Restaurant Social Media Marketing: Instagram Tips You Can Use Now


IndustryInsider Insights


  • For restaurant operators, Instagram is currently the best social media channel to focus your time and efforts.
  • See if anyone on your internal staff expresses interest or wants to take on managing social media as an extra project. It can be a great way to make it a regular practice without having to hire an agency or a marketer.
  • Use apps to help plan your content in advance. Upgrade your Instagram account to a Business Profile (it’s free!) to access insights about your followers.

In March, we hosted Lindsay Cumming at the Pared office to broadcast our second episode of Pared On-Air. We discussed restaurant social media and PR best practices. Lindsay is the PR & Social Media Manager at Rich Table and RT Rotisserie in San Francisco. This blog contains highlights from our discussion. Listen or view the full episode here.

Hate it or love it, social media is now a facet of everyday life. This is most apparent when we participate in another daily routine: eating. Diners are sharing photos of their meals via social media more than ever. Integrating social media into your restaurant’s marketing strategy should come as a no-brainer. In fact, customers who engage with companies over social media spend 20% to 40% more money with those companies than other customers, according to Bain & Company.

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Instagram is where food and social media come together

In a 2018 report published by Toast, Instagram was named the social media channel of choice by 24% of restaurants in 2018 – an uptick from 18% in 2017. At Rich Table and RT Rotisserie, Lindsay focuses heavily on publishing content to Instagram. One recent campaign she spoke of was Rich Table’s “Day in the Life” series, where followers can view the restaurant’s Instagram Story to enjoy a behind-the-scenes look at their hourly operations. When using Stories, Lindsay advises “keeping it around 20 slides at a time” as viewers can get overwhelmed if they see a lot of photos. Lindsay recommends posting “throughout the day or you can do a big block of a few slides at a time” but it really depends on what you have time for. For a Story of 20 photos, Lindsay can take up to 250 photos to ensure she has enough content.

Posting to your Story versus posting to your feed

“When people look at the Instagram feed, they want to see pretty, beautiful things. Instagram Stories I think can be a little bit more off the cuff and not as polished” Lindsay notes. This makes Stories perfect for more spontaneous moments you want to share directly with followers. Overall, Lindsay suggests a “general best practice in terms of posting is around once a day.” It’s common to post to both the Story or feed on the same day, but given restaurant operators’ busy schedules, doing one or the other is fine.

With social media, it can certainly feel daunting to keep thinking of content. Lindsay recommends going analog and browsing food magazines to “see how their professional on-staff photographers are arranging food. And don’t copy what they’re doing, but use it to inspire you.” Follow other food photographers and influencers to stay on top of what people are interested in. But at the same time, don’t forget to share what makes your business unique from others. For example, Rich Table’s Chef de Cuisine, Brandon Rice takes his own photos of the dishes he creates. He also found a section of one of their wooden tables that catches great light and has a little notch on the surface, making it a strong setting for food photography.

Tools and tips to boost engagement

Consider time and day when posting content. For example, if you’re promoting a happy hour special, you’ll want to post it right before people start leaving work. You’ll also want to look into the data to understand what days and times your followers actually engage with your profile. Lindsay recommends claiming your “business profile immediately because then you can have all these tools at your disposal that are free.”

For businesses looking to make social media a regular practice but have limited budgets, Lindsay recommends looking internally. “See if someone on your staff wants to pitch in from time to time… It can be done by everyone pitching in a little bit here and there too without having to hire an outside source,” she notes.

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Even more engagement strategies

  • For slow periods, turn to user-generated content and repost your followers’ photos. It excites future diners about the possibility of being featured.
  • Use Instagram’s poll feature to ask followers directly what content they’d like to see.
  • Contest and giveaways can be a simple way to drive engagement and exposure. Announce a giveaway where a follower simply has to tag three friends to enter.
  • If you can’t dedicate time to Instagram throughout the day, use apps such as Tailwind, Planoly, or Later to schedule your posts in advance.

What about influencers?

The popularity of social media has given rise to food-obsessed Instagram users with massive followings. There isn’t an easy answer when deciding whether or not to work with influencers to promote your business. “When a restaurant is first opening is probably the most valuable time to partner with influencers or to throw an event for influencers because you need awareness about your restaurant,” Lindsay advises. However, beware of so-called “influencers” looking for a free meal. If one reaches out with what looks to be a generic message, don’t engage. If an influencer reaches out expressing genuine interest in your restaurant and does the legwork of suggesting what content they would like to post on your behalf, use your discretion.

In Lindsay’s previous experience, she organized a “blogger brunch” for Media Noche in San Francisco to generate press shortly after it opened. She invited 15 influencers and welcomed them to a communal table. Lindsay selected them carefully and made sure they committed to posting high-quality photos throughout the event. Ultimately, it comes down to how much you can afford to give away to influencers, knowing what you want to get out of the partnership, and whether or not you think it’s worth it.

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