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How to Use Instagram for Restaurant Marketing

  7 years ago Posted in: Social Media
How to Use Instagram for Restaurant Marketing

The big world of Instagram might be intimidating to tackle when marketing your restaurant, especially if you’re only experience using it has been for sharing personal snaps, but in the visual world of check-ins and trending hashtags revolving around fashion, travel and selfies, there’s a big slice of the pie that caters directly to foodies.

With more than 200 million users, it’s a no-brainer that your restaurant needs to have a presence on Instagram. But before you get too insta-happy, heed our warning: you can’t just take a quick pic, choose a filter and call it a day. 

There’s strategy behind how to use Instagram for restaurant marketing, and you’ll want to be creative with your visual execution on the screen in the same way you plate your menu items.

Here are 5 ideas you can put in to action right now for how to use Instagram for restaurant marketing :

1.) Utilize the Reach of a Hashtag

#eeeeeats, #feedfeed, #foodporn

Those are just a few of the big food-related hashtags currently dominating Instagram feeds. #eeeeeats (that’s 5 e’s) alone has nearly one million photos under that tag.

You might be wondering how your photo is going to get noticed among one million other pictures with the same tag, but the key to unlocking hashtag power is by using tags that are relevant to your cuisine and specific to your location in addition to the big ones so you reach more users with each post.

And don’t feel spammy about using multiple hashtags. Photos with 5 to 7 hashtags usually receive more engagement than a post with only 1 or 3 hashtags, but the key is making them relevant. That means no hashtags such as #like4like or #follow4follow, those are spammy tags used solely to increase followers, and that’s not what we’re after. We want quality followers who are engaged, are interested in what you post, and want to try your food.

Another way to capitalize on hashtags is to create your own. Craft a hashtag that identifies your business and is easy to say and spell, then encourage your patrons to use it! Put the hashtag on your menu, promotional materials, even your receipts. By reinforcing it on every branded touchstone of your business, you’ll be encouraging your customers to share, and you know what that means…free advertising.

Here’s how one restaurant used hashtag strategy with their menus:

Margaritas Mexican Restaurant, a northeastern restaurant chain, used their limited-time menu as an interactive prop and made sure to let their customers know to share a silly picture with their special menu by using the hashtag, #NewMoustache.

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2.) Highlight your Signature Food Items

Now it’s time to put those hashtags to use! Plate up some of your signature dishes and do a photoshoot. We say do a photoshoot because this step actually requires more than a quick shot before the plate heads out the kitchen door to a diner’s table.

We suggest doing a comprehensive photoshoot featuring your top menu items (or all of them if you feel the need), so you can share them over time on Instagram.

When it comes to food photography you’re going to want to make sure your shot is well-lit, sharp and displays your culinary creations at their best angle, which isn’t possible when you’re trying to fill order tickets. You may even want to look in to hiring a professional photographer to help.

While Instagram is a platform that’s very friendly to phone photography, having more professional photos is what will allow your food pictures to take center stage. After all, you want it to look irresistible so users want to come in and try it for themselves. Blurry, dim-lit photos just won’t do your food justice.


3.) Capture Your Restaurant’s Ambience

Now that you know the value in ‘gramming your restaurant’s menu items, it’s also important to keep in mind that you’ll want to exhibit the atmosphere of your restaurant.

Take photos of special events, behind-the-scenes shots of what goes in to a typical dinner service, and photos of your dining room filled with people. The majority of Instagram’s appeal is letting people show (and sometimes show off) their experiences because, let’s face it, we all want people to know we have good taste and we lead interesting lives.

Give people a glimpse of the atmosphere they can be a part of and give them a reason to want to “show off” that they’re dining at your establishment.

Starbucks does a fantastic job of displaying their atmosphere by sharing pics from their various locations from around the world, which are all designed differently and impeccably, as well as sharing the stories of people drinking in their stores. You may not be on Starbucks’ level of business, but you can certainly pull a few pointers from their Instagram in this category.


4.) Encourage Sharing Through Stories

The core tenets of community are telling stories and connecting people, which also happens to be the main principles of a successful social media strategy.

Think about it, the act of eating together at the table is about community and gathering, so extend that same principle to your Instagram presence and watch your engagement soar.

Start developing the foundation of your online community by talking to your patrons while they’re in your restaurant and get them to share their story and then ask if you can share it with others. People may salivate over your latest food picture, but people connect with people, and they’re more likely to remember stories than your latest promotion.

Once you’ve built a foundation of stories and users can see that you’re interested in your customers more than you’re interesting in yourself, they’ll be inclined to share their stories without you even having to ask for it!

One example that comes to mind is a friend who wrote a blog post about her engagement story, which took place in a local BBQ joint (the same place this couple had their first date a few years prior). That blog post reached over 500 people in her local area.

Again, free advertising, you just have to build that initial presence and let people know you care about their stories.

5.) Leverage User-Generated Content 

Once you’ve built up your following a bit, another way to make a strategic push for more reach with word-of-mouth marketing is by letting your customers generate Instagram content for you.

Create a contest concept that involves your customers sharing a photo with a specific hashtag and set your prize, then all you have to do is continually promote your contest (which you can also do using pictures your customers have shared).

This is an awesome way to have other people spread their advocacy for your brand to their network, and it also gives you easy-to-post content you know your followers will like because again, people connect with people.


So go ahead, go conquer the world of Instagram!

There’s a lot of success to be had on that platform, and when you compare it to other platforms such as Twitter and Facebook where you might have a hard time growing your reach and fan base organically, Instagram is one of the best uses of your time and marketing budget.

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