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Using Instagram to Promote a Restaurant

With powerful cameras carried around in everyone’s pocket, it was inevitable that photo-sharing apps like Instagram were going to become the new wave of social media.

With over 1 billion monthly active users, Instagram’s popularity is undeniable. But how much of that crosses over with your restaurant customers and how can you leverage the platform for your own benefit?

Things restaurants need to know about Instagram

Instagram is a bit unusual on the spectrum of social media platforms. Instagram is all about the old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words.” So when you start your page, keep a few things in mind to ensure that your posts are representative and effective.

You’ll want to keep your content on-brand. But that means more than just keeping the posts specific to your restaurant, it means deciding what message you want to send with your pictures and choosing the best images for that. Often times, that will be spectacular shots of your delicious food, but that isn’t all you should post.

As you’re considering your restaurant’s social media message, think about the whole story you want to tell about your brand. You can then consider Instagram something like a backstage pass for your followers. Post photos of your staff, your kitchen, your inspirations, in addition to your menu specials and holiday promotions.

Learning how to effectively use hashtags is a must for Instagram. Each post you make should include a few hashtags along the bottom. The key to good hashtags is to keep them short and effective. You use them to make your posts searchable, not to tell the story you’re after. That means that your hashtags need to be easily found (try popular tags like #food or #photooftheday) while your image does all the storytelling.

Most of the social media rules you’ll follow for other platforms apply to your Instagram posts as well. You want to make sure you stay on-brand, that you keep current (while also not only posting images of specials every day), and that you engage with your audience. Unlike Facebook, on Instagram you can post multiple times a day without it affecting your engagement scores and visibility.


Make sure your content is in line with your restaurant brand and marketing strategy.


Effectively use text to make your page easier for people to find.


Be sure that, while staying on-brand, your posts are current and varied to keep interest.


There’s no point in using social media if you’re not going to be social on it.

Finding your Instagram audience

Most of the people you see on Instagram are under the age of 35. What does that mean for your Instagram page? Well, among other things, you’ll be interacting with the so-called “Influencer Generation.”

With so many posts about food and restaurants on social media, and Instagram in particular, the key to your success is building your own audience from within the larger demographic. There are a few ways to do this, and many carry over from other social media platforms, but on Instagram a few best practices will go a long way:

Social media Instagram
Make yourself searchable

If your audience cannot find you, having an Instagram profile isn’t going to help you.

Use hashtags

Hashtags allow people to come across your posts, discover your restaurant, and engage with you. Remember to focus efforts on your likely local audience — there’s no use building a following on the other side of the world.

Post often

Posting at least once a day will keep your account lively and interesting.

Create content themes

Choose a few themes that you can return to regularly, like menu updates, chef inspiration, kitchen garden, etc. from which you can create a content calendar.

Use Instagram Stories

400 million users view Instagram Stories each day. With this intimate-feeling tool, invite your guests into your kitchen or talk about your inspiration.

Find the foodies

Adweek has reported that influencer marketing could reach $10 billion by 2020. Tap into this energy by finding influencers in your local food scene. Engage with them by liking, commenting, and sharing their content.

Know your audience

Look at the Instagram feeds of your local competition, and of restaurants you aspire to be like. Learn from comments and hashtags what your audience responds to and add to the conversation.

Encourage user-generated content

Encourage guests to post their photos and comments about their experiences. And be sure to like their posts.

How to get involved

Engagement. It’s the cardinal rule of all social media, but on Instagram, it can be even more helpful. Once you’ve established your page and have gotten some activity on it (probably from existing customers in the beginning), you need to continually engage with the posts they make about you.

This can come in the form of re-posting what they’ve said or being active in the comments. While their permission isn’t required, it’s always a good idea to comment on their post to let them know you’d like to use it. Show that you’re on the platform for more than marketing.

Leverage all your social media tools to increase interaction with each page. A friend on Facebook may not follow you on Instagram, but if they’re able to easily find your page from the platform they do use, they’re more likely to engage across multiple platforms.

Using Instagram for restaurant branding

Instagram is a tool like any other, but it’s important to consider what kind of tool it is. While it’s helpful for engaging with your restaurant guests and target audience, Instagram isn’t likely to create a big increase in direct customers. Though it isn’t impossible that your posts could spark interest and increase visits, Instagram is more useful as a branding platform than a traffic driver.

That said, keeping active and engaged won’t hurt your chances of getting new customers. You should look to include your Instagram profile on your online and offline marketing materials, giving people the opportunity to engage if they wish to do so.

The cons of Instagram

So, you’ve created an engaging page, you’re active, and your content is varied, what are the downfalls? Well, there aren’t many, but that doesn’t mean there are none. With Instagram, you’re facing two main problems.

First, attention spans. Most people only interact with a post for a few seconds at a time, so you’re not likely to get a huge amount of direct customer conversation from each post.

Your posts are all also organized by time, so posts that do get a lot of engagement won’t necessarily be at the top of the list (however, that also means that if a post gets a lot of negative engagement, it won’t be the first that people see).

Instagram, like all other social media platforms, can make your restaurant more approachable and customer-centric. Follow the rules of social media and develop a plan before you start posting, and you’ll be on your way to engaging with your customers even more.

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