Successful Restaurants Share How They Built Instagram Followings

Beata Grace Beatty

Beata is a Florida-based freelance writer. When she’s not researching and pitching story ideas, she’s reading, walking on the beach, fiddling with home projects, and keeping up with her two daughters.

Using yummy food pictures to get an instagram followers

The scoop on Instagram 

Hubspot reports that Instagram is “now a global platform that allows brands to humanize their content, recruit new talent, showcase products, and inspire their audience.”

So how can you, as a restaurant owner, capitalize on this influence and grow your Instagram followers?

  1. Use a business account with a business email.
  2. It’s a visual platform so you need a great profile pic and a catchy bio. The bio is the only spot that you can include a clickable URL to drive traffic to your website.
  3. Use #hashtags.
  4. Types of posts you should consider:
  • Images
  • Behind the scenes
  • Reposts from customers
  • Influencers
  • Educational – think recipes

What owners and pros say about how to gain Instagram followers

Gina Davis is the Marketing Coordinator for 23 Restaurant Services, a Tampa-based hospitality company that owns Ford’s Garage (@fordsgarageusa), SAKÉ 23 (@sake23fl), and Yeomans Cask & Lion (@yeomanscaskandlion). She says that their culture embodies the idea “that social media marketing is not only important but necessary. We want our brands to be easily accessible to our target market. What’s easier than looking up a brand on Instagram?”

Like other restaurants, Davis says they grow followers organically. “This means that we do not pay for our followers. Our engagement and following might be lower statistically because of this but, this also means that our engagement is genuine and has more potential to lead to sales.”

“At 23 Restaurant Services, we want to target real potential customers. And so, every time we start to build a social media presence, we understand the importance of being patient and allowing our engagement and following to build over time. This allows customers to create personal relationships with our brands.”

Executing these Instagram plans is straightforward but flexible.

  1. Paid advertising. “There’s no ‘secret’ to social media and Instagram as it works differently per brand/market. We do, however, adhere to traditional marketing tactics. We use ads to stay relevant to our customers. For example, they may not always be in the mood for sushi, but when they are, we want to be there! Ads allow us to be on a feed daily without having to post daily, and they can be tailored to a specific market (location, food type, interests, etc.).”
  2. Videos and witty captions. “We also find that quick videos on our stories and occasionally on our Instagram grid lead to higher engagement, but we do not use videos too often as Instagram, especially for restaurants, should feed the eyes with great photos! I’d also recommend putting time into captions – ask questions, make sure the verbiage is consistent with the brand but also personal. Interested customers almost ALWAYS read the captions, so it’s important the caption is entertaining and provides information.”
  3. Flexibility. “Instagram and social media change constantly. What works for us today may not work for us in a month or 6 months. It’s important to always stay on top of trends and be aware of how our customers interact with us so that we can evolve with the platforms.” 

Jens Wirdenius, co-founder at Veloce Network, reiterates some of Davis’s advice, “Instagram marketing is something that you don’t do quickly. In fact, most types of marketing are processes that take time and effort – simply because marketing helps you build trust, and trust is what ultimately drives sales.”

Apart from building a personal connection and trust, Wirdenius recommends the following:

  1. Create great content. Nothing replaces original, high-quality content. Always remember that Instagram is a visual medium.
  2. Engage with your audience. Engaging with customers and potential customers builds trust, and trust drives sales. Many restaurateurs running smaller shops are posting more organically  – versus pure analytics – with a focus on personal relationships and business relationships that naturally make sense. 
  3. Use influencers. Family and friends highly influence your customers, but they also react to perceived experts on a certain topic. Social media influence is “an individual’s ability to affect other people’s thinking in a social, online community. The more influence a person has, the more appeal that individual has to companies or other individuals who want to promote an idea or sell a product.” Connect with local foodies, local celebs, and partner with a business.

Rozanne Gewaar at Bazaar Cafe (@bazaarcafesf) in San Francisco says it’s a creative process. “My slo-mo iPhone videos of food tend to be most popular. We’re lucky, we’re a cafe with a penchant for hiring creatives in general, and keep a text thread where they post their best plating/drink of the day, and I sometimes post some of those too. The food pics tend to do best.”

Eye on design and benefits of offering Insta-worthy photo opportunities within your restaurant

Crate Cafe (@cratecafe) owner Maree Suteja says most of her business is due to people finding her restaurant on Instagram. Her account now has more than 50,000 followers and features mouth-watering food and customer posts.

Suteja specifically designed the Bali-based cafe to attract social media users. The space is trendy with wood crates as tables and an industrial vibe of concrete walls with a hand-painted menu. The views don’t hurt. Staff always plates Instagram-worthy food.

“Instagram goes hand-in-hand with word-of-mouth,” Suteja tells CNBC. “You see something on Instagram; you’re going to send it to someone or tag a friend. It’s that thing about tagging people and that gets the word out.”

Ultimately, the goal is to showcase your restaurant and add to the bottom line. Learn social media tools and rules, but then don’t be afraid to break the mold. Pay attention to what works for you. Post high-quality photos and videos regularly, place ads, be sure your interior space mirrors what you are selling on your Instagram feed, and listen to your customers. And don’t wait until after your restaurant is up and running before starting on Instagram; use social media to build awareness even before you launch.

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