instagram and the restaurant industry

Nine out of 10 restaurants use social media to connect and engage with their guests.

For restaurateurs, the idea of using social media marketing to reach guests may feel like a big time commitment, especially when you are already focused on managing your reputation via those pesky online reviews.

Nonetheless, think about all of the #foodstagram posts and social media check-ins your guests take part in. And what about the contests your competitors are running to bring new guests in the door?

If you don’t have a restaurant social media strategy, you’re missing out on a huge revenue opportunity. Social media is ingrained in our daily lives. If you don’t integrate it into your restaurant, even the best restaurant marketing strategies won’t be able to keep up.

Humans are social creatures who enjoy sharing. Social media is a powerful tool for utilizing this psychology, allowing us to share and engage with others. When executed well, restaurant social media marketing can offer some of the best ROI of any marketing investment and should be part of every restaurant marketing plan.

Facebook and Twitter are generally the two most influential social networks, with the highly visual Instagram as another no-brainer for any restaurant owner to establish a presence on.

Why is Restaurant Social Media so Important?

As a restaurateur, you might be thinking, “How the hell do I find time for that?” or “How can I stand out against brands like McDonald’s that already dominate the food social media space?”

The best restaurant social media campaigns can all answer these three questions:

  1. Who is your target audience?
  2. What are they talking about?
  3. What do they want from your restaurant?

Brands like McDonald’s, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Starbucks are great examples of restaurants that have nailed it. They focus on telling the guest’s story, not their own. For example, take a look at this Starbucks “Meet Me At Starbucks” campaign.

Brand Development is Key to Any Social Media Strategy

Before you introduce your restaurant to the world of social media, you need to decide what kind of image you want to project. Whether that means deciding what kind of theme you want to develop on your Instagram page or what kind of voice you want to use on Twitter, it is important to make these decisions early on and then stick to the brand you have created.

For example, fast food giant Wendy’s is known for its sassy Twitter account that occasionally roasts their fast food competition and disgruntled Twitter users. Having a distinct voice and social media strategy has resulted in Wendy’s Twitter account going viral along with encouraging communication with fans.

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Social media for restaurants is no longer about who has the greatest marketing spend, it’s about who has the better understanding of their guests and what they want from the brand. No one knows your guests better than you do. And these exact people are your target audience. As a restaurateur with limited time, what can you do today to build or take advantage of your knowledge of your target audience and a social media presence to drive more regulars into your restaurant?

Restaurant Social Media Marketing Tools

Instagram is King

Known for its drool-worthy, hunger-inducing food pictures, Instagram has quickly become the king of social media. With millions of active users, Instagram is one of the easiest marketing tools for restaurants that want to bring in new customers and keep their returning customers hungry for more. Instagram accounts can make or break a person’s decision to eat at a restaurant so make sure your account is the best it can possibly be.

There are a few easy ways to increase your Instagram presence and make your account more visually appealing to its visitors. The best way to do that is by using images that could qualify as #foodporn. The easiest way to do this? Take high-quality photos of your most Instagrammable dishes, and take them at interesting angles. Don’t have a crazy unicorn-inspired dish or other out-of-the-box food trends on your menu? Make your food look irresistible, like shooting a grilled cheese being pulled apart. Seeing gooey cheese oozing out from in between two perfectly toasted slices of bread is enough to make anyone hungry.

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Hashtags are also a great way to drive people to your Instagram page by increasing the visibility of each post. Popular ones include #foodporn, which has 179.7 million posts; #food, which has 306.9 million posts; and #foodie, with 106.9 million posts. Also be sure to look into location- or food-specific hashtags to target your specific audience. A barbecue restaurant in St. Louis might want to use different hashtags than a vegan cafe in Los Angeles so they can ensure their dishes are popping up in the appropriate Instagram feeds.

Your Instagram account doesn’t just have to highlight your food though. Post fun pictures of your employees enjoying their time at work to encourage guests to stop in and enjoy that energy.

You can also use your account to show off your restaurant’s decor and ambiance along with any pertinent updates, like specials or after-hours events.

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Facebook is Still Important

Even though Instagram is the social media of choice for foodies and restaurateurs, Facebook is still one of the largest social media platforms that exists today. With over a billion active users, it should be utilized to maximize your businesses reach and keep your customers up to date with relevant information. Facebook can be used to keep your customers in the loop when it comes to changes in your business hours or seasonal menu additions. (Don’t forget: Your Instagram posts can also be shared on Facebook simultaneously when uploading.)

There's no time to be a hesi-tater

Posted by Johnny Rockets on Saturday, July 7, 2018

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Facebook also allows you to customize your businesses marketing to an incredible degree of specificity. Geo-targeting advertisements is a great feature that Facebook offers allowing you to easily reach your target market. Because it’s customizable, you can choose specific geographic areas that you want, or don’t want, to target with your advertisements. You can also choose whether the people who see the ads live in the area, were recently in the area, or are traveling in the area. With its customization and specificity, geo-targeting advertisements on Facebook may be one of the best marketing endeavors for your business and could offer some of the best ROI of any social media marketing investment.

Keep Your Twitter Updated

Twitter is the world’s best breaking news source, so it should be one of the first places any mobile restaurant, such as food carts and food trucks, establish a social presence. You can use your Twitter to update followers on the location of your food truck, announce new seasonal menu items, a change in the hours you are open, or where you’re parked for the day.

Twitter is also a great place to incorporate fun, witty content that is entertaining for your followers. Diversify your Twitter content with interesting articles, funny commentary, and mouth-watering images of items on your menu.

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How to Engage with Your Customers

Engaging with your customers is one of the easiest ways to get them excited about your restaurant and encourage them to tag your restaurant or use your branded hashtags. Repost photos you were tagged in on your restaurant’s Instagram account and retweet relevant content to your Twitter. Not only does it make your customers feel important but it also encourages others to tag your establishment in posts with the hope that they will make it onto your restaurant’s profile.

Ever notice how some restaurants are tagged in a lot of pictures that are all taken in front of the same fun wall? Whether it’s a wall with a fun design on it or a cool neon sign, people love taking photos in front of a unique background. An increasing number of restaurants are starting to incorporate spaces in their restaurant that are designed for social media. These spaces encourage your customers to take fun photos of themselves with their food and tag your restaurant.

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Another great way to interact with your followers is using polls on Twitter. Whether it is a poll about which cocktail on your menu is their favorite or what item they want to see you bring back to your menu, polls get people excited. They also makes restaurant-goers feel as if their opinion matters at their favorite restaurant.

One trap to avoid on social media is only posting your own content. Think of your social media accounts like you’re a publisher: You want to give people great content that entertains and educates at least as much as it promotes. Otherwise, why would anyone follow you?

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How to Create a Restaurant Social Media Marketing Plan

1. Learn to Schedule Posts

Scheduling posts in advance can save a lot of time. There are many different scheduling tool options out there, find the one that you like working with and get started making your social media life easier.

New to scheduling your content? Remember these tips as you get started.

  • Use Evergreen Content: When creating content, you should always includes posts that will be relevant year-round. Sharing this content through scheduled posts assures that it won’t ever appear to be off topic, out of place, or tired. This content can also be used repeatedly. As you gain more followers, it will be new to them. Just be sure you leave enough time in between posts so regular followers don’t feel like your account is repetitive.   
  • Check In Periodically: You’ve scheduled your posts ahead of time, but you also want to give the illusion that it’s in real time, so be sure to check in on it periodically. Have notifications turned on for the platforms you schedule, so if people respond to a tweet or a post, you’ll know it and can respond right away if it’s appropriate. Checking in on a weekly basis can also ensure all the posts truly are still relevant and worth sharing, and it gives you a chance to update any messaging to reflect current events. If there’s been a crisis or emergency in the news, your lighthearted tweets about dessert specials may seem insensitive.
  • Tailor Posts to the Social Network: If you have the same exact post, phrased exactly the same, going out at exactly the same time on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, your audience is going to notice. Remember that each platform serves a different purpose and has a different audience. Schedule posts individually, and keep them appropriate for their platform. Also, stagger the times so the posting seems more organic.
  • Try Not to Over-Schedule: You don’t want to overwhelm your followers with a constant stream of content. It’s easy to get into the scheduling groove, and get a little carried away. Try not to overdo it with way too many posts, or too many of the same types of posts. Have some variety, and use a content calendar to organize your posts.

Scheduling your social media is such a valuable tool to use to have a successful social media strategy for our restaurant. With all these posts scheduled, have fun with some live posts to keep your feed fresh and your audience engaged.

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2. Consider Hiring a Social Media Pro

If it feels like you’re running your entire business on your own, outsourcing this crucial role may sound both tempting and beneficial. When deciding whether or not going with an outside hire is right for you, here are two important pros and cons to consider:

The #1 Con: You need someone on the scene at the right moments, and you’re the best person for that job. If you do hire, the best compromise is to find someone who’s local. You should be posting photos and tweeting from behind the scenes. Find someone who can do this.

For this reason, you may consider finding someone internally instead of hiring from the outside. If you do, remember these tips:

  • Try promoting your socially savvy employees, but consider the turnover rate of employees in small businesses and how the “voice” of your social accounts may be affected when they leave.
  • You can always get your employees trained by the same professionals you considered hiring—most are also consultants.

The #1 Pro: A professional comes armed with experience and ideas. Just because your millennial-aged employees know how to tweet doesn’t mean they know anything about marketing or getting customers in the door.

For this reason, if you decide to hire externally, consider these tips:

  • When bringing in a professional, hire someone who wants to see everything and meet everyone. Your hired hand should act as part of the team and speak with the same enthusiasm that you do. If they don’t, don’t hire them. Passion sells, and they need to communicate that more than anything.
  • Hire a new marketing grad with experience in retail, food service or whatever category your business is in so they can work behind the line and tweet like an expert at the same time. Those in the line of duty make the best spokespeople.
  • If you’re on a shoestring budget, think about hiring a marketing intern. Even though their employment will be short-lived, you may learn enough to move forward on your own.

3. Educate Yourself

Regardless of whether you hire a professional or not, get educated in social media. The best way to do this is to join the platforms yourself. By engaging with people on each platform, you’ll understand the different tones and expectations of each. And if you choose to hire, having some background knowledge on the technology will allow you to do so more intelligently.

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Cardinal Rules of Social Media Marketing

No matter which platform, or who is posting, here are some rules to keep in mind:

  1. It’s not about you. You need to be 100 percent guest-forward. Learn who the influencers are, learn what the trends are, and your brand will shine. Listen: What are your guests saying about you, your competitors and the industry? Take the time to listen before you engage. Learn: Identify the influencers and trends. Who is driving the conversation and how can you take those insights and turn them into action? Adapt: Just as social channels are changing rapidly, so are the guests using them. Always keep your key brand loyalists in mind when you explore new strategies and tactics. The bottom line is it’s a blend of being where your guests and knowing what’s important to them. Once you’ve researched your audience enough to figure out where they are online and what makes them tick, you’re ready for the next crucial piece of advice our experts provided.
  2. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. For restaurateurs, there are five social networks that are tops with diners: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Yelp, and OpenTable. However, just because there are five networks ideal for restaurants, that doesn’t mean you have to start all five at once. For example, if your audience is mostly women 18-24, research would tell you that Instagram would be the best platform to jump into. Spending a little time upfront researching your potential audience and which social platforms are most popular with that audience could save you valuable posting hours in the long run. Then once you’ve identified the most effective channel for your guests, you can create the appropriate strategy to target your audience.
  3. Practice Your ABC’s. Yes, it really can be that simple.
    • Always Respond: Don’t play favorites to those with a large social network. The average Facebook user has 130 friends, but just because someone has more or less doesn’t mean they’re any more or less valuable to your business. Respond to everyone in a timely manner.
    • Be Transparent: You want fans on your Facebook page to be engaged with you, but you also need them to know that you are engaged, too. Answer questions, address concerns, and acknowledge when people take the time to post on your page.
    • Capture Attention: Food not only tastes and smells delicious—it looks beautiful, too. Pictures and video are key (especially on Instagram), but if photography isn’t your thing, sometimes a sensory description will do the trick.
    • Don’t Forget: At the end of the day, social media is a resource that restaurateurs need to engage with to stay relevant and increase guest loyalty. Build a strategy that works for you, measure it and test it. Rinse and repeat.

What does it take to be an effective restaurant marketer? The strategies you need (and everything you ever wanted to know) are in one place.

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Written by   |  
Mitchell Hall is a writer and editor living in Boston, MA. Originally from New Zealand, growing up he spent nearly ten years greedily imbibing the spirit of hospitality as a kitchenhand, waiter, and barman.