A Restaurant’s Guide to Influencer Marketing
February 1, 2023
Influencer marketing should be part of your restaurant’s overall marketing strategy. Here’s how to get started and find the right collaborations.
How do diners discover new restaurants? Often, it’s through their favorite influencers on Instagram and TikTok who are reviewing special menus, attending grand openings, and partnering with chefs. Influencer marketing is a $16.4 billion industry that has grown 70% since 2020. For restaurants, there’s a big opportunity to incorporate this strategy into your overall marketing mix.
Finding the right accounts to work with might feel overwhelming — especially if you’re new to the world of influencer marketing — but we’re sharing how to develop and maintain successful influencer relationships. Read on to find details on how to find local influencers (including which keywords and hashtags to search), examples of when to partner with influencers, and recommendations on how to budget for collaborations.
What is Influencer Marketing?
Influencer marketing is “the process of promoting and selling products or services through individuals capable of driving action from your target audience.” In simple terms, an influencer is someone who has a dedicated, loyal community with followers who trust them.
For restaurants, this typically looks like working with local influencers who live in the town or city of your restaurant and whose brand features food content.
There are different classifications of influencers depending on their follower count.
Types of Influencers:
Nano influencers (0-10k followers)
Micro influencers (10-100k followers)
Mid influencers (100-500k followers)
Macro influencers (500k-1m followers)
Celebrities (1m+ followers)
To get started in your influencer marketing efforts as a restaurant, focus on collaborating with micro influencers who have a follower count of between 10,000 and 100,000. Keep this in mind when deciding who to work with.
The Benefits of Influencer Marketing for Restaurants
There’s no denying that influencer marketing is a growing industry, but what’s in it for restaurants? Quite a bit. Awareness, credibility, and growth are just a few of the reasons why it’s smart for restaurants to work with influencers. Learn more about each benefit below.
1. Create buzz with the right audience
Part of your marketing plan to reach new customers might be to secure press coverage of your restaurant or send direct mail to potential guests. Oftentimes, the ROI on these tactics are unclear and you might only reach a small number of people who are actually interested in checking out your restaurant. By working with local food influencers, you can reach the right audience: local food lovers who are passionate about trying new dishes and visiting new restaurants.
“Oftentimes restaurants think it’s about the number of followers, but realistically it’s more important they’re actually reaching people with followers that can translate into clientele,” said the founder of Austin Food Adventures. “Working with globally famous influencers that focus on fashion may not be the best move compared to a micro influencer who specializes specifically in local food.”
2. Build credibility
It’s especially important for new restaurants to build credibility with the local community, and influencer marketing can be a great way to achieve that goal. Influencers have a loyal following and their recommendation goes a long way with their audience. A positive review from a local influencer will build trust with potential diners who see the content.
3. Grow your customer base
You might be crushing it on your own social media channels, sending top-notch emails that are converting into online orders, and keeping your restaurant’s website up to date and optimized, but those marketing tactics are usually only reaching your current customer base.
In order to spread awareness of your restaurant and increase your reach, it’s pivotal to tap into partners like influencers. Not only are you connecting with new potential diners, but you’re reaching new people who can become social media followers, email subscribers, and website visitors and therefore fueling your own growth efforts.
How To Find Local Influencers
There are four key places to start looking for influencers in your area. We’ll talk through them below. However, no matter where you find influencers to work with, here are questions you should keep in mind as part of your vetting process:
Does the influencer’s content and aesthetic make sense for your restaurant?
What is the ratio of likes/comments to followers?
Is a strong community visible?
Have other restaurants or industry contacts worked with them?
A good place to start finding influencers is with a quick Google search. The search term “[city name] food influencers” generally will pull up a list of round-up articles from press coverage. From here, you can scan through the results to see which influencers might be a good fit for your restaurant.
Most influencers have optimized their Instagram profiles to include certain keywords that make them more likely to be found. The most common keyword phrase for food influencers is “[city name] food.” This is similar to the term you’ll search on Google (minus the word influencers) and will show you any Instagram profile that has those words in the Instagram handle or the account’s name. In the example below, @bostonfoodgram is the name of the handle while “Boston Food & Travel | Emily” is the name of the account. Her profile comes up when “Boston food” is searched within Instagram because she’s optimized it accordingly.
A different way to search on Instagram is through Instagram hashtags. Once you find an influencer, you can go through the hashtags on their posts to find other influencers who are using the same hashtag. In general, these are common types of hashtags that are used across all cities:
More and more restaurants are starting to use TikTok to reach diners, and it’s a platform that should be in your mix when thinking about influencer marketing. In fact, 53% of millennial TikTok users have visited a restaurant or ordered food from a restaurant after seeing it on the channel.
Like Instagram, you can search for influencers using keywords and hashtags. Searching “[city name] food” is a helpful term to begin with, and the hashtags you find on Instagram are applicable for TikTok discovery as well.
Read more here: How to Use TikTok for Restaurant Marketing
When To Partner With Influencers
Once you’ve identified a list of influencers that could be a good fit for your brand, now is the time to decide how you’d like to partner up. From inviting influencers to your grand opening to hosting a gift card giveaway to offering a sneak peek of an upcoming seasonal menu, there are many collaboration opportunities.
“Restaurants typically invite us in to try their food and feature it on our page,” said Madison Shapiro of Sistersnacking. “It can be anything from showcasing new menu items, an influencer dinner, a limited offering or just to promote their restaurant in general. We've even done menu item collabs like our "Sistersnacking Grinder" at Cutlets in NYC which we offered exclusively for a whole month.”
Check out the five main ways restaurants typically partner with influencers below.
Building buzz for your new restaurant opening requires a multi-pronged promotional campaign, and influencers should be part of getting the word out. Invite influencers to check out your new concept with a personal invite in the dining room or as part of a media preview dinner.
People love free stuff, and social media giveaways are a popular way for accounts to grow their reach and following. Consider partnering with a local influencer to give away a gift card to your restaurant. The “like, follow, follow, tag” model works well for these types of collaborations. To participate, someone must like the giveaway post, follow both the influencer and restaurant’s account and tag another user (to boost virality).
Launching a seasonal menu? Unveiling a new cocktail line-up? Welcome influencers to come try out the offerings before they go live. This will help build anticipation and ensure there’s interest immediately upon launch.
Influencers and chefs can work together on a menu item. This is a great option if you want to build visibility of your chef as part of your restaurant branding. Influencers get behind-the-scenes content and a chance to be part of the process, while restaurants benefit from the hype around the influencer’s dish.
“Several years ago, I worked with Chef Leah from Life Alive Cafe to create inspiration for a new dish special,” said Emily Chan from Boston Food Gram. “Several influencers were involved in this collaboration; each influencer curated their own dish and we promoted our dish to our followers! My peanut noodle menu item ended up doing well with cafe-goers and now it is a staple item on their menu!”
If your iPhone food photography isn’t cutting it anymore, consider working with an influencer for your media needs. Leverage their photography and editing skills and purchase images and video to use on your own social media feeds.
How Much Does Influencer Marketing Cost?
The amount that restaurants should budget for influencer marketing varies. In general, the expectation is that a comped meal is offered in exchange for social media coverage. It’s important to communicate ahead of time when coordinating with influencers about what you’re offering and what they’re planning to post.
Depending on the influencer, there might be a monetary cost for collaborating on a giveaway, requesting a specific type of social media post or using their photography/videography for your marketing materials. Hear from two food influencers below:
“We love getting the opportunity to go behind the scenes and watch the chefs cook and sometimes restaurants pay us for video content to use on their own channels (video is the name of the game).” - Sistersnacking
“For single-location restaurants, I do not charge a fee for my basic media bundle. This typically includes an Instagram static post and stories in exchange for a comped meal for two. I always tip the server/restaurant staff for these meals! If the restaurant wants to add an extra service (ex. Giveaway, guaranteed reel, extra post, access to my photos, etc.), I do charge a fee for that.” - Boston Food Gram
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