Right now, at this very moment, are you using social media to market your restaurant and grow your business in a creative way? If you’re not, then you need to read this blog post!

First things first, did you know people now spend more money eating out at restaurants than buying groceries and cooking at home (Business.com)? As a restaurant and business, it’s crucial that you leverage this change in consumer behaviour to increase patronage and sales.

Last month we covered social media basics for restaurants, and now we’re sharing a two-part series on creative social media ideas for restaurants. We have a lot to ‘dish’ on, so let’s get started!

1. Run Contests and Promotions

Don’t underestimate the impact of offering a promotion to your customers. In fact, it’s a popular industry practice now to:

  • Encourage patrons to post restaurant photos on their personal social media accounts.
  • Ask customers to share positive and authentic reviews in exchange for providing them with an incentive or perk.
  • Run a contest to help spread the word about a special, promotion or exclusive offer.

A simple contest you can run is to ask people to ‘follow’ your social media account, and ‘like’ a specific photo to be entered to win a prize. You can increase online engagement (and help reach more people) by encouraging contest entrants to ‘tag a friend’.

For example, on National Meatball Day, American chain Piada Italian Street Food gave away 100 free meatballs to those who tagged a friend in their Instagram post. Vancouver’s own Cupcakes recently offered a discount on beverage purchases if customers brought in an old receipt.

A few other ideas:

  • Issue a 2-for-1 appetizer or drink coupon during a customer’s next visit if they show their server that they posted a photo on social media (using the correct hashtags, of course!)
  • Perk up business on slower nights by offering a gift card or free meal to a random guest, or give free appetizers to the first 10 guests in the door.
  • Offer a free appetizer if customers mention a certain Instagram post they saw to their server.

2. Use Hashtags

As mentioned in last month’s social media basics, using hashtags in social media posts is absolutely crucial in order to be discovered — especially on Instagram.

One simple way to find relevant hashtags is to research what similar restaurants (aka competitors) in your city are using. For example, if you’re opening up a cafe, take a peek at what hashtags other coffee shops are using in your city.

So if you’re opening up a cafe in Vancouver’s Yaletown neighbourhood, then you would want to research other Yaletown businesses and see if there are any Yaletown-specific hashtags that you should be using too.

We also recommend creating your own restaurant custom-branded hashtag, which should be listed on all your social media profiles, menus and restaurant signage. If you don’t make it easy for your customers to figure out what hashtag to you use, it will be harder to find photos that your customers post online.

A few examples of custom-branded hashtags:

3. Work with Influencers

An influencer is a person who has influence over a topic or industry. Many successful restaurant brands work with influencers to increase brand awareness and engage with people that they may have never otherwise reached.

For example, Vancouver’s Juice Truck recently gave access to their Instagram account to a local lifestyle influencer, Armin Tehrani. Last month, they handed the reigns over to local fitness influencer, Laura Turner.

Juice Truck’s Instagram account hosts “Instagram takeovers” on a regular basis because it’s a win-win situation for all parties involved: Juice Truck obtains access to the influencer’s followers, and the influencers obtain access to Juice Truck’s followers.

A few other influencer tips:

  • To find potential influencers to work with, search relevant hashtags on Instagram and research who your competition is following. We warn you in advance: it’s easy to go down an Instagram black hole, so we do recommend setting a limit on how much time you spend on research!
  • Consider running an Instagram takeover by an employee or loyal customer. Handing over your account to someone who is passionate about your brand allows followers to see your restaurant through the eyes of someone new.
  • If you’re not ready for a takeover, invite influencers to your restaurant to try exclusive items that are not yet on the menu. For example, Vancouver’s Smallflower Cafe invited vegan influencer Chloe Elgar to sample their new menu before it launched. Chloe shared photos on her Instagram account, which built excitement for Smallflower’s new products.

#repostwednesday this week goes out to @chloescountertop! Last week she came in and tried our new Vegan Roast Eggplant and Arugula Sandwich launching Monday. For this one the Smallflower Kitchen Wizards created a creamy spreadable cashew cheese – it’s a MUST try. While you’re at it check out Chloe’s book which we have in-store 👍🏼❤️👅 ・・・ SMALLFLOWER CAFE // Just had the most delicious lunch with Michelle at @smallflowercafe on West Hastings trying out one of their new menu item [coming Monday!] This is the cashew cream + roasted eggplant + arugula sandwich on their classic & popular gluten-free & vegan buns! Ps. Smallflower Cafe now has a copy of LIVING IN LIGHT, the book so you can have a delicious snack and read up! Check it out and let me know if you’d like a copy. Printed copies are exclusively in Vancouver right now in select spots and will be available to order online in October! 💛👌🏻 • • #vancouvereats #vancouver #vancouverisawesome #glutenfree #vegan #vancouvervegan #vancouverfood #vancitybuzz #vancity #dailyhivevan #gastown #glutenfreevancouver #vancityvegans #vanfitfam #glutenfreeyvr #vancouverbakery #vegansofInstagram #yvr #vegantreats #cafeyvr #huffpostbc #gastropost #eatcouver #foodcouver #vanfoodies365 #vancouverfoodie #vancouvereats #eatlocal #feedfeed

A post shared by SmallFlower Cafe and Bakeshop (@smallflowercafe) on

4. Humanize your brand

Tell your unique brand story and share your restaurant’s personality with customers on social media. One way to humanize your brand is through your employees since your restaurant’s personality is reflected through your people.

Your bartenders, servers and chefs are all a part of your restaurant’s brand so we recommend including them in your social media strategy. You never know…perhaps your very own employees are influencers and might have established huge social media followings!

A few tips on how you can humanize your brand:

  • Feature your chef. Customers are interested in the masterminds behind their delicious plates, so don’t be afraid to treat your chefs like the rockstars they are! New York City’s Del Posto is a great example of a restaurant that truly puts their Executive Chef on a pedestal.
  • Celebrate your employees! Do as Vancouver’s Glory Juice does, and announce new hires, share employee birthdays, and show off your staff’s special stories.
  • Encourage your employees to share pieces of who you are on their own social media accounts through their own behind-the-scenes photos of training, food prep, supplier visits, and team outings. For example, Chad Clark shares life as Direction of Operations at Vancouver’s Hawskworth Restaurant loud and proud on his personal social media accounts.

5. Invest in Good Photos

The secret to Instagram-worthy photos?

Three ingredients:

  1. A good camera.
  2. A good photo editor (read our social media intro guide for tips).
  3. Something Instagram worthy for your customers to take photos of and share.

Tacos or burritos? Why not both? Get it all with the new #LoadedTacoBurrito.

A post shared by Taco Bell (@tacobell) on

We promise investing in these three ingredients is worth it. In fact, for a Millennial customer, photos they have see on Instagram are often the only deciding factor when considering whether or not they should visit a new restaurant.

A few tips and tricks for taking good photos:

  • Consistency is key. Have a consistent posting schedule (we recommend posting at least three times per week), a consistent tone (we recommend using ‘first person tense’ when writing captions), and a consistent look/feel to your photos (using the same filter for all photos). A good example of consistency is Taco Bell’s Instagram account. They post daily and consistently upload colourful photos with witty, informal captions.
  • Photos don’t have to be only of your food. Posting pics of your location, staff, and customers should be part of your visual strategy. For instance, Ohio’s Fox in the Snow Cafe has a popular Instagrammable mural, while California’s Alfred coffee chain creates artsy coffee cups that customers frequently share on social media. Other ideas include trendy colouring placemats, unique pieces of art, pictures on the wall, and table centerpieces. Don’t forget to make sure what you post is on brand!

Which one are you reaching for? #alfredcoffee #melroseplace #butfirstcoffee®

A post shared by ALFRED (@alfred) on

  • Repost user-generated content as a quick and affordable way to procure photos. For example, you can find photos that your customers have posted on Instagram by searching for your location, as well as searching for and reviewing photos posted with your branded hashtag. For example, popular US chains Pinkberry and Dunkin Donuts frequently repost customer’s photos.

😋 #Repost @thehungrypetite

A post shared by Pinkberry (@pinkberryswirl) on

Stay tuned for Part 2 in this series (to be posted later this month) on social media marketing for restaurants. We’ll be sharing more creative ideas for using social media to grow your business! Have a question? Contact us here for a free consultation!

Author Trish Hudson

Trish is the owner and principal at Holistic Hospitality Solutions. She aims to help assess her clients operations from top to bottom in order to gain efficiencies, save money, and increase their bottom line.

More posts by Trish Hudson