Nowadays, social media is no longer an optional activity for companies in the hospitality industry. It has become a necessary marketing priority for all types of restaurants, franchises, bars, cafes and even food brands.

Why?

Having an active social media presence increases the visibility of your establishment and the likelihood that you’ll be discovered by new customers who otherwise might never have found you. It can also be used to connect with previous customers and build loyalty. This all adds up to more people walking through your doors, which in turn leads to increased sales.

But without a doubt, social media can be overwhelming — especially the sheer number of different platforms that exist. So we’ve identified the top three social media platforms that restaurants should focus on, and given you the lowdown on how to use each one most effectively.

FACEBOOK
Facebook is the most commonly used social media platform in the world, so it only makes sense that restaurants and food brands ensure they have a presence on Facebook. The first step is opening an account as a ‘business page’ (which is, rest assured, just as easy as setting up a personal profile!) We also recommend opening an account through Facebook’s Business Manager, as this is where advertising campaigns are set up.

Tips & Tricks:
1. Always Post Images
The most successful Facebook posts are always accompanied by a photo. It is common knowledge that people eat with their eyes, so including pictures is an easy way to ensure your posts stand out in other people’s Facebook feeds. For example, Vancouver’s Juice Truck includes images in all their Facebook posts, even images that aren’t directly related to food.

2. Share Valuable Information
Avoid being overly sales-focused in your posts. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Would you want to constantly see sales pitches appearing in your social media feeds? Customers follow brands on social media that post content which is aspirational, entertaining or educational.

If you own a vegan restaurant, you could share plant-based recipes, relevant news articles, and videos promoting humane animal treatment so that you’re providing your followers with content they will find interesting. A good example of this is Hawksworth Restaurant, one of Canada’s most celebrated restaurants, which frequently shares information about the work they do in the community.

3. Use Facebook Advertising
Facebook’s advertising feature can be quite powerful if used correctly, so we strongly encourage you to set aside a budget for this. It doesn’t have to be a big budget either. You can create a series of ads directly targeted to a customized audience of your choosing. Ads can be targeted by region (country, province, city, and even neighbourhood), as well as age, gender, and interests.

Consider this scenario: a new coffee shop in Toronto’s Queen West neighbourhood — an area with lots of competition from nearby java joints — could geo-target Facebook ads directly to people who live in Queen West and who like coffee. Facebook ads are an ideal way to ensure your establishment is front and centre among the people who you want to have as customers. For more about the value of Facebook ads, read how Ruby Tuesday, an international U.S. chain, increased traffic by 3.1% through the use of geo-targeted ads.

INSTAGRAM
What makes a meal more appealing: a photo or a written description? There’s a reason why it is said that a photo is worth a thousand words! Food is visual and Instagram is the perfect platform to showcase mouthwatering meals.

The most important thing to know about Instagram is that you’ll need a smartphone to best utilize this channel. Also, be sure to select an account name (the name which follows the “@” sign) that matches your existing Facebook name. A side note: you should choose the same social media username on every platform if possible.

Tips & Tricks:
1. Invest in photos
The first step is easy: have eye-catching photos of every menu item you offer. If possible, set aside some budget to invest in professional photos (bonus: you can also use these on your website). If that’s not possible, there are other ways to source photos, such as delegating photo-taking responsibilities to your management and/or staff.

Smartphone photos can be prettied up in a pinch by using a free editing tool, such as Google Photos or Instagram’s own photo editing features. It’s also wise to also encourage customers to share their own photos, which you can repost later. For example, Catch 122 Cafe Bistro in Vancouver’s Gastown neighbourhood encourages patrons to share photos using a custom brand hashtag, #Catch122Menu. Which leads us to our next point…

2. Always use hashtags
A hashtag is a word (or string of words) preceded by the ‘#’ sign, and indicates a specific topic. Using hashtags makes your posts easily searchable. Make it easy for customers to know what your establishment’s hashtag is by including it in your social media profile bios, and physically at your venue (such as on the menu or signage).

We recommend using a mix of popular hashtags that are specific to your niche, as well as custom-branded hashtags specific to your restaurant. For example, a new Calgary restaurant may use general hashtags like #calgaryeats or #calgaryisawesome along with their own custom hashtag. In Vancouver, Hawksworth Restaurant encourages diners to use #hawkstagram — a very clever example of a custom hashtag — in their posts.

3. Make your place and products Instagrammable
Instagram is all about aesthetics. Therefore, we need to deliver a bit of real talk and tell the truth: looks matter. If you take a bit of effort to make your menu items and restaurant look Instagram-worthy, customers will be more inclined to take photos and post them on social media. Your team should always know to send out every plate worthy of a photo, as it could be shared online.

Also, don’t underestimate the power of Instagrammable walls, floors and signage. For example, Pietro Nolita is an ‘all-pink’ restaurant in New York that was designed with the Instagram user in mind. People visit to take photos for social media just as much as they come for the food! Cha Cha Matcha is another example of this. Visitors to this matcha cafe in the Big Apple love to take photos of the brand’s cups as much as they love the matcha tea itself.


TWITTER
Last but not least, Twitter is the platform for quickly and easily sharing short messages and relevant updates. We’ve seen Twitter used to announce daily menu specials, location updates (great for food trucks!), holiday hours, and various promotions. With a limit of 140 characters in each ‘tweet’, this platform is an efficient, no-nonsense way to notify customers of your news.

Tips & Tricks:
1. Time your tweets
Post your tweets around mealtimes. For example, Vancouver’s Le Tigre Food Truck tweets its location and hours just before the lunch rush. In the case of a cocktail bar, it would be fitting to tweet right before Happy Hour begins.

2. Give incentives
It’s no surprise that people love contests and promotions. Running these from time to time incentivizes customers to follow you on social media. For example, Sprinkles Cupcakes is known for its random Twitter promotions. During the New York blizzard, it offered a discount via a ‘secret code word’ that was only shared on Twitter.

sprinkles twitter

Sprinkles New York

3. Share reviews
People trust reviews and a surefire way to build credibility is to publicize testimonials and recommendations from your clientele. The easiest way to share all the good things customers have said about you? Just use Twitter’s ‘retweet’ button! Twitter is the perfect channel for resharing posts from other people and Starbucks is the perfect example of this in action: the coffee giant’s Twitter feed is full of ‘retweets’ of customers reviews and accolades.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in our series on social media marketing for restaurants, which will be published in May. We’ll be sharing more ways that you can use social media to creatively engage with customers, create excitement and encourage return visits!

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