Social media tools are a great way for restaurant brands to engage with customers, but navigating all of the options available requires focus and commitment, according to participants in the American Express Restaurant Trade Program at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.  

The program featured both a panel and a workshop in which participants including high-end chef Grant Achatz, Darden Restaurants executive Mike Church and TV star Andrew Zimmern, shared strategies for engaging their audiences and turning bad experiences into good ones.

“At the moment, I’m obsessed with Vine,” said Atlanta-based chef, restaurateur and TV personality Richard Blais of the short-form video application from Twitter.

Blais has more than 240,000 Twitter followers, and he said he likes using Vine’s stop-motion picture, which allows him to get up to 100 frames so he can show how dishes are plated.

Celebrity chef Chris Cosentino, owner of Incanto in San Francisco, showed attendees examples of that same thing in a workshop on social media. He said he particularly likes posting Vine videos of daily specials. “We sold out in 45 minutes,” he said of one dish.

Blais also has a YouTube show called Burger Lab. He puts the featured burger on his menu, encouraging customers to visit and try it.

Blais said he shoots three episodes of the show in one nine-hour session.

Similarly, Grant Achatz — chef-owner of Alinea, Next, The Aviary and The Office in Chicago — works with his staff to shoot a video for YouTube highlighting the upcoming incarnation of Next, a restaurant that reinvents itself every three months.

“It’s no different from a commercial,” Achatz said, adding that it allows him “to directly control the PR.”

Moderator Steve Dolinsky, food correspondent for ABC-7 in Chicago, showed a clip of the video promoting the latest version of the restaurant in which Next’s staff is shown stealing produce from other Chicago restaurants.