How to Use Instagram for Restaurant Marketing
June 29, 2022
Challengers like TikTok have emerged, but Instagram remains the most important social platform for restaurants.
In 2022, running a restaurant without an Instagram account is like taking a road trip without an excellent playlist. Ultimately, everything will be fine, but there’s a missed opportunity to make the experience even better.
That’s because Instagram is arguably a restaurant’s best social media asset. Content can be anything from a quick 24-hour Instagram Story that promotes tonight’s special to a lengthy Instagram Reel that lives on a restaurant’s profile forever. The visual nature of Instagram goes hand-in-hand with restaurant marketing in that diners are vying for pictures of food, videos of staff and Stories promoting limited-time offerings.
For those just jumping on the bandwagon — it’s never too late. Here are a few reasons to embrace Instagram for restaurant marketing, plus some practical tips and examples for being successful.
Instagram for Restaurants 101
With approximately 1.4 billion monthly active users — including 40% of the U.S. population — Instagram is the fourth-largest social media site behind Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp. While Instagram’s reputation might suggest it’s mostly used by teens and young adults, nearly of 50% of users are between the ages of 25 and 44. This cohort of users includes young professionals, parents with disposable income, men and women — pretty much anyone you would want to market your restaurant to.
Instagram is an ideal platform for restaurants to have in their marketing arsenal since there’s no shortage of drool-worthy content coming out of the kitchen at any given moment. Among consumers, there’s a hunger for food photography and restaurants are perfectly poised to satisfy that interest. Other content ideas to dabble in as well are highlighting staff, sharing news and promoting special offers.
All of these ingredients make it not only possible but likely for restaurants to amass an audience on Instagram, provided they follow best practices. It’s not uncommon for restaurants to gain thousands of followers on the site — check out Death & Co, Misi, and PLANTA, which all have more than 100,000 Instagram followers.
In short, loyal fans are more than willing to give their favorite restaurants a follow — and having an optimized and active profile can help someone unfamiliar with a restaurant add it to their list of places to try.
Optimizing an Instagram Profile
Creating a profile on Instagram simply requires a photo to be uploaded and a few fields to be filled out.
Name should be the restaurant’s name.
Username should be as close to the restaurant’s name as possible. If the name is taken, a variation on the name is appropriate. For example, if @SarahsPastries is taken, @SarahsNYC or @Sarahs_Pastries would work.
Website should link to your restaurant’s website, although linking straight to the direct online ordering page can make it easier for diners to place an order. Alternatively, restaurants can set up a Linktree. Since individual posts can’t use clickable URLs, a Linktree account allows users to assign links to each post and share one main link in this field.
Bio should be a short intro to your restaurant, location(s) and cuisine type.
Next, switch your account to be a business profile. Although the standard option of “Restaurant” works, there’s an option to get more specific with “Barbecue Restaurant” or “Ice Cream Shop.”
Here’s an example of a perfectly optimized Instagram profile from Greek restaurant Souvla that’s filled with fun emojis in their bio, a branded Linktree and saved Stories across the top in categories of press, shop, menus and location.
Types of Instagram Content
There are four main types of content that users can share on Instagram, each with different purposes and benefits.
Instagram Post. This is the classic image or video that, when posted, will show up on the main feed of anyone following the restaurant.
Instagram Stories. Stories are short-lived videos or images that can last up to ten seconds. They provide an aura of immediacy since after 24 hours, followers can no longer see them.
Instagram Reels. These are longer-form videos that can be edited with audio and multiple clips. They’re comparable to TikTok videos.
Instagram Live. Users can go live for up to four hours. Restaurants can use this time to show real-time, day-in-the-life content of staff or the cooking process for a favorite dish.
25 Creative Restaurant Instagram Ideas
Inspiration from the largest restaurant social accounts, with advice on how to apply it to your own strategy.
Restaurant Instagram Marketing Ideas & Examples
Instagram to the uninitiated can be overwhelming. To get started, here are eight simple ways to create and share content on a restaurant Instagram profile.
1. Repurpose User-Generated Content
Example: Kane’s Donuts
Too busy to take the perfect photo for Instagram? Don’t worry — customers aren’t. Nearly 70% of millennials take a photo of their food before they eat it, and when they post it on Instagram, they’re often tagging the restaurant where they ordered.
In this case, the restaurant will get a notification that they’ve been tagged, and then have the option to share the content to their Stories.
Constantly sharing user-generated content ensures the restaurant’s Stories stays fresh on a user’s timeline and encourages followers to post (and tag the restaurant) the next time they visit in hopes of getting shared themselves. Resharing images and videos takes seconds and ensures a steady stream of content.
2. Introduce Your Staff
Example: Gramercy Tavern
Cooks and managers — who are often busy behind kitchen doors or in back offices — rarely get a spotlight, even though their work is integral to a restaurant’s success. Why not use Instagram to celebrate these hard workers?
Staff highlights come in many forms. At high-end eateries, a formal introduction of who masterminded the meal adds a personal touch to the dining experience. New York’s Gramercy Tavern does this in the example above, highlighting the Chef de Cuisine’s role, education and accomplishments. More casual restaurants might want to do a less formal staff intro, or even sit them down for a Q&A for an Instagram Story or Live.
3. Promote Upcoming Events
Example: Hill Country BBQ
Restaurants that host events have a free marketing channel thanks to Instagram. For open events like themed nights or game airings, restaurants can post about them days or weeks leading up to the event, as well as share Stories to encourage last-minute arrivals.
For ticketed events that require registration, restaurants can not only post about them — they can link to a ticket purchasing site right from their Instagram profile. In the above example from Hill Country, the caption outlines when and where the event is with a callout to the ticket link, followed by more details on what the event entails. This example is accompanied by a mouth-watering picture of brisket, but events can also be promoted using custom graphics made on a design tool like Canva.
4. Embrace Holiday Marketing
Example: Callie’s Hot Little Biscuit
Holidays are a perfect excuse to get into the festivities on Instagram. Whether it’s the Fourth of July or Christmas, restaurants can post creative videos and images to promote holiday menu specials, private party availability, catering options, holiday merch sales or gift card deals in a timely way.
In the example above, Callie’s posted an image of their signature biscuits with a Christmas-themed backdrop to catch followers’ eyes. When looking at the caption, it’s specified that these are (limited-time) gingerbread biscuits. The post went live with ten days to spare before Christmas, combining the urgency to try these specials before they’re gone with a holiday theme to the content itself.
5. Sell Swag and Merch
Example: Ghee Indian Kitchen
Some patrons — particularly those who tend to order online — might not even know that their favorite restaurant has merchandise they can buy. From t-shirts and hats to seasonings and bottled sauces, Instagram is where a restaurant can share these items’ availability to a group of followers who are the most likely to make the purchase.
Restaurants with an online merchandise store hosted on their website can send followers straight to an ecommerce page where they can order this merch for delivery or pickup.
6. Encourage Engagement and Comments
Posts that get high engagement through likes and comments are more likely to find an audience on Instagram’s algorithm, so restaurants should be encouraging this engagement in a natural way.
Having “comment below!” or “like this post!” in every caption isn’t the move here. Instead, follow the example above set by Pammy’s. They announced that their takeout menu was back and posted a super tasty looking hero sandwich with a prompt to “Tag a friend you’d like to get cozy and share a HERO with!” The post received lots of engagement and chatter in the comments.
7. Announce New and Limited-Time Menu Items
When a restaurant introduces a new item to its menu, it can be hard to sell the value with just words. That’s where Instagram can help. Restaurants can add a post sharing an image of the new menu item, describing what makes it special and explaining how long it’s available for. Stories also make sense for daily specials, as they can be set to expire before the next day’s shift.
In this example, Capo uses an Instagram carousel to show a photo of all the drinks on their new cocktail menu and you can tap through to see individual shots of each sipper with a description in the caption.
8. And When All Else Fails, Just Post Food Photos
Example: Emmy Squared
It’s vital for restaurants to use their Instagram presence to turn follows into purchases, but follows will only come if an Instagram account posts the content people follow for — awesome pictures of delectable-looking food.
The Instagram profile for Emmy Squared has plenty of promotions, discounts and event reminders. However, they’re intertwined with close-up shots of their mouthwatering pizza and sandwiches. These are the posts that bring in and retain followers so that when the restaurant posts more promotional content, they reach a wider audience. When applying the Pareto Principle (or 80/20 rule) to an Instagram strategy, it means that only one out of five posts should outwardly promote sales, while the rest should focus on audience engagement and entertainment.
With that in mind, it’s actually best practice to keep a restaurant’s feed focused on these food pics, with occasional sprinkles of promotional content.
Restaurant Instagram Marketing Best Practices
1. Use Hashtags and Locations
Adding a location to an Instagram post or Story helps that content show up anytime someone searches the name of that location. Naturally, most content will be tagged at the restaurant, but this is something to keep in mind when the restaurant is serving at a festival or event.
Hashtags are another way to increase content discovery. Instagram allows up to 30 hashtags per post, and you've likely seen accounts that aren't shy about using all 30 of them. However, while this does slightly increase reach, it can come at the expense of making your content appear "spammy." If you're aiming for reach at all costs, that may not be an issue. If you're worried about seeming spammy, you may want to focus on 3-5 high-value hashtags instead.
2. Vary Up Publishing Styles
It’s easy to fall into a routine on social media, but Instagram and its users love fresh content and new ways to promote it. That’s why restaurants should vary up posting styles for maximum engagement. Traditional posts with hashtags and locations are great for getting a wider reach and making a permanent mark on a profile, but posts about something happening now can get buried in a user’s timeline. For this type of content — such as images of today’s special or announcements about hours — Stories are a better option, as they show up at the top of followers’ feeds.
3. Use Instagram Insights for a Better Posting Strategy
As a business, it’s imperative to know what content is growing reach and which content falls flat with an audience.
This is where Instagram Insights comes into play. Accessible via Instagram’s app, it provides users with an overview of how content performs, follower growth, Instagram ad performance and general recent highlights. These metrics can help the busy restaurateur determine the ideal post type and cadence for the best results from Instagram.
Do it for the ‘Gram
This is just the tip of the iceberg for using Instagram as a restaurant marketing tool. As a restaurant’s account grows, it can vary up its posting style even more to include new visuals, working with influencers, running competitions and testing out Reels. To start, however, it’s important to nail down the basics:
Optimize the account’s profile.
Develop a consistent posting cadence.
Use hashtags generously.
Follow the 80/20 rule for promotional posts.
By following these best practices and developing a voice on Instagram, there’s no limit to how much it can help a restaurant generate new followers, customers and sales.
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