Instagram for Restaurants: The Must-Read Guide

If you could draw millions of potential customers to your restaurant with free marketing, would you pass up the opportunity? If your business isn’t on Instagram, or lacks a marketing strategy for social media, that’s precisely what you’re doing.

In October 2020, there were 1 billion active monthly users on the Instagram social media platform, and that number continues to rise. Those users are sharing, shopping, and searching for inspiration; there’s no reason they can’t find that inspiration in your restaurant’s Instagram.

You don’t need to have a lot of technical prowess to build a successful Instagram for your restaurant. Furthermore, you don’t need to spend a lot of time curating and maintaining your site. In fact, it’s easy to train your staff to do a majority of the legwork with minimal investment from you.

Are you ready to learn how to gain thousands of Instagram followers and entice new customers to your restaurant?

Learn how in our must-read guide to Instagram for restaurants.

Why Instagram for Restaurants?

Instagram for restaurants

The first question you, a restaurant owner, may be asking is, “Why should I use Instagram to promote my business? What will I gain?” The real question, however, is: can restaurants afford to not be on social media?

To put it very simply, you have absolutely nothing to lose. In fact, if you’re not using social media, you’re handing business to your competition. With millions of users on the platform, those customers are going to find their next go-to restaurant. A strong Instagram will help ensure that restaurant is yours. Simply put, you can’t afford not to be on Instagram.

Instagram is a free platform that allows users to share photos, videos, ideas, and industry expertise with followers. While you can access the platform on a desktop or laptop, the app is largely designed to be used on a mobile device.

Throughout this guide, we’re going to discuss what you should and should not include in your Instagram or “Insta” profile. First, however, let’s take a quick look at how the platform can help you promote your restaurant.

  • Instagram can help you build and strengthen your restaurant’s brand.
  • The platform makes your restaurant searchable and readily picked up by search engines.
  • You can easily interact with customers and prospects on Instagram.
  • You can promote your restaurant’s events and specials.
  • Instagram lets you “show off” your new recipes and delicious dishes.
  • Build brand loyalty, allow customers to share your content, and promote a positive image of your restaurant
  • You can even sell food on Instagram, taking orders directly from your posts.

While all these benefits are important to keep in mind as you build your Instagram, there’s one key that should remain front of mind: your Instagram is a reflection of your brand. As you post your pictures, interact with customers, and plan your social media posts, remember that everything you post will indicate your company culture.

Now that you understand what Instagram is let’s explore how you can use the platform to promote your restaurant. 

Choosing Your Instagram Username

Choosing a username for your Instagram is one of the easiest yet one of the most critical steps of the entire social media process. If your establishment has a unique name, that’s great. There’s a good possibility that you’ll be able to secure your restaurant’s name as your username. For instance, @sweetgreen is a restaurant chain that’s done just that.

If your restaurant’s name is a bit more common, it can help add a location or some other identifier to your username. @cilantro_nashville is a great example of a restaurant that has specified precisely which Cilantro Mexican Grill is posting!

In any case, your username should be relevant to your business. Take your time with it and run it by a few co-workers. Ensure there are no misspellings or even “hidden words” within your username that you’ve overlooked.

The username you choose should be easy for your followers to remember and easy for new customers to find. You’ll often find that new visitors to your restaurant will have researched you on Instagram before their first visit. Be sure they can find you and verify that your restaurant is the one they’re looking for.

There is one exception to using your location in your username: if you have multiple locations, it’s best not to open an Instagram for each. Instead, build one account for your brand; this will allow for better use of your time and resources.

Building Your Instagram Bio the Right Way

When you register for your Instagram account, you’ll be prompted to create a profile before you begin posting. There are a few basic components to your bio; let’s take a look at each.

The Instagram Bio Basics

First, you’ll need to enter your name and some other basic information. Do not use your personal name – instead, use the name of your restaurant. This will help customers find you. Below this, of course, is your username. You’ve put a lot of thought into a username, so enter your username in this space. Instagram allows you to enter your business website if you have one.

If you don’t have a business website, we recommend you create one! In the meantime, however, it’s a good idea to post some contact information to your Instagram bio.

Building a Compelling Description

Next, let’s create your bio. It may be tempting to write a lengthy description of your restaurant. Don’t do that! Instagram followers will be more attracted to a succinct, colorful presentation of your brand. You can simply say, “The boldest burgers in Boise,” and gain traction. We do recommend, however, a bit more.

In addition to a slogan or something catchy and a brief introduction to your restaurant, your bio should include a call to action. This doesn’t sound very easy, but it really is! A few examples of calls to order include:

  • Order your delivery today!
  • Ask us about our senior discounts!
  • Mention code SALMON when you call!
  • Follow us for incredible specials!
  • Gluten Free & Vegan Dishes!

If you’re unsure of what you should include in your bio, look around the platform and see what other restaurants have tried. What do you love? What stands out? How do the restaurant’s followers seem to respond?

Just a few well-placed words can reach potential followers in an impactful way. Keep this in mind as you’re creating your bio; if your restaurant already has a slogan, you can use that. If you don’t, consider creating one to begin strengthening your brand.

Choosing Your Profile Photo

When you look at the most popular restaurant Instagram bios, you may begin to notice a trend. Very few establishments that are successful on the platform post a business logo as a profile photo. There will be exceptions, of course, such as the major fast-food chains.

As you’re an Instagram beginner, it’s going to serve you better to post a picture of your most delicious, juicy, hunger-inducing food. Which picture could you use that will make your prospective customers spontaneously drive to your location? Which will let them know that your restaurant is the perfect place for a Valentine’s Day reservation?

As you gain popularity on Instagram, you can change your profile picture to your restaurant’s logo. For now, though, it’s best to keep it delicious.

What Are Hashtags and Why Do You Need Them?

Just about anywhere you look today, you’ll see hashtags. Hashtags are words or phrases, whether real or made up, preceded by the # sign.

Hashtags are great in that they help to identify your content. Assume your prospective customer is searching for a seafood restaurant in Denver. Hashtags he or she may search for include, simply, #Denver or #seafood.

To get a solid idea of which hashtags you should include in your Instagram posts, put yourself in the consumers’ shoes. Imagine they’re searching for the type of food you serve. How would you find a restaurant like yours on Instagram? Make note of the hashtags that are most frequently used, then consider them for your own posts.

Alternatively, don’t be afraid to scope out your competitors. How is the seafood restaurant in the next town over represented on Instagram? Which hashtags are other restaurants and even bars using to promote their Instagram posts?

Hashtag trends change, and that change is frequent. What’s trending one day may be forgotten the next, so it’s important to try to do a bit of preliminary research before posting. Keep it simple to start; #food, #foodie, and #instafood are great hashtags to start with. Your location is a good addition to your caption, as is the type of food you serve.

When you include hashtags in your post, remember to keep them relevant. A photo of a rich, thick stew will just look silly if it’s accompanied by a hashtag about the local sports team.

Finally, use hashtags with moderation. While the platform will allow you to post 30 hashtags per post, it’s not always necessary.

Of course, there are exceptions; one study suggests that Instagram posts with the most reach had either seven or 30 hashtags; the range in between had a dip in performance. Your follower count may also be a factor, and some accounts’ posts perform better when they include hashtags in the first comment of the post versus in the image caption. Take time to experiment with your hashtags and gauge audience engagement to develop a custom strategy for posting.

What Should You Post on Your Instagram?

You’ve spent a lot of time and have invested a great deal of thought in setting up an Instagram for your restaurant. Congratulations, you’re well on your way to gaining followers and new customers! Now it’s time to consider what you’ll post.

The goal of your Instagram is to create a clean, compelling, and easy-to-navigate feed. When a potential (er existing) customer visits your Instagram, they should see a clean, compelling, and

The first few weeks after you create your Instagram, aim to keep it simple. Your goal is to post around twice a day, so you don’t want to invest too much energy into creating content. Doing so may discourage you, as creating complex posts is time-consuming.

You don’t need to post anything elaborate when you first begin; simply start by posting a photo of your favorite dish. Get into the habit of posting regularly – you can even set an alarm if you like. Then, once posting to your restaurant’s Instagram is routine, you can begin to get more imaginative.

Examples of content you can include on your Instagram include:

  • A virtual tour of your kitchen or dining room
  • Restaurant specials exclusive to your followers
  • Photos and videos of your wait staff and crew
  • Virtual flyers announcing events
  • Quotes by well-known chefs or food celebrities
  • Behind-the-scenes candid photos
  • Reviews from customers and followers
  • Restaurant-related polls
  • Customer of the Week
  • Expert trips or simple recipes

This is just a sampling of the thousands of ideas you and your team can generate. Use your imagination and always keep your restaurant’s brand in mind!

When Should You Post to Instagram for your Restaurant?

As noted, you’ll want to get into the routine of posting to your Instagram regularly. However, it’s possible to post too much.

Have you ever followed a brand on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter? Why did you do it? Perhaps you followed another restaurant for ideas or inspiration. Did you follow a travel site for photography and others’ first-hand accounts of vacations? Perhaps you follow a clothing brand to stay ahead of fashion trends.

These are all excellent reasons to follow a brand, and you should consider them while creating your own. Again, take the perspective of your customer. What is he or she looking for, and how frequently?

Your follower does not want their Instagram feed to be inundated with posts from your restaurant. If you post too frequently, your posts will be ignored and, likely, ultimately blocked. On the other hand, if you post too infrequently, you risk falling from the fore of your customers’ minds. Put simply, they may forget about you.

Optimally, it would be best if you planned to post one to two posts per day. It’s unlikely you’ll ever need to post more than that unless you’re hosting a special event or, for instance, a poll.

Courtesy of Later.Com

What Time of Day Should You Post to Instagram?

The time of day you post to Instagram will sometimes be related to the type of business you operate. For example, if you own a 24-hour diner, it certainly won’t harm your business to post a late-night photo of some delicious key lime pie.

For most restaurants, though, you’ll do well to post your Instagram pictures and other content during the day. In fact, research has suggested that there are specific hours of the day business owners should post to experience the best engagement.

These hours are generally mid-afternoon and “rush hour.” However, as you build your account, you’ll begin to catch on to trends. Your followers will engage at certain times of day and perhaps more frequently on certain days than others. Once you get the hang of it, you can even use third-party applications to schedule your posts for you.

Use this knowledge to your advantage and post to your restaurant’s Instagram when you know your followers are online. With that in mind, studies have shown that:

  • The best time to post for maximum engagement is between 3-4 PM EDT.
  • A post around 6 AM will garner engagement, as customers are just waking up and checking their notifications.
  • Lunchtime is on a weekday from noon to 4 – your prospective customers will be hungry and searching for your business.

We highly recommend that you sign up for an Instagram account for business. With a business account, you can keep track of more in-depth metrics than you can with a personal account. For example, Instagram makes it easy to view which of your posts are being viewed at certain times throughout the day.

Branding Your Restaurant’s Instagram Posts

Your restaurant’s brand on Instagram is more than just a few pictures of your signature dishes. The brand you build can make or break your Instagram success. By developing a solid strategy, you can create a cohesive picture of what your restaurant serves and what it stands for.

For years, marketing experts have studied branding and how a stable brand can impact facets of your business, such as customer loyalty, company identity, and more. You can use this research to brand your establishment’s posts on Instagram and any other medium.

First, determine what you’d like your brand to be. Are you upscale and exclusive or are you family-oriented and cozy? Do you pride yourself on supporting the local community? Does your restaurant specialize in fresh, local food? Do you promise quick, inexpensive food? Maybe you’re a late-night hotspot for the local college crowd.

Think about the restaurants you frequent. What brings you back? Is it their relaxing atmosphere or their ability to make you feel like you’re treating yourself? Now, consider how you’d like to draw patrons to your restaurant; what would you like them to feel?

Know who you are as a brand, what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. Then, build your social media strategy based on that mission statement. Your photos and other content should always reflect the brand you want others to see.

How to Caption Your Instagram Posts

Whether you own a restaurant or are captioning your personal Insta posts, your captions will add context and promote engagement with your post. The word “caption” comes from the Latin capere, which means to take or seize, usually by imprisonment.

Now, of course, you don’t want to imprison your followers. However, you do want to seize and capture their interest, and a proper caption will do just that. There are several guidelines you should keep in mind, as you caption your restaurant’s Instagram media.

  • Know your audience. Regardless of whether you’re an upscale lounge or a taco truck, you’ll want to caption your posts in a way your consumers can relate to.
  • Use your voice! You’ve spent time identifying and perfecting your brand – ensure your captions reflect your mission.
  • Keep it short. Instagram may partially hide captions longer than three lines. Around 120 characters are usually optimal. If you feel you need to provide more information, you can do this in the first post.
  • Be smart with your hashtags. We touched on this earlier in our guide. Hashtags should be relevant and well-chosen to be on-trend with current searches and topics.
  • Consider polls. Polls are underrated and can engage your audience instantly. For example, a photo of your favorite sundae could be captioned with a poll: chocolate or caramel?
  • @Mention your regulars. As prospective patrons see that you “know” your customer base, they’ll be more inclined to come to visit. At the least, they’ll be more likely to share your post.
  • Edit, then edit again. Run your post by a few team members before you post. Don’t be hesitant to rewrite your caption entirely before you hit “post.”

Most importantly, access Instagram business metrics to determine which posts and captions are the most and least engaging. Once you determine your customers’ preferences, caption accordingly.

How to Use Instagram Stories

Today, almost half of Instagram users are using Stories. And according to Instagram, 62 percent of viewers find themselves more engaged with a brand after viewing those Stories. So what is an Instagram Story, and how can you make your own?

To begin, an Instagram Story is a video or a post that disappears after 24 hours. That can be important when you’re promoting specials or events. More importantly, though, your Instagram Stories will appear at the very top of your viewers’ feeds. Stories can help your restaurant:

  • Alert customers to changes in operating hours
  • Allow your viewers to gain a behind-the-scenes look at your business
  • Notify consumers of specials
  • Promote a live event

It’s easy to post a story to your restaurant’s Instagram. In the upper left corner of your phone or tablet’s screen, you’ll see a circle called “Your Story.” Be ready to film or shoot. Then, if you’d like to snap a photo, tap the circle at the bottom of your screen. If you would like to post a video, tap and hold.

That’s all there is to it; just confirm that you’d like to post your Story! You can experiment with Instagram to add stickers, special effects, and more, but they’re not important. What’s important to your Story is that it fits with the brand of your restaurant.

How to Use Instagram Highlights

Your Instagram Story doesn’t have to disappear after 24 hours. Instagram was likely thinking of businesses just like yours when they added Highlights to the platform. An Instagram Highlight is a Story that remains on your feed permanently until you decide to delete it.

Highlights are located directly below your bio, so they’re easy for followers to access. The placement of Highlights makes it convenient to access information about your specials, announcements, or whatever else you may choose to showcase.

To use Highlights, be sure your auto-archiving feature is turned on. You can do this in settings under Story Control. Once this feature is turned on, you can access Stories you previously posted without fearing that they’ll disappear.

Your Highlights should be just that: highlights of your restaurant. You can make them as straightforward or as elaborate as you like, so long as they’re relevant to your establishment. 

How to Use Instagram Live

 Sometimes, you’ll want your followers to see your restaurant live. Instagram Live allows you to do so. For instance, if you’re having a celebration or just a bustling night, you can advertise to your followers with a live feed.

Before you go live, be prepared. Once you start recording, you can’t go back and edit. Do tell your team that you’ll be recording and posting to Instagram Live, and remember that they have the right to choose not to be filmed.

Your Instagram Live can last for up to an hour, so use your imagination! You can post a live feed of a musical performance, of your interactions with local farmers, or your head chef creating a favorite recipe from scratch.

Live feeds are also a way to introduce exclusive offers to your followers. Once your Live ends, your footage can’t be seen again. That means only your most loyal customers will have access to your promotion. 

How Do You Increase Your Restaurant’s Followers?

A lot of owners wonder how to increase followers on Instagram food. The number of customers that follow you is directly related to your engagement on the Instagram platform. If you’re posting relevant content regularly, your customers will notice. Enticing and exciting photos and videos will inspire others to share your content, and your Instagram following will grow.

The first step to finding potential customers on Instagram is to ensure your page is easily discoverable. Choose a username as close to your restaurant’s name as possible. Include your restaurant’s website and a descriptive yet brief bio.

Then, post regularly! Respond to your patrons when they comment, and recognize followers who frequent your Instagram. Offer discounts and other treats to your most enthusiastic supporters.

Generally speaking, the more you put into your Instagram, the more you’ll get out of it. You’ll gain followers when you treat your Instagram as a genuine and legitimate marketing method. Those followers will spread the word about your restaurant, generating new business for you – for free.

If you feel that you don’t have time to engage as much as you’d like to, it’s okay to put your team members in charge. Be sure they’re familiar with the culture you’re trying to portray and encourage them to have fun. After all, social media is supposed to be social!

Do’s and Don’ts of Using Instagram to Promote Your Restaurant

If you’re new to Instagram, or social media in general, you may need a primer on the dos and don’ts of using the platforms to promote your business. Here are some basic rules of thumb to follow on social media.

  • Do be professional, even if a patron has a complaint. Know when to respond and when to take the conversation offline.
  • Don’t discuss sensitive issues. Unless you’re specifically trying to promote a cause or your restaurant is affiliated with a religious group, it’s better to keep the conversation neutral.
  • Do have fun! Remember that not every post has to be about your restaurant. For example, it’s okay to congratulate the local high school football team for their amazing season.
  • Don’t post too frequently. If your posts are inundating followers’ feeds, it’s only a matter of time before they mute you.
  • Do post frequently enough. Once or twice per day is usually optimal for a restaurant.
  • Don’t get overwhelmed by social media. Instagram is easy to use, but if you’re not a fan of using technology, you can task your team with the job.
  • Do take advantage of Instagram’s analytics. These metrics can help you learn about the best times and days to post for your business.
  • Don’t mix your personal and your business social media accounts. Keep your business Instagram professional.
  • Do remember to use Live and Highlights to attract more followers to your Instagram.
  • Don’t post any content that isn’t appropriate for kids; often, they’re the ones who choose where the family eats.

Using Instagram to promote your restaurant is easy when you remember the dos and don’ts of social media. 

Conclusion

Instagram is one of the easiest platforms to use when you’re trying to promote your restaurant. Enticing pictures of your delicious food will draw prospective patrons, and quality content will encourage them to share, attracting new customers.

Take some time to familiarize yourself with Instagram, then enjoy the features the platform offers. As your restaurant gains followers, you’ll find that you’ll also gain customers.

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