Instagram & Restaurants: Is Your Restaurant Insta-Ready?
As social media platforms continue to emerge and attention spans continue to shift, how you present yourself is critical to how you engage in your customer base. Studies indicate that around 30% of millennials, a substantial and growing portion of the market, are influenced by a restaurant’s Instagram presence. Leaning into that can help you foster community and build rapport with new and old guests alike.
Curating what you have on your Instagram feed for users new and old is critical. Bear in mind that while every day is a new day in your overall marketing narrative, it’s always someone’s first time encountering your content. You can and should set up your own photo shoot and can crowdsource images through the careful use of hashtags or contests, which you can use at your discretion.
Instagram Best Practices for Restaurants
One of the ways you can ensure the quality of your restaurant’s Instagram is by choosing the right grid layout. Photos are uploaded as a square and sorted in columns of three with the newest organized from left to right; the newest content is top left, the oldest content at the bottom right.
You can lean into that design template in a few different ways using only your picture content. For example, you can organize your pictures thematically by row, with each one representing a food item or color palette. For the inverse, you can post pictures so that they align by column, meaning that each column is a styled image type like food for one column or drink for another.
Keep in mind that the only way you can do this is to keep a robust social media schedule by using tools like Sprout or Hootsuite to make sure that you post in a way that supports that sequence. You may need to post three at a time if you want to stylize your grid by row or column, a consideration when you’re looking at your social media management with respect to your time.
Perfecting Instagram for Restaurants: Tools of the Trade
Framing a solid picture and crafting your brand through the stories you tell is a critical component of using Instagram, which allows you several ways to engage with your audience. Below is a list of the most common. Keep these in mind as opportunities to add variety to your content, as bandwidth allows.
- Videos – The video feature allows for 60 seconds long, customizable content that you can use to capture action in the kitchen.
- Stories – The stories setting is like a video, but only remains available for a 24-hour period, making it ideal for daily specials.
- Push Notifications – While not unique to IG, an opportunity to alert your audience when you have something fresh to share. Studies indicate people who opt into push notifications are 65% more likely to re-engage within 30 days.
- Filters – A popular part of IG, filters allow you to add further artistic direction to your photography, from a soft haze to a different lighting style.
- Geo-tagging – Encourage guests to geo-tag whenever possible, to let people know where to find you.
- Account Management – Like most social media, there is a comment section. Engage thoughtfully and respond appropriately.
- IGTV – Like the video content, but allows you share up to one hour of footage. You may post this to show coverage of special events at the restaurant, like celebrations or how-to tutorials.
- Tagging/hyperlinks – Unlike other social media platforms, you can’t share a link in your content. A challenge for marketers, you can get around this by posting links in your bio, or by the use of tagging/hashtags in your content to point your audience in the direction you want.
Social media trends are constantly on the move, so there is no right answer as to what will and will not work. Research indicates though that video tends to do better by approximately 21% of other content though. By keeping to a reasonable schedule and watching your insights is a great way to measure what works and what doesn’t work.
Social Media and ROI
Like any other part of running your restaurant, there is a cost to having a strong social media presence. Mileage varies on how much time you might need to spend on Instagram or any other platform, but taking that time is worth your investment. The market research group Nielsen reports that Americans, for example, spend a total of 44% of available minutes in a day on social media. That’s a lot of time spent scrolling, and it’s your job to give them what they’re looking for. So is it worth it?
Jessica Fey, Director of Design and Marketing at twin restaurants Holy Grale and the Gralehaus in Louisville, Kentucky, works to curate the social media feeds for both to keep their brand voice uniform. As both businesses operate under the same umbrella, Fey works to curate the social media feeds for each. She uses their Instagram feed for everything from promoting their specials to showing how their community engages. Fey dedicates a portion of her time to analytics to help determine the optimal use of her time, especially as it correlates to spikes in sales or customer engagement.
“Every month, I download our insights, and I compare those with what came before and compare that with what posts had the most interactions and trying to figure out what works and why,” said Fey. “There is a lot of content on the internet that helps show what times people engage the most.”
These stats can not only help you get a feel for what works on your social media, but can provide valuable insight as to what is and isn’t working in the kitchen. You can obtain and respond to direct customer feedback, and base decisions on what people respond to the most. Based on your numbers, you may be able to attract a larger audience and people who can help convince potential customers to walk through your doors.
Food Photography and Instagram for Restaurants
The bar for use on Instagram is pretty low, making for an accessible program. Most users have the basic tools they need to make it happen on their phone. In a lot of cases, social media managers will employ some professional photography gear like a Nikon or a Canon, but modern smartphones come with sufficient technology to make it happen.
You can use the tools at your disposal to lean into trends in presentation, whether that’s how the fare is plated or what it looks like in general. Consider using plating, colorful treats, the decor of your restaurant and good lighting to your advantage when framing a shot. Above all, make sure that whatever you do for your restaurant’s Instagram, it’s appetizing.
For some, this has become an opportunity to take their plating or food design to hyperbolic levels, a stunt for Instagram for certain, but one indicative of the power of marketing. While these stunts can lead to mixed results, more often than not they yield impressive results not only in terms of a return on your investment but in your community engagement.
The Art of Food Presentation
Initially, social media managers may not have a lot of say in how they present the food. In many instances, this is a decision made by the chef, and is part of the plating. Understanding the intent behind the plating can give you insights as to what items are supposed to pop and why. When utilizing Instagram for restaurants, frame your shots to highlight the features that your culinary staff want to emphasize.
“Working with the chef is huge,” said Fey. “Having levels of trust with each other is big.”
Beyond just the chef, though, the staff in the restaurant will know their area, so rely on them for that knowledge. You may talk with your bar and wait staff to help you curate stories about customers. Maybe they have a favorite beer or went on a date that ended in your restaurant. Always try to capture moments, rather than static images.
You can only take so many pictures of your food, and the public will want more. Look for ways to show action on your restaurant’s Instagram account, like a server pouring a drink or diners enjoying their meal. Always consider using stories or videos to capture tutorials or history on your dishes and drinks or moments with your clientele enjoying their meal.
How Restaurant Interior Design Can Work For You
As with the presentation of the food, there’s only so much you can do with the decor. Things like tiling, wallpaper, or neon signs can be pricey, which may not fit the budget. If you have any way to include diffused lighting, do that. And since it’s Instagram, never shy away from filters; that’s what they are there for. Use your filters tastefully and consider using the same types of filters to keep your branding consistent.
“A lot of the times what I do is that I make sure that I try to do all my shooting during the day, so that I have that natural lighting,” said Fey. “I try not to shoot behind the line where there are fluorescents.”
Find natural resources to pull from. Take pictures in the daylight. Look for interiors that pop and when possible, try to encourage affordable updates like plants or artwork, especially if you can crowdsource or curate them.
Restaurants and Instagram: Are You Ready to Launch?
Launching an Instagram for your restaurant may seem overwhelming at first, but starting small and building out is an easy first step. Make sure that everyone involved stays connected. Whether there are specials you want to help promote or dead stock you want to help move, Instagram has a proven track record of helping get eyes on your content. Once you’ve built and curated your community, you can begin to specialize by crafting specific types of stories to suit your space. Stay open-minded and always engage with customers whenever you can to keep the conversation going.
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About the Author
Syd is a content marketing specialist, which are fancy words for writing pretty to tell a good story. He likes writing things about food, drinks, and music. He’s a musician himself, a father of two, and loves his wife a whole lot.