These days, the average customer is just as likely to check out your Instagram as your website when deciding where to eat. People want to see the food before they commit. And Instagram (along with TikTok) provides one of the easiest places where they can do that.
If you’re not already on the platform, now’s the time. Instagram has more than two billion active users for you to try to capture. Stick with it, and you have a good shot of growing your customer base. In a study by MGH, a full-service restaurant marketing agency, nearly half (45%) of U.S. diners polled said they tried a restaurant for the first time because of a social media post made by the establishment.
But what should you post? If you’re falling short of ideas, this article is for you. We break down six ideas to fuel your Instagram marketing strategy.
New and popular menu items
Instagram is a visual platform, meaning glam photos of your food will likely make up most of your content. This is your chance to entice customers to come in and try a dish or choose your restaurant for delivery.
For your most popular dishes, it can be valuable to hire a photographer to capture those staples in their best light. This will give you a catalog of photos to use not just for social media, but also press releases and other marketing needs. But you certainly don’t have to hire a professional for every single photo you post on Instagram. As long as you’re willing to devote a little time and effort, your own smartphone can produce all you need to stop people mid-scroll. This is important for highlighting daily specials and seasonal menu items – a prime strategy for engaging regular customers and tempting them to return.
When possible, utilize natural light when photographing dishes, and position yourself so that the light is shining from the right or left side of the dish. Play around with different angles, shooting the food straight on or capturing the dish from overhead by standing on a chair. See what looks best and strive to create a little variety.
People love a look at what otherwise feels hidden. They want in on the secrets that make the magic happen at their favorite spots. And with Instagram, you get to be the narrator of the story. Use the platform to pull out your strengths and showcase them to your audience.
“People like to see the process, they like a story – if you’re supporting local purveyors, you definitely want to show that off,” says Mike Prince, director of brand development for Peter Breslow Consulting.
Behind-the-scenes footage could include snippets from your next trip to the farmer’s market or showing off the first strawberry crate of the season. But it doesn’t have to stop there. You can also share peaks of your recipe testing process or the camaraderie of your daily staff meal or how you make components of your most popular dishes. These types of scenes help build customer appreciation for what you’re doing and hint at the culture you’re striving to create.
Employee spotlights allow customers to get to know the people behind the business, strengthening the customer connection. Typically it boosts employee morale, too, serving as a space to highlight staff strengths.
“I start by talking to staff to see who’s open to being featured, and then I ask them for a short bio,” says Prince, when conducting employee spotlights for his social media clients.”You want to include the basics, like ‘How did you get to where you are now?’, ‘Where have you worked before?’, and ‘What are your thoughts on your current position?’, and then also include a few fun facts that hint at their personality.”
User-generated Content (UGC)
When a customer dines at your restaurant, takes a photo, and shares it to Instagram, that post is known as UGC. It’s essentially free content that you can re-share on your own Instagram, as long as the customer tags your restaurant in the post.
Keep an eye on your Instagram notifications to see who’s tagging you. Positive posts act as free endorsements for you to highlight to your followers. And that’s important – research shows consumers trust reviews from real customers more than any other type of content.
If UGC isn’t happening organically, look for ways to encourage customers to post about their dining experiences. “You can post signs, like ‘Please follow us, and share your posts on Instagram.’,” says Prince.
Contests are a great way to boost audience engagement and encourage people to link their friends to your account. This increases your potential to draw in new customers.
“One of our most successful contest ideas is [inviting people] to create something for the menu,” says Prince. “So for example, we had a business where we had customers come up with the best flavor combination for the next cake. People love having bragging rights.”
Other contest ideas include:
Gift card giveaways: Ask people to like your account and to tag two friends for a chance to win a gift card.
Photo share-outs: Ask people to share photos of their dining experience and tag your restaurant for a chance to win a prize.
Naming contest: Let people partake in a contest to label the next new menu item.
People are increasingly turning to social media over other news sources to learn about events, openings, and even general news. This is particularly true for your next-generation diners, i.e., millennials and Gen Z’ers. As a restaurant, you want to be part of that news feed.
“Anything that could be turned into a press release should also be turned into a social media post – a new location, an event, a collaboration with another business, etcetera,” says Prince, “Lead those posts with a ‘COMING SOON’ or ‘ANNOUNCEMENT’ in big letters to grab the attention of people scrolling.”