restaurant marketing strategies for instagram

Leslie Pave knows restaurant marketing. Before becoming a restaurant marketing coach at BusinessBlocks, an online small business education company, Pave worked both in video game software marketing and as a professional chef. Having worked in both arenas, she dished with Restaurant Insider on best restaurant marketing practices, including what not to do.  

Restaurant Insider: What are some of the biggest marketing mistakes you see restaurants making?

Leslie Pave: Customer reviews are a really tricky thing because it’s personal when somebody says something negative about your business. It feels personal, but as soon as I see restaurants getting really defensive, taking issue publicly, I definitely cringe and wish I were on their team. I think, “Oh, I wish I could be there to just walk them through this painful moment.” Because it’s painful. It’s personal. So I like to help my clients get directed into how to handle those moments.

Also, I really love chefs’ passion for their food, but they don’t always take the greatest photos that they then post online. You don’t need to be a good photographer, but you do need to wipe the plate, and the background can’t be a messy prep station. So whenever I see chefs posting pictures with a messy chef station, it makes me cringe as well because it doesn’t take a long time to just put the plate down on the table closest to the kitchen under a light. A little bit of light would help, and then it’s good enough for social media. It doesn’t have to be professional, but it does have to be appealing to the eye.

Leslie Pave
Leslie Pave

Another one is when I see a partner, like a winery or a brewery, come in and say, “Hey, we had a great meal at this restaurant,” and they post a picture of it and the restaurant doesn’t respond, doesn’t comment, doesn’t share the picture, doesn’t engage with the other brand that’s giving them great exposure. They just let it sit there. It’s amazing to be able to share that kind of content and develop relationships like that. … This is some great, easy content that I worked so hard to get for my clients and it’s just coming naturally and freely to them, and they’re missing the opportunity.

What should a restaurant do if it receives a negative review?

First, take a minute. You don’t want to reply quickly. If it’s negative, you should check with the people in your restaurant that handle this. So if you’re the general manager and you know the owner doesn’t want to be bothered, fine, but generally the owner wants to be involved on that level. Or check with the bar manager, depending on who the bad review was about, so you get your side of the story clear from your restaurant’s perspective. What happened? What was their experience? … When everybody’s calm, you decide as a team: This is how we’re going to handle it. Then you can get on and reply, and apologize because this customer is unhappy. Even if you take issue with it, you don’t want to say that because it’s just going to inflame them even more. … You have to see what you can do as a restaurant to make that better. Most of the time, the customer is happy if you say, “Hey, we’re going to talk to this staff member and fix that because we’re sorry your food was so late. We’re going to check with the kitchen on that.” … As long as they know you’re doing something about it, that’s generally enough for most customers.

What restaurant marketing strategies do you live by?restaurant social media strategy

I think a lot of restaurants miss the opportunity to be social on social media. A lot of restaurants have a tendency to just stay very corporate. I think that’s a missed opportunity, and I can’t think of one restaurant that shouldn’t try to be human in some way, whether it’s the fanciest, most famous white tablecloth restaurant or a chain. I think that a personal touch on social media is essential. I could probably find a lot of people who would disagree with me on that, but if you’re looking for exposure and you’re looking for engagement on social media, then you’re going to have to be human as well.

“I think that a personal touch on social media is essential.” -Leslie Pave


I also think that restaurants need to make time for marketing. When you’re busy, marketing just gets cut. Any time where I’ve seen a restaurant just give a chunk of their day–not even a big chunk, maybe an hour–to marketing, it makes a huge difference. It becomes habitual at that point, once you say, “OK, for this hour, I’m going to do marketing.” I know that’s hard to do. … With my clients, when I see a week go by, or two weeks, or three weeks even go by and there’s been nothing on social media–no newsletter, no new Facebook ads going out–then I know they’ve dropped the ball completely. And it shows; it absolutely shows. I have one client in mind…she was just hungry for it. She ran with it and it made a huge difference for her business. We saw the numbers go crazy on our newsletter and on social media. She had live music at her restaurant on the weekends and people started coming in from all around. She had the tools before, but once she used them, it was great.

What are some new restaurant marketing tools you’re excited about today?social media for restaurants

Instagram Stories is really at the top of mind right now because I think restaurants, when you put certain content out, there’s a level of professionalism you have to follow on all of your social media channels, but with Instagram Stories, it can be a little more behind the scenes. It can be what’s going on in the kitchen. It can be a little more casual, a little less refined. You can play around with stickers and text and different types of hashtags. That’s the other thing I really like about it–you can hashtag it so people can find your business if they’re looking for things going on in your town. Then they can find your stories there and find you that way. Any way you can help people find your restaurant, it’s worth doing.


I get a lot of content from each of my restaurant clients where it just didn’t make the cut for an Instagram post or a Facebook post or a blog post, but it works in Stories. We think it’s fun. It’s funny. It’s not necessarily about the customer experience or the great food. It’s something like making this new dessert and showing that we’re experimenting with it. We can show the progress of it through a period of time, and people really respond well to it. And it doesn’t take a lot of time.

It’s a little peek behind the door. Not everybody wants to see that, but they don’t have to. It’s not being pushed at them. What’s nice about stories is you only click on it because you want to see it. … If that leaves the impression that this is a happy family of people working there, customers want to be a part of that. They want to support that.

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Meghan is an award-winning journalist and content marketing manager who lives to tell stories. Her favorites include highlighting all things restaurants, from front-of-house hospitality to back-of-house grit. When she's not writing about them, you can find her eating her way through Providence and Boston searching for inspiration with a rye Old Fashioned in hand.