The rapidly growing culture of food lovers gives restaurants the chance to get imaginative with their social media strategies. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and the like have opened up many new avenues for chefs and cooks to get in touch with fans, build customer bases, and develop brand identities.

Of all the top social media networks, Twitter has the least focus on visuals, which is so often the bread and butter of restaurant promotion. With the 140-character limit and the emphasis on real-time interactions, Twitter poses an unusual challenge for restaurants. These four restaurants have gone beyond sharing mouth-watering photos of their dishes and taken unique angles on how to promote and connect on Twitter.

1. Sprinkles — @sprinkles

This renowned California cupcake bakery has nailed its formula for attracting a dedicated Twitter base. Sprinkles focuses on rewarding the fans who follow the feed by offering regularly rotating deals and freebies. During the holiday season, people can get a free cupcake if they bring in a new toy to donate to charity. Other times, the store tweets a secret password to use for a “buy one, get one free” deal that day.

The rest of the Sprinkles Twitter feed does a great job of promoting the brand in different ways. The company regularly makes large donations to charitable causes, and it has made good use of hashtags and directly mentioning those organizations in its tweets. A large proportion of Sprinkles’ tweets are also about founder, Candace Nelson, and her involvement with the reality television show “Cupcake Wars.” The company shares promotional videos from the show and always advertises when Nelson will be visiting a Sprinkles outpost. This approach is a smart way to build a better understanding of the brand’s interests beyond just selling cupcakes.

2. Myers + Chang — @myersandchang

This Boston diner has taken a unique approach to sharing a glimpse of the daily happenings with its fans. While most restaurants will tweet behind-the scenes photos from the kitchen, the team at Myers + Chang talks about the fun from the front of the house. For example, one recent tweet said, “Highlight of night so far most def watching Billy Shore’s son Nate show us all how to dance gangnam style at the table.”

Those updates perfectly convey the character of the restaurant and its owners. The Myers + Chang Twitter feed also has plenty of tweets offering deals and promoting the food, but the highlights are definitely the goings-on at the diner and the owners’ interactions with customers. It’s a funky approach to social media that gives a glimpse into what you’ll get at Myers + Chang, both in terms of food and service, before you ever even set foot in the restaurant.

3. Rick Bayless — @Rick_Bayless

True, Mr. Bayless is not a restaurant, but he is the brains and the talent behind three popular spots for Mexican cuisine in Chicago. His restaurants have their own social media accounts, but the chef is by far the most popular person to follow. He shares occasional updates about the food prep at the various restaurants, but the depth and variety of Bayless’ tweets make him a must-follow for anyone interested in Mexican food and drink.

He is a great example of how important having a familiar and personable face attached to your company can be. Since his own following far exceeds those of any of his restaurants, he can occasionally retweet a post from one of those locations to share the information with a larger audience.

Bayless also has a great rapport with his followers and is often engaged in conversations with people who have questions about his cookbooks and recipes. That person-to-person chat can feel more satisfying to a customer than a conversation with a typical, anonymous brand account.

4. L2O — @RestaurantL2O

Another restaurant that has made its chef a key part of Twitter is L2O. This Chicago destination for French cuisine highlights the blog posts written by chef, Matthew Kirkley. While the updates are a bit sporadic, they share Kirkley’s insider thoughts about the acclaimed restaurant. He writes sincerely about L2O’s focus on quality and how it changes its menu. The chef has his own Twitter presence, but his personal account and the official restaurant account interact seamlessly.

The other standout element of L2O’s Twitter account is how genuine the interactions with patrons are. For example, when a follower commented on a photo of the kitchen staff cleaning periwinkles, the restaurant chatted with her about how they’d be prepared. Following L2O’s receipt of two Michelin stars for 2013, both the official feed and Chef Kirkley tweeted heartfelt thanks to the restaurant’s team — and responded to the followers who offered congratulations for the award. That sincerity is appealing and refreshing in the world of fine dining.

Know any other restaurants that are doing a great job on Twitter? Let us know in the comments.

[Image credits: Alpha, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Myers + Chang, Ben Collins-Sussmanstar5112]