How to maximize your restaurant's success on Instagram

Woman taking a picture of a bowl of ramen
// By Chrystal Ragasa // , Dec 14, 2021

Topics: Restaurant Management, Restaurant Operations

Are you part of the surge of restaurants marketing themselves on Instagram? In 2019, 78% of restaurants in a report by Toast had an Instagram profile. This is way up from just the mere 24% in 2018. It's pretty much a given now that if you're a restaurant or bar, you probably have an Instagram account, especially if you're trying to attract younger clientele. More and more venues are joining Instagram because it’s a powerful marketing tool - it’s a photo and video first platform, perfect for showcasing beautiful venue interiors and carefully crafted food and drink.  


1. Show off your most popular/new dishes and drinks

If you know which selections at your bar/restaurant are most popular, make sure you have good photos of those and post them in regular intervals, at least once a week. This will remind your followers of what they keep coming back to your venue for. Show upcoming items to keep your menu fresh and so regulars and potential customers know what they have to look forward to.



2. Use consistent color palette, composition  

Though not the most important thing (the content of your posts are!), it's good to focus on a consistent color palette. Not only will people get an immediate sense of your venue's brand, it'll make your profile look more professional and polished. Take a look around your restaurant and take note of the predominant colors in your space. Use those in your posts!


You also might want to base your color scheme on the type of venue your restaurant or bar is. If it's more focused on upscale, fine dining, you might want to focus on neutral colors like white or cream. Muted versions of the colors in your restaurant (ex. like a forest green or navy blue) would work too.


This tool by Colorkuler will create a color palette from your feed.



3. Partner with food influencers

Influencers are people who have gained popularity on social media and have a sizable number of followers. Their follower count could range in the few thousands to millions! Some are models, and others are graphic designers, nail artists, or amateur chefs. Who you want to go after, however, are the foodies - people always on the hunt for their next great meal. Food influencers are mainly focused on the bar/restaurant scene in their city.


Do some research into local influencers in your area. They might be willing to post a review of your restaurant, or you might even want to collaborate them on a contest or giveaway (more on that later). Partnering with food influencers is a surefire way to give your venue the publicity boost you want!



4. Hashtag, hashtag, hashtag

Most of public content on Instagram will be organized by the hashtags used in their captions, so it's important that you use them, and use them correctly. If you just use basic, non-specific ones like #food or #cocktail, your post might get buried among the millions of others already posted. 


It's smarter to use hashtags that are more popular in your local area. This will make it much easier for the curious Instagrammer to find your posts! For example, a seafood boil restaurant in Chicago named Lowcountry might use the following hashtags:


#seafood #seafoodboil, #foodstagram, #foodtok, #seafoodlover #cajunfood #cajunboil #lowcountrychi, #chicagobucketlist #chicagofoodies


This is a pretty good list since it includes their restaurant name, the 'foodie' side of Instagram, and uses local ones to call out Chicago. 



5. Create Instagram stories 

Stories are a way to always stay connected to your followers without having to create an actual post. On your feed for only 24 hours, they’re quick little snapshots of what goes on in your bar or restaurant. Here you can show a little more personality and creativity, with stickers, GIFs, and other features like quizzes, music, and polls. Quizzes and polls are great for interacting with your customers. Show them you care about their opinions by taking a poll on what specials or new menu items they want to see. There’s also a ‘countdown’ feature, which would be useful for stirring up excitement for big events, re-openings, etc.



6. Holidays

If your bar or restaurant does something special for the holidays, post about it! Remind old customers and let new ones know what your establishment is doing to celebrate. If you redecorate for the holidays this would be a good time to post behind the scenes of your crew getting your space ready. This will stir up interest and create anticipation for your users who will want to see the final result, or even visit your restaurant.


Create polls and quizzes to have your followers guess what holiday items are going to be added to your menu, and maybe even offer prizes to winners. After all, everyone loves free stuff!



7. Crowdsource your feed


Check out your ‘tagged’ section and find good photos taken by your customers. Your followers are basically posting for you! Thank them by commenting on their photo, then repost the pic on your feed with credit. This is a low effort way to strengthen your personal relationships with loyal customers, and post high-quality pictures of your bar or restaurant.

If someone tags your venue in an Instagram Story, you'll be able to repost it on your own Story. Again, this is an easy way to regularly post content without having to create it yourself.



8. Contests and giveaways


Giveaways and contests are a fun way to get likes, comments, or tags. You could give away things like a reservation for two, a gift card, or a take home dinner kit. For more engagement from people outside of your follower base, you could require your followers to tag someone they want to win with in the comments, or you could require them to repost your post on their Story too. 



9. Have unique, Instagrammable motifs


If you're ever in Chicago and looking for a classic steakhouse for dinner, Maple & Ash is a solid choice. But they're best known for custom menus that they give to those celebrating birthdays, anniversaries, and other special occasions. If you do a quick search for the restaurant on Instagram, you’ll probably see dozens of posts containing people taking pictures with their menu.


[embed instagram posts]


Having a unique, instagrammable ‘prop’ or decoration is free publicity for your bar or restaurant. People will go just to have their picture taken and join the ‘in crowd.’ Of course, your main focus should be providing quality food and drink  - but the free publicity By having their customers essentially doing their marketing for them, they build reputability through 


10. Photography: Flat lay shot and good lighting


Good photography is key for marketing your venue and showcasing special items on your menu. One common way to show food is the flat lay shot, which are images shot directly above the subject. Have your dish centered in the shot and organize napkins, utensils, and other complimentary props around it. 


person holding white plate with food



Food looks best in natural, soft, diffused light. You want to avoid harsh shadows or direct sunlight - that's why is best to shoot your food and drink next to a window on a. cloudy day.


This is a great example of the the kinds of images you could post. The lighting is soft, attractive, and doesn't distract from the food. The photographer made the image more interesting by having someone pass a plate of food to another, which in turn made it the main focus.

Chrystal Ragasa

About the author, Chrystal Ragasa

Chrystal is a Visual Designer for Backbar. When she's not working, she's exploring the Chicago bar and restaurant scene, at home baking, or hanging out with her poodle mix Pepper.

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