Everything You Need to Know About Social Media Marketing for Restaurants

It’s no secret: the entire world is online these days. And with 88% of this population, taking their cues on where to eat and drink from social media, a strong digital presence for restaurants is paramount.

And before you get too fixated on the dollar signs: social media goes far beyond driving conversion (more on that later); it’s also the hub of your communication with your customer base. (Something that has become even more relevant in today’s climate.)

In this guide, we will review the following:

  • Why social media is important for restaurants

  • Which social media platforms to use (and how to effectively set them up)

  • The best times to post on social media

  • What content to post on social media

  • The Dos + Don’ts of social media marketing

Why should your restaurant be on social media?

Quite simply, the numbers talk. With one billion users (and counting!) logging in an average hour a day on Instagram and almost triple that number on Facebook, it’s safe to say this is a massive potential customer base.

And what’s some of the most popular content on Instagram (aside from dogs, of course)? You guessed it: food and beverage. Just #food and #foodporn makes up a staggering 600 million of the platform’s hashtags.

According to Sprout Social’s latest index, more than 75% of users purchase a product because they see it on social media with nearly 80% opting to buy from a brand they follow on social over another. If that doesn’t convince you, Social Media Today also reports that 30% of millennial diners (the largest demographic on social media), will flat-out avoid restaurants with a weak Instagram presence.

So, yes: restaurants and social-media marketing are like burgers and fries; they're great on their own, but much better—and more successful—together.

Which profiles should you set up?

Facebook still leads the pack as far as users, but Instagram has a younger audience and very strong engagement. Bottom line: you need to be on both.


Think of Facebook as almost another website for your restaurant (which it basically is!) Your profile page should be packed with as much information as possible to make it easy for the consumer to know your offerings.

Facebook Business Pages offer a lot of relevant sections, all of which you should try to utilize if they apply to your restaurant, including:

  • Bio: Description of your restaurant (including photo)

  • Menu

  • Hours

  • Website

  • “Book Now” button for reservations (if applicable)

  • Variety of add-ons ranging from “Takeout” to “Kid-friendly”

Remember: the easier it is for users to get their questions answered directly from your page, the less you will have to answer directly from your phone.


Instagram, in turn, has less “fields” to input information, so it’s important to get directly to the point quickly with the “who are you”, “what are you” and “where are you” specifics. An easily-identifiable username and profile picture can also play a huge factor when it comes to searchability as well as a link to your website or menu.

(And peppering in some emojis never hurts.)

Need examples? HubSpot dives into the anatomy of the Instagram profile.

What type of content should you post?

Photos of food & drink A picture is worth a thousand words, or in this case, “likes.” Good food photography drives conversations on social media, and showcasing your restaurant's dishes and drinks is a tried-and-true method for building a following and—more importantly—converting those followers into paying customers.

But the photos need to be good! If you hire a photographer to shoot press photos for your restaurant, make sure to keep those assets on hand: each photo can be a future piece of content on your social feeds. If you're going it along, no worries! Shoot some photos with a DSLR camera if you have access to one; if you don't, use the best phone camera you can get your hands on. As long as you're working with a relatively recent smartphone, the camera should produce passable results!

>>>Pro-tip: When it comes to getting that double-tap or “OMG we have to go here” comment on your post, portrait mode on the newer-model iPhones can be a restaurant’s best friend, but make sure you don't inadvertently blur the edges of your subject (like this.)

Good photos truly make all the difference in the world. Think about it, this is where you are literally showcasing your best assets (read: menu items, dining area, etc.). And in a sea of beautiful photos, standing out is both difficult and imperative. So get ready for your #foodporn close-ups, Mr. DeMille.

Behind-the-scenes content

Gorgeous photos, while key, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get a bit more “raw” occasionally. Getting personal on your page is the best way to make your followers get to know you. (No one can relate to being perfectly manicured all time, plus it’s boring.) Take your viewers into the kitchen for a live (or pre-recorded) cooking demo to post on Facebook (where video posts still reign supreme with engagement) or for an IGTV post.

Whether it's filming an entire dish preparation from start to finish or your chef’s tips for tutorial pairing wines with food, by allowing your followers “backstage” they get to see how your food is made while getting a glimpse into your restaurant’s personality. All in all, a great way to attract new clientele (and keep the old ones coming back).

User-generated content

From utilizing influencers to shouting at your customers with the best camera phone skills, user-generated content is an extremely effective way to both organically promote your location and stay connected with followers. The best part? Most of the work is done for you.

When someone posts about your restaurant, and you either share that post on Facebook or "regram" it on Instagram, the message is two-fold:

  1. To your audience, it's proof that other people love your restaurant;

  2. To the original poster, it makes them feel special by getting acknowledged by a restaurant they love.

In short, think of user-generated content (or "UGC" in marketer-speak) as a completely free ad, but better. Because it’s content that reaches a wider audience but isn’t coming for you. Doesn’t get more authentic than that.

Another effective method of leveraging UGC is to embark on “Instagram takeovers” in which you let an influencer—or even a fellow chef from another restaurant to throw in some cross-promotion—take the reigns of your account the entire day. If this person has a following, guess what? Now it’s likely part of yours as well.

Trending topics

Since all social media outlets stay on top of what is “trending”, getting in on that conversation is a great way to get more eyes on you. But a word to the wise when it comes to “newsjacking”: only jump in if it's a topic that makes sense or is interesting to your audience specifically.

A good example: Tom Brady’s departure from the Patriots and subsequent move to Tampa was all over the news, so a local Cuban sandwich spot jumped in on the highly trending #Tompa tag by posting an order confirmation with his name on it using that tag. The result? Hundreds of comments, tags, and direct message shares.

Even if something this serendipitous doesn't occur at your restaurant, you can always create a reason to jump in—like, say, creating a #Tompa-themed special to post on your social channels instead.

And make sure you understand why something is trending before you jump in! Heavier trending topics, like politics and crime, may not be the best conversations for your brands to participate in.

Social-media contests When it comes to garnering followers FAST, look no further than social media contests. There are several different ways to do these, and countless advantages to both. You can run one solo, (can never go wrong with a “Caption This”) or partner with another brand /account, and include the requirements to “follow” both of you to gain entry; therefore, reaching each other’s audiences before the tagging even begins.

Speaking of which, every social media contest should require tagging a friend in the comments -- because that’s where the exposure comes in, as well as building a stronger rapport with your existing customer base.

>>>Pro tip: Encourage multiple entries. Why not capitalize on people’s burning desire to win something at ZERO cost to them?

Employee spotlights

Showing that your restaurant is run by actual humans can definitely add more depth and character to how your followers perceive your brand. And since an establishment is only as good as its staff, and presumably you've made smartly and built an inclusive culture, showing off your restaurtant’s team is another way to show off its values.

Consider publishing mini-profiles of each staffer (only with their permission, of course.) Include a photo and a brief biography explaining who they are and what they do. And have fun with these profiles! These shouldn’t read like a resume; random anecdotes and fun facts (“number of glasses Chris has broken in his career as a server: 46") are great touches!

Again, it's imperative that you have your employees' permission to post content that includes them—it's the courteous, respectful, and professional thing to do. If they're not comfortable, do not pressure them!

When should you post?

With social media algorithms changing as frequently as they do, staying on top of the posting “clock” has proved trickier than ever. Long gone are the days of chronological timelines, now it’s all about the content that performs well and is relevant to the user’s behavior—which means, strong content is more important than ever if you actually want it to be seen by others.

Timing certainly also plays a large factor when posting on social media; deciding the perfect window to post involves a mixture of common sense and science -- and is also contingent on the type of content being posted.

For instance, it isn’t as crucial to punch the clock for “evergreen” content like restaurant interiors/exteriors, memes, or menu items that are available all day. However, if it’s a time-specific piece of content like, say, a happy hour -- it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to post that after the happy hour ends.

Each platform also has certain days when interests “pique” for news topics, consumer goods, etc. It also comes down to good old trial and error. When do you notice your posts perform best? Analyze your insights to see times your users are most active.

To take it a step further, there are several scheduling and analytics sites that dive deep into the behaviors of your audience base, and therefore are able to provide both comprehensive analytics and suggested posting times to reach peak performance.

The following are some of the leading sources in that realm:

What are some “Dos” and “Don’ts" for social media?

DO: Stay Consistent

Forbes said it best:

“When your content quality, quantity or schedule isn’t consistent, it can confuse your customers. Keeping with a regular strategy not only helps create a better customer experience but it also helps build credibility, reputation and brand trust.”

That's exactly right. Whether your restaurant’s brand voice is playful and paired vibrant photography and Boomerangs or consistently done in the first person, the key is to be recognizable whether or not your name / logo is present; people should know what your restaurant brand represents through a clear message, tone and look to your pages.

DON’T: Over-post

When it comes to posting, it’s best to divert to the old adage: If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. In other words, quality over quantity. Posting regularly, while important, shouldn’t overtake ensuring what you’re posting is both relevant and engaging. In fact, with the new algorithms, how much your post is viewed is contingent on the interactions taken on it; over-posting can mean you are literally pushing down your own content. Give it time to “live” in order to see how it performs.

Pro tip: Instagram Stories is a great way to pepper in more content as well as consistently keep your profile popping up throughout the day.

DO: Make Your Customers Part of the Process

Both Facebook and Instagram have made it easier than ever to engage followers. Deciding on a new menu item? Put it to the vote by creating a poll on Facebook. Instagram Stories, which racks up 500 million users daily, also has countess ways to engage through its features ranging from “Asking Questions” and “Quizzes” to “Polls” and the “Swipe Up” (available when you hit 10k followers) that allows feeds to direct users to additional content. By making customers feel they’re a part of your brand, you also make them feel more attached to it.

DON’T: Avoid and/or Delete Negative Feedback

Who doesn’t love a glowing review or comment on your social media page? Showing your appreciation with a timely response definitely falls under best practices. But you can’t please everyone; negative comments are an inevitability in social media -- and restaurants are no exception. Whether it’s a review on Yelp or a comment on a Facebook or Instagram post, each one should be responded to just as swiftly (and respectfully!)

Being open to receiving feedback and taking your customer’s concerns seriously can be a great way to remedy the problem and relationship. Not to mention, display to other customers how your restaurant addresses its clientele; maintaining your integrity should always be a priority. Need some examples? Check out five different scenarios.

DO: Tag Relevant Accounts

If you’re jumping on a trending topic that also happened to be covered by your local -- or national -- news station, give them a tag in the post or IG story. Or perhaps you have input on a piece of content that an influencer posted about -- post your own story about it and tag them as the original source. Worst case, nothing happens; best case, your input on the trending story is shared on their account putting you in front of their audience as well. This doesn’t mean tagging a bunch of random accounts in a post that has no relevance to them. It can be viewed as spam; something Instagram is actively trying to crack down on.

DON’T: Go Too Overboard With Hashtags

The great hashtag debate of [insert every year since they started here] debate of “not enough” vs. “too many” is akin to Lebron vs Jordan: there will always be a division between which delivers the best performance. Social media is ultimately a conversation, and hashtags are a very handy tool for discovering them, having others discover yours, and increasing your engagement. That said, tread lightly. Adding every hashtag under the “cloud” from #food to #nofilter” to an Instagram or Twitter post can be seen as a spam trigger; if used on Facebook can actually hurt the performance of your post. Your best bet? Focus on trending hashtags in an attempt to propel your viral attention (similar to the newsjacking we discussed) as well as “Branded Hashtags” in order to help track what others are saying about you.

DO: Switch It Up

If your posts are solely rooted in promoting your restaurant offerings, the #mood of your followers can easily turn to yawn. Boring content yields boring results. And since social media should always be treated as a two-way dialogue, don’t be afraid to let the other side (aka your audience!) lead it. Go LIVE on Facebook and Instagram, ask your followers questions, get witty with your captions, take advantage of the long and short-term videos available. There are so many ways to tell your brand’s story through social media rather than just touting your own offerings; exploring as many as possible to see what gets others to “stop scrolling” is both the fun -- and rewarding! -- part.

DON’T: Forget to Geotag + Use Links

While connecting with followers is of utmost importance, converting them to sales will always be a restaurant owner’s -- and therefore social media marketer’s -- main objective. Here’s a simple yet effective game changer: tag your restaurant’s geolocation as well as clearly direct followers to a specific landing page, whether that be a meny, order online form, or blog. And by the way, this shouldn’t always equate to “link in bio” -- but including it right on the post. Or, if you’ve got the numbers, utilize the “Swipe Up” on Instagram which has been reported to account for an increase of 10 additional minutes on the platform -- which is essentially an eternity in Internet time.

[Photo: ready made from Pexels]