In a social media-heavy world, the visual appeal of a restaurant has become more important than ever. Instagram is now reshaping the way diners consume their food, and in return restaurants have changed to accommodate the need for “Instagrammable” experiences. Creating an Instagram marketing strategy for your restaurant is just a part of getting your business up and running.
Instagram is influencing menu offerings, restaurant design, and marketing strategies. Manhattan restaurant Black Tap, for example, rose to viral fame online for their colorful milkshakes. Now, the restaurant has lines extending around the block with patrons waiting to taste—and take photos of—their food. That, combined with their strong online presence has contributed greatly to their success. “With social media, we're able to reach people around the globe—it's so important. It's also important that what you put on social media is the same product you get [in person]. I think we've done a good job with that,” says Black Tap owner Barish in an article on CNN.
No wonder Instagram has the impact it does. With more than 1 billion monthly active users and 80% of all accounts following a business profile, Instagram offers restaurants increased reach and engagement, with the potential for increased foot traffic.
Translating Instagram followers and likes to actual visits to your restaurant isn’t as simple as posting multiple food photos and hoping they’ll stick, though. Everything needs to be done with the purpose of getting customers to want to try your food, otherwise all you’ll get are fluff metrics. That’s where a well-rounded Instagram strategy comes in. There are three main steps to creating a winning restaurant Instagram marketing strategy.
The Preparation Phase
There are essential preparatory steps to accomplish before starting regular content creation for your Instagram account. These help you define the goals you want to achieve for benchmarking success, assist with SEO discoverability, and establish the overall visual and copywriting guidelines to follow.
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1) Set Goals and Benchmarks
Set SMART goals that will guide your activities: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. Be clear about your strategy’s purpose to eliminate time wasted on unnecessary activities and identify a time frame for you to achieve them for motivation and benchmarking. Are you more interested in growing your follower base, or do likes and comments matter more? An example of a SMART goal is “Increase Engagement Rate from 1% to 2% within three months.” Do industry research to see how other restaurants perform on Instagram to set your initial benchmarks—the average Engagement Rate for Food & Beverage businesses is 4.13%.
2) Optimize Your Instagram Profile
You want your Instagram profile to be discoverable even outside the main app, and tie into your other marketing initiatives. Plus, you want your restaurant’s brand to be closely associated with the account. That’s why optimizing your profile for SEO is essential, and core to this is crafting a good bio. Here’s what to do:
- Use your restaurant’s name or a close variation of it as your account name
- Write your full brand name for your display name
- Link your official website in the space provided
- If your Instagram account is connected to a Facebook page, apply your business category to your profile (Food & Beverage Company)
- Write out your 150-character bio using keywords you want associated with your brand
3) Establish Aesthetic and Tone
Reinforcing your restaurant’s image and creating a visually-appealing Instagram feed go hand in hand. Look at your visual branding and identify which elements you want to bring to your social media profile. Downloading a simple photo filter app like Instasize simplifies photo editing—just add filters from the same set to each post that fits the look you want.
The bulk of your efforts on Instagram will be concentrated into social media management for your restaurant. This includes content planning, content creation (taking photos, editing them, uploading them, writing captions), daily monitoring, and the application of other strategies that can assist in getting more eyes onto your account.
1) Set Your Schedule
As a restaurateur, you want to post photos right when prospective customers are thinking about food—so aim to schedule all content in time slots surrounding mealtimes. According to data from Hootsuite, top Instagram accounts in the Food and Beverage industry have the most success when posting right on the dot for lunchtime at 12:00 noon. On average, Fridays are the most engaging day of the week as people are winding down from the work week, but scheduling posts to go out on Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday also give restaurants good returns.
2) Create a Content Calendar
Scheduling your Instagram posts in advance improves time management, especially for a busy restaurant marketer who needs to be on top of taking photos, writing out captions, and figuring out future strategies. Some types of content are also better recorded live (such as Instagram stories), so organizing posts in advance gives you more time to create. Make a calendar that contains the day, date, time of posting, the image you want to upload, and a pre-made caption so you can schedule it all in one go. Remember to mark holidays and seasonal changes so you can post timely greetings and promos!
3) Decide What to Post
Food photos are a no-brainer when it comes to promoting a restaurant, but the most powerful images you can share can come from your customers. Testimonials work. User-generated content is as good as online reviews, and it’s easy to source and share. According to a report by TripAdvisor, 94% of US respondents say online reviews influence their dining decisions, and 60% take food photos into consideration when deciding where to eat.
Tip: Create a branded hashtag and encourage customers to use it by displaying it somewhere on your menu. This makes it easy to track user-generated content you can repost.
One of the biggest rules of social media is that communication needs to be two-way. It can be tempting to disregard comments on your posts, but simply liking and responding to comments reflects the customer service your patrons can receive when they expect to dine in. If users perceive good treatment online, they’ll already have a good impression of your brand once they walk in.
Tip: Never delete negative comments. Speak with them, apologize, and offer to address their concerns swiftly.
Want to get more eyes on your dishes? Instagram has advertising options integrated with Facebook which allows you to place ads on either the feed, Instagram Stories, or the Explore page. Getting views organically can be difficult with algorithm changes, so investing some of your marketing budget into Instagram ads can give your profile the slight boost it needs.
Last but not the least, peeking into Instagram Insights gives you the tools you need to accurately conclude whether your social media strategies have been effective in improving your restaurant’s marketing. Create regular analysis reports (weekly or monthly) to identify which content you should share more of, what to stop, and whether it might be time to try something new.
The most important metrics you should be measuring are:
- Interactions – The total number of likes, comments, and clicks each photo receives.
- Reach – The number of unique individuals that see your content. This is a good indication of how wide your potential audience is.
- Impressions – The number of views your profile or photo gets. This counts repeat visits, so if this number is high in relation to your reach, that means you have repeat visitors that keep coming back to check on your photos.
- Engagement Rate – This is a measure of the proportion of who sees your content and engages with it. Lower engagement rates usually mean that while many people may view your posts, not many are interested in engaging with them—aim to get this as high as possible.
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Wrap up: What people want to see when they follow a restaurant
Managing the social media accounts of any hospitality business can seem time-consuming, but with proper planning and strategic execution, you can make a big impact through Instagram (and you may also find that you have more time to dedicate to social media management if you use other tools, like restaurant scheduling software, that help you step away from day-to-day task management).
It’s ultimately rewarding to see how something as simple as a collection of photos online can translate into foot traffic for your restaurant. There are many success stories out there of restaurants becoming infamous once they get their big break on Instagram—and yours can be one of them.