Brands in the restaurant industry often sink or swim by word-of-mouth, and having people talking about you on social media can do wonderful things to get more diners interested in your establishment.

There are plenty of best practices for restaurants on Twitter and on Facebook — and we’re highlighting four brands that have put those suggestions into action successfully.

For even more marketing tips for restaurants, check out our interview with Johnny Auer about how to generate social media buzz for your opening day. Many of his suggestions can be applied to any special event, or even your day-to-day approach to social media. You’ll see several examples of Auer’s strategies in the four restaurants named here, but there’s even more so stay tuned!

1. Chipotle

This Mexican-style fast food chain has a strong following and has done a great job interacting with its fan base on Facebook. Chipotle’s social media team is very vocal and interacts regularly with its followers. They respond promptly to questions asked in comments and Facebook posts. They thank people with positive feedback and assist with resolving customer service complaints.

But Chipotle’s Page goes beyond simply advertising burritos and fielding customer problems. A large part of the brand’s appeal is its commitment to “food with integrity,” which includes using sustainable, organic, and local ingredients whenever practical.

The company has made that mission apparent on its Facebook Page by creating events for dates when it will visit farmers’ markets. Chipotle is also sponsoring the Cultivate Festival, an outdoor event focused on food, music, and ideas — with demos by nationally-known chefs. The company posts photos of the traveling festival to Facebook, which helps build buzz and get followers interested in the event. Facebook is a great platform for showcasing your brand’s mission and causes since it allows for longer status posts and can easily get photos and events seen by a big audience.

Chipotle has also capitalized on the strength of its visual campaign by creating a Pinterest account. For restaurants with a solid base of photos and videos to draw from, expanding into Pinterest or another image-centric network can be a smart way of attracting new fans and growing your audience.

2. Pinkberry

Pinkberry is a frozen yogurt chain that has adopted a conversational approach to its Twitter account. The company has more than 42,000 followers and it regularly tweets back and forth with other people on Twitter. It recently introduced a new loyalty program and mobile app, so its Twitter feed is full of examples of how the team fields questions and builds good relationships with fans. The brand’s feed also features a lot of people referring to the company by name or through the hashtag #Pinkberry.

Whether or not tweets are part of a chat, Pinkberry has a unique voice and a consistent approach in communicating with fans on Twitter. For example, the company frequently receives requests about opening locations in new cities. The brand’s usual response is something to the effect of, “Hopefully we’ll be swirling there soon!” This is a cute way to link its social media presence to the iconic swirl of its frozen yogurt cups.

3. Sunda

Sunda is a Chicago eatery featuring sushi and innovative Asian cuisine. The restaurant has smart strategies on Twitter and Foursquare that center on perks and deals. Its tweets regularly remind followers about Sunda’s weekly specials. It also offers discounts for people participating in major downtown events; people who participated in the Chicago Marathon could show their medal or runner’s bib and receive 20 percent off that entire day.

The perks also carry over into Sunda’s Foursquare presence. The restaurant offers loyalty specials, such as a free sushi roll or appetizer on the third check-in. But it also has unusual deals beyond the basic freebies, such as a Flash Special that gives discounts to the first 10 lunchtime check-ins.

Offering lots of deals through social media is a smart way to attract followers and encourage them to visit your brick-and-mortar location. It’s a great approach to create a mutually beneficial relationship online between your business and your customers.

4. Tao

The New York City outpost of Tao has nailed the important visual element of Facebook. For a restaurant, sharing mouth-watering photos of your dishes is an obvious way to get people excited about your cuisine. Tao has done that — and done it well — but food shots are just one part of its photo strategy.

The restaurant is noteworthy for the giant statue of Buddha in the center of the dining room, and Tao’s social media team has made that image a key part of its Facebook photo galleries. Status posts are often accompanied by pictures of Buddha. The captions range from serious thoughts to lighthearted quips; there’s even a jokey photo of a squirrel and a small Buddha statue! This photo strategy is a smart way to capitalize on what makes the restaurant unique and gives its Facebook Page lots of personality.

Do you know a restaurant that’s got a great social media plan? Let us know in the comments!

[Image credit: Alpha]