's voice on Twitter; you'll find some menu news and retweets related to the restaurant, and lots of individual interaction with customers and Twitter followers, which I found welcoming in tone.
Jean Georges As noted above, the executive chef-proprietor (@jeangeorges) is a frequent tweeter, both about his various restaurants and about dining out in general ("thank you for great tacos and margarita"). The restaurant's Twitter activity (@Jean_GeorgesNYC) is less exuberant, but Mr. Vongerichten makes up for it.
Eleven Madison Park There is no restaurant account, but a number of staff members tweet about the restaurant and their own activities, with a nice level of interaction with customers. For instance: @iamramzi, @dwilson79, @BryceShuman and a few more.
Sushi Yasuda There is an account under that name, with five followers, five followings and zero tweets.
Annisa I found no account for the restaurant. Its chef-owner, Anita Lo (@AnitaLoNYC), tweets from time to time, but hardly at all about Annisa.
La Grenouille I could find nothing, not a peep and not a croak, much less a tweet.
Peter Luger Steakhouse There are myriad tweets about this place, but none emanating from the restaurant itself.
Paris - Zagat Top 10 for Food
Taillevent (@LeTaillevent) Lots of offerings from the company's wine shop, but also menu updates, notably the current prix-fixe lunch menus at the restaurant and the neighboring "brasserie," Les 110 de Taillevent. Tempting? Yes, indeed. No retweets or interaction.
Pierre Gagnaire There are two Twitter accounts under Mr. Gagnaire's name, and both show zero tweets. Fakes perhaps?
Guy Savoy Is that really Mr. Savoy's account? It contains a single two-year-old retweet of impenetrable obscurity.
Le Grand Véfour No Twitter account, either for the restaurant or, more surprising, for its well-known and media-savvy chef, Guy Martin.
Le Cinq No Twitter account for either the restaurant or its chef, Éric Briffard. The Four Seasons George V Hotel that houses it has an active Twitter account, but few tweets relate to the restaurant.
Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athénée There is no Twitter account for the restaurant or its chef, Christophe Saintagne, and no authentic-looking account for Mr. Ducasse himself.
Le Duc No Twitter account for the restaurant or its chef, Pascal Hélar.
L'Astrance No Twitter account for the restaurant or its chef, Pascal Barbot
Le Meurice No Twitter account for the restaurant. There is a zero-tweet account in the name of its chef, Yannick Alléno. Hôtel Le Meurice has an account, but it does not focus on the restaurant.
Pramil No Twitter account for the restaurant or its chef, Alain Pramil.
Follow Edward Schneider on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TimeToCook