Elan Instagram picture with bright colours

The Greatest Ever Guide to Restaurant Instagram Marketing

November 21, 2021
Megan Andrew

Want to make your restaurant a must-visit attraction? Here's what you need to do...

Instagram just wouldn’t be the same without everyone “gramming” every single meal they ate. In fact, food is so overrepresented on Instagram that influencers, foodies, and restaurants alike now need to come up with increasingly creative ways of showcasing food for their followers!Gone are the days when restaurants could simply rely on foot traffic. Today, restaurants need to be a little more creative to draw a crowd. Many are even working on becoming more “Instagrammable”, by building Insta-friendly spots within their venues such as neon lights, flower walls, and colorful wall displays. And for good reason – 30% of Millennial diners actively avoid restaurants with a weak Instagram presence, according to Social Media Today. And when research tells us that Millennials dine out more than any other generation, they’re clearly a demographic that restaurants can’t afford to ignore.

In today’s day and age, everything from the décor to the menu items in a restaurant is carefully curated to create the perfect Insta background. It makes sense – after all, every single photo posted to a new account is an opportunity for restaurants to showcase their brand name, their food, or just the atmosphere within their venue. If you don’t have the capacity to redecorate right now, we get it! Luckily, there are other far simpler ways to harness the power of restaurant Instagram marketing and lure new customers to visit your venue. From ingenious Instagram marketing strategies to Insta-friendly tableware and branded ice cubes, there are countless creative ways to engage social-media-obsessed foodies.

So, ready to get ‘gramming? Read on to find out more!

Why Should Restaurants Harness the Power of Instagram Marketing?

We’ve told you why restaurant Instagram marketing is so important. The Millennial generation are the generation of diners and they’re making those all-important decisions about where to eat and what to eat based on Instagram marketing. But it’s not only that. Instagram marketing is also relatively easy once you get the hang of it and automate any of the tasks you can. Unlike many other channels like paid search, Instagram is mostly free, unless you want to put a small budget towards paid advertising. However, if you choose not to do any paid advertising on social media, you can still make a solid impact with a hyper-local, hyper-targeted Instagram marketing strategy. Here’s how.

Where to Begin with Instagram Marketing for Restaurants

Let’s assume you’ve just started on Instagram. Or, if you haven’t just started but you’re reading this blog, you might want a refresher, too! Start by optimizing your Instagram profile. There’s no point putting hours into content creation each week or creating a foodie influencer campaign if, when people land on your Instagram account it’s messy, unprofessional, or just plain confusing. Start with the below:

  • Create a clear and easy-to-understand Instagram username. This should just be the name of your restaurant and perhaps a location as well
  • Add a clear, compelling display picture
  • Amend your Instagram bio so it clearly communicates what your venue is all about and includes any branded hashtags and the keywords people might use to search for your venue. For instance, if you’re a venue that specializes in Mexican street food and you’re located in Venice Beach, CA, maybe you should use #MexicanResturantVeniceBeach or #MexicanStreetFood

If you’ve already set up your account but haven’t optimized it since 2011, consider whether you could make some tweaks and improve on it. Check whether you’re:

  • Posting regularly – at least two-three times per week
  • Posting Instagram Stories regularly – at least once a week but ideally much more!
  • Using up to 30 relevant hashtags for each feed post, including branded hashtags. Perhaps you need to create an Instagram hashtag strategy? More on this below!
  • Saving your best Stories to Highlights Reels on your Instagram profile

For example, in its Instagram bio, Bon Vin Restaurant has included a clear description of what kind of venue it is, where it is located as well as the hashtags that followers can use when posting.

Bon Vin Instagram Feed

8 Key Instagram Marketing Tips for Restaurants

Now that you’ve optimized your Instagram profile, you’re ready to roll! Or are you? While Instagram marketing isn’t exactly rocket science, there is an art to creating thumb-stopping content that actually serves your business objectives and makes your followers want to (literally) lick their phone screens!

Your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to create sumptuous, drool-inducing content that your followers will sit up and take notice of. But restaurant Instagram marketing is about more than that – it’s also about using Instagram strategically by collaborating with foodies, using thoughtful call-to-actions (also known as CTAs), and, ultimately, getting your message out to the masses and getting hungry bodies through your restaurant door!

Master the Art of the Instagram Hashtag

Ah, the humble hashtag. Use it right and you can reach new customers, see engagement levels soar and even watch your content go viral. Use it wrong and your posts might just turn into a spammy mess. The premise behind Instagram hashtags is simple. Instagram users search various hashtags to find people, places, and inspiration when they have a problem and they’re looking for solutions. When it comes to the hospitality industry, those Instagram users are usually hungry! Often, they’re looking to find restaurants, cafes, or bars in a certain area. Sometimes their request could be fairly broad – such as #NYCbars. In other scenarios, they might be looking for a more specific spot to dine at or even a specific dish. In that case, they might use #NYCmexicanfood or #NYCgreekfood or even #bestburgerinNYC.While it might be tempting to use generic hashtags like #foodporn, try to remember that there are millions of other posts using these hashtags. That means your content will just get lost amongst a huge tidal wave of posts. It’s better to use specific, relevant hashtags to find new followers in your local area who might actually be likely to visit your restaurant. The difficulty lies in choosing the right combination of Instagram hashtags. Ideally, you want to use:

  • One or two branded hashtags
  • 10-15 hashtags related to your specific food category
  • A few location-based hashtags
  • Specific hashtags related to the theme of your post. So, for a post about a cheeseburger, that might be hashtags like #bestburgersinNYC or #cheeseburger or #bestcheeseburgers

If you’re struggling to find the right hashtags, try using Sked Social’s Hashtag Recommendation Tool, free for Sked Social users. Simply add a hashtag to start off with when you’re scheduling your post, and the system will automatically come up with related hashtags that are commonly used with your chosen hashtag. The more hashtags you add, the more targeted the suggestions become.

Check out Sked Social’s other capabilities here and start automating your social media marketing tasks.

Create a Cohesive Feed and a Regular Posting Schedule

It’s hard enough creating one super-successful post and reaping the benefits of strong engagement. But how do time-poor restaurant owners find the time to post consistently, multiple times a week? Here’s their secret: they don’t. Instead of trying to think of content and post on the fly, they create batches of content and schedule their posts and even their Instagram Stories! Many brands do this on a monthly basis. Think about it; it’s far easier (and faster) to do one photoshoot every other month and plan out all your content once a month than to spend 45 minutes every other day stressing about what you’re going to post. Scheduling everything all at once also means that your content will be cohesive, both visually as well as your tone and messaging. There’s less chance of repeating yourself or doubling up on content.

Of course, you want to be able to be flexible. If something pops up and you want to add a post you can always do this using a social media scheduler. With Sked Social, you can even swap out posts, move them around or push them back in your calendar faster than you can say “Instagram”! Unlike many social media scheduling tools, Sked Social also lets you schedule Instagram Stories. The full-screen format of Stories makes them far more engaging than ordinary posts, and they take up prime real estate on Instagram’s home screen. Instagram Stories are also found in a different section to the main feed, meaning that posting them gives you double the chance of being seen by your audience.

In addition, Instagram users can extend the life of Instagram Stories for longer than 24 hours and can save important or high-performing content by using Highlight Reels. Not too sure what kind of content to post? As a restaurant or other foodservice business, most dishes probably look appetizing but clear, high-quality food photography is key, especially when it comes to some kinds of dishes. Dishes like soups, curries, and even pizza can look horrifying in the wrong lighting and photography. High-quality food photos are crucial for restaurants, and it doesn’t have to cost the earth – after all, you’re not shooting a magazine editorial! Most restaurants can probably find an affordable food photographer quite easily to do a quarterly shoot. If you can supplement this content with your own Instagram Stories and/or some influencer content, you’ll have plenty of content to feed into your social media calendar.

Try the following ideas to create fabulous content:

  • Highlight new menu options or seasonal specials with an Instagram Post or a Carousel
  • For a Story, show a “behind the scenes” or BTS snippet of your business. That might include making products, visiting customers, or offering a glimpse into a new service you’re launching
  • Post about any upcoming events or specials, such as Christmas specials or Halloween menu items
  • Repost user-generated content (with the user’s written permission, of course!) Add a hashtag in your Instagram bio to help find and collate this content
  • Use Stories as a way to educate your customers by posting information about your products, policies, or services
  • Host a giveaway on your page, and offer a dining-related prize. This will also help boost engagement
  • Try Instagram Live, at least once! You could do a live Q&A session, or a behind-the-scenes look into your kitchen to see how things are made

It’s also essential that you have a consistent feed and that your photography uses a similar editing style. If your photography editing ranges from dark to light or is a mixture of creamy editing, and bold colors, it’s probably going to look like a disjointed mess.

Below, we can see how Japanese restaurant Saké uses moody golden tones and shadowing to create a cohesive Instagram feed. As we scroll down, this remains consistent, no matter what they are posting about.

Sake's Instagram grid

In contrast, bar and restaurant Bar Tropic uses light, bright, sunny visuals with a touch of pastel tones in their Instagram feed. This is also consistent with the bar’s interior décor, plating style, and even their menu items.

Bar Tropic's Instagram grid

With restaurant Instagram marketing, you need to keep trying new things. Only by trying new marketing ideas will you be able to see what works and what doesn’t. You can use reporting from a social media marketing tool like Sked Social, or you can just gauge engagement by checking Instagram Insights. The key is to report, review, and refine your Instagram marketing strategy to perfection. Aim to do this every month, and you’ll be well on your way to success!

Find Ways to Stand Out from the Crowd

Once you’ve nailed the basics and you have a regular content calendar with your posts scheduled, how do you take the next step and supercharge your content? Perhaps you’re already posting but you’re not seeing much engagement or your followers are dropping like flies?

As we’ve already hinted, Instagram = not hard. Nailing social media with viral content that actually hits your marketing objectives = hard. Success on Instagram ultimately comes down to content. Some of your content might come intuitively but when it comes to creating consistent, strategic content, week after week, you need a strategy. Your social media strategy should guide your content creation efforts, so if you haven’t yet created one, now is the time!

A foolproof social media marketing strategy requires expertise, strategy, and pre-planning. Think about what problems you’re trying to solve with your content. Essentially, you’re trying to provide a venue for hungry patrons who want to eat, drink, and catch up with friends and family. Perhaps they’re even celebrating special events, occasions, birthdays, or they’re on a date? With each Instagram post you create, aim to engage, entertain, educate, empathize, or encourage. Think of it like this way; instead of always selling you need to aim to give something back to your followers in some way, by teaching them something, showing them something exciting or interesting, or providing solutions to their problems. So, you might entertain them with a behind-the-scenes video about how your homemade pasta is made, or show them an exciting colorful new dish, or educate them about your sustainable produce. Show them something new.

For instance, Two Sis Café in Sydney features an ever-changing menu complete with specials for specific events like Halloween, giving it endless opportunities for new content. The café supplements its own content with influencer posts and videos and uses a combination of delicious, bright visuals combined with videos of staff pouring sauces on various dishes. But much of their content comes from their followers, who are clearly excited to share photos and videos from the café. You can see how much of this user engagement is driven by the menu. From cotton-candy pink toppings on drinks to brightly colored lattes, from “egg porn” to a range of decadent dressings and garnishes, these dishes are meant to be seen, photographed, and marveled at. The chefs have gone to great lengths to be as inventive as possible, using liquid nitrogen, activated syringes that change the color of your drink, and food that is made to ooze, shine, and, above all, create magical dining moments. Take this Valentine’s Day special, for example, where a rose is covered in liquid nitrogen then shattered into pieces over a Rose Tart – it’s iconic, and creates amazing content.

Two Sis Instagram picture of mouth-watering breakfast
Two Sis Instagram picture of eye-catching food

Remember; it’s going to take time to see results. Your posts won’t immediately go viral! But if you keep posting, testing, and refining, you’ll start to create better and better content.

Spend less and get more with Sked Social

Get everything social schedulers are missing without writing a blank check for an enterprise platform. AI-integrated tools, custom collaboration and approval workflows, deep analytics and insights, and real auto-posting to more platforms — it’s all here.

Get Started for FREE

Leverage Foodies Using Influencer Marketing Campaigns

Influencers are critical when it comes to restaurant Instagram marketing. Not only can they create eye-catching content and show off your restaurant in ways you might have never have imagined, but they are respected in their space. Their followers value their opinions, and if food bloggers are giving your restaurant rave reviews, this will be highly valuable for your digital presence. Influencer campaigns are a powerful way to promote your venue and expand your follower base. Once you’ve collaborated with these foodie influencers, you can make the most out of their content by reposting it on your social media channels. Just add your favorite influencer posts to your existing content calendar. The more influencer posts you have, the less you’ll need to create yourself! Structure your influencer campaign according to what you need. For instance;

  • Need creative content? Choose food bloggers that are good at creating drool-worthy Instagram foodie videos
  • Need mass reach? Choose food bloggers with a large social media presence in your city
  • Need to boost reservations for a specific period? Choose influencers with a devoted, engaged foodie following and are predominantly located in your area. Then, get your influencer to advertise a certain monthly special or dining deal

Try getting creative and trying new things. Once you’ve worked with an influencer before, you can ask them for more ideas and build a more collaborative relationship. You don’t always need to have enormous budgets to engage food bloggers. Sometimes you just need to offer them a free meal or gift cards! If you don’t have a formal contract, however, be very clear about the terms of your agreement and get the food blogger to agree to your terms in writing. If you are paying influencers, definitely get official contracts drawn up! Our pro tip? Remember to have clear objectives before you start planning and establish your metrics for success early on.

Mix up Your Menu

We’ve already talked about just how crucial visuals are when it comes to restaurant Instagram marketing. But the Insta-worthiness of a restaurant’s food often comes down to its menu and food presentation. Clever restaurant Instagram marketing is all about making the most ordinary dishes look extraordinary. Restaurant food should look succulent and ready to eat.If you feel like your menu could use a revamp, start by:

  • Assessing what is currently on your menu and what people are currently posting about (if they’re posting from your venue at all)
  • Switching up any menu items that aren’t selling through well and replacing them with Insta-worthy dishes
  • Checking the presentation of your current dishes. Could you be doing more when it comes to food presentation? Which garnishes, sauces, or toppings could make your dishes look more appetizing?
  • Adding any trending or popular menu items that you feel are missing. Are you a café that doesn’t have a smashed avocado option? Maybe you could add one. Are you an Italian restaurant that doesn’t serve Gnocchi? Maybe add it and see what happens. Try something new, even if it’s just a range of new cocktails! What have you got to lose?

If you already feel that you have a solid menu, that’s awesome! Maybe you can introduce some seasonal specials to supplement your menu, entice loyal customers, and keep things fresh on social media? Once you’ve decided what changes you’ll make to your menu, launch the new menu on social media! Shoot your fantastic new dishes, post about them on Instagram, and send an EDM to your email list telling customers about your exciting new dishes.

Create Social-Friendly Moments

We told you that you don’t need to re-build your entire venue just for social media, and that is true. However, it certainly doesn’t hurt to create opportunities for those social-friendly moments in your venues. We’ve all seen the social media friendly cafes with elaborate wallpaper, crazy table settings, neon everything, or pop-art canvases on the walls. And, while you don’t need to plaster all your walls with decorations, it does help to add some fun décor. Be sure that whatever you add is still in the spirit of your restaurant. Whether you’re adding a neon sign, plant life, unique lights, or a beautiful mural, it’s sure to add to the ambiance in the restaurant while providing opportunities for content sharing. A café that has nailed Insta-worthy décor is EL&N in London. Complete with elaborate flower walls, neon signs, photo walls, and so much pastel pink décor that you would almost be forgiven for throwing up, this café is downright breathtaking. But the fun doesn’t stop at the décor; the menu is full of photo-worthy tasty treats, from succulent Nutella French Toast dripping in chocolate to colorful drinks and enormous burgers, this café is a food blogger’s dream. All this is highly conducive to generating shareable user-generated content (or UGC). In a nutshell, UGC is essentially any content derived from users. On Instagram, that could be a video, a tutorial, a vlog, or photos at a venue.

Elan Instagram picture with bright colours
Elan instagram picture showing dining becoming an experience

All this might sound over the top or extreme, but this “Instagram first” strategy has clearly been successful for EL&N. After opening in 2017, the café opened several new locations in the UK. Now, they have over half a million Instagram followers and are expanding worldwide to locations in London, Paris, Qatar, and more. Also, don’t neglect to make the food itself look delectable! Plating is everything when it comes to Insta-friendly foods. One Instagram image, even one taken by a micro-influencer, can draw in more customers, but if your plates don’t look bright, colorful, or appetizing, no one will post about your food! Think about the tableware you’re using and the way you’re presenting your dishes. If you can create a social-media-friendly setting and encourage user-generated content (or UGC), you’ll amplify your brand awareness and engagement, and, ultimately, increase reservations and boost turnover! Discover our ultimate guide to UGC marketing here and launch your campaign today!

Organize Regular Shoots for Fresh Content

There’s a reason we keep coming back to the content. Content is the magic ingredient in your digital marketing cake that keeps your followers coming back for more! Visitors might LOVE your food, but if you have a below-average Instagram presence, they’re eventually going to unfollow you, as they won’t want you clogging up their feed. Obviously, this isn’t ideal. You want your loyal customers to keep following you so you remain top of mind and they come back for another visit soon. So, how do you create a steady stream of content? Well, user-generated content can definitely feed into your content calendar and, if you gather a large social media following, eventually it can start to play a bigger role, alongside content from influencer marketing campaigns. But you also need a consistent stream of your own content, where you control the narrative. We recommend creating large batches of content by planning shoots on a quarterly, bi-annual, or even monthly basis. How often you choose to shoot depends on your unique strategy. This may also change depending on your budget, how often you change your menu, how often you’re posting, and a whole host of other factors. If you’re a pro at taking high-quality videos or photos on your phone you could even do a large quarterly shoot and then supplement that content with your own videos and photos. California Donuts offers plenty of bright, unique donuts which naturally make for Insta-friendly content. However, they also keep things fresh by adding seasonal specials like Halloween donuts or even “Back to School” donuts! On Instagram, they use a mix of their own content as well as UGC and collaboration content with other brands.

California Donuts with a picture of three donuts at the beach
California Donuts halloween donuts

Supercharge Your Copy and Refine Your CTAs

Are you already posting on social media but you’re just not seeing results? Or perhaps you’re seeing great engagement but when it comes to scoring new bookings, you’re not having any luck?It might be that your copy is letting you down. This is where we really get down to the nitty-gritty of social media marketing. How on earth do you supercharge your copy to get new followers or convince your existing followers to book a reservation? It’s all about using clever, compelling copy and attention-grabbing call-to-actions, also known as CTAs.

A CTA is a direct statement that tells your followers what to do next. A good CTA won’t sound salesy. When done well, it should sound fun, helpful, and upbeat. Remember, you’re not commanding anyone to do anything! The best CTAs are clear, straightforward, engaging and capture user attention. CTAs can tell users:

  • Where to find information
  • How to contact you
  • Where to make a booking or reservation
  • How to enter a competition or upload a user-generated-post
  • Where to purchase items or order food

For instance, in this post, Sydney restaurant Ragazzi leverages simple, straightforward copy and a clear CTA to promote its latest set menu.

Ragazzi Instagram picture

Keep in mind that you don’t need to use a CTA in every single post. In fact, we recommend that you don’t do this, otherwise, your Instagram page will feel too sales-focused. Only use CTAs when you really want your followers to follow through with an action. Remember, you can always add Instagram Stories with a link to promote last minute bookings or events. If you have an online booking system, ensure that you utilize the Instagram bio to add a customized booking link.

Another pro tip: use a link tool. Sked Social users can use Sked Link, a custom linking tool that will take your Instagram followers to a customizable menu where you can add direct links to your menu, booking system, and any other pages you need to link out to.

Ready to Embrace Restaurant Instagram Marketing?

All good marketers know that restaurant Instagram marketing is a cost-effective way to attract new customers and keep existing customers coming back for more.

It might not be easy for restaurateurs to learn the lay of the land on social media instantly – and that’s ok. Social media requires a certain amount of trial and error anyway. But the key is to do what you can, outsource the rest, and use social media marketing tools to automate any time-consuming processes and make your life easier. For instance, if you’re good at food photography but you’re terrible with words, hire a copywriter to create your copy and use a tool like Sked Social for scheduling, hashtag research and reporting. Just don’t forget that even once you get the hang of restaurant Instagram marketing and start to see results you still need to keep experimenting and trying new things.

Try to think about your Instagram marketing from a holistic viewpoint. If you want to mix things up, consider re-thinking other aspects of your business, from your menu to your décor and the ways you communicate and engage with your customers, both in person and online. Creating one viral post isn’t difficult. The hard part is creating consistently fabulous, engaging content as a part of a cohesive digital marketing strategy.

Automating your Instagram post scheduling means that you can create and execute a consistent social media marketing calendar and automate your social media posting. In the meantime, you can free up hours in your schedule and focus on coming up with amazing marketing ideas for your next batch of content, responding to customer queries, or experimenting with Instagram ads.

In a nutshell: your can make your restaurant a must on any foodies list. Ready to get started? Get cracking and start working your way through our top restaurant Instagram marketing tips! Let us know how you go!


What to read next


Instagram Trends & Memes to Try: July 2024

July 12, 2024

Searching for an Instagram trend to fill out your content calendar this week? Say no more.


How to Increase Your Instagram Post Shareability in 2024

July 1, 2024

Want to skyrocket your Instagram reach in 2024? It’s all about mastering the art of shareability!

Get the visual content planner for visual brands and agencies