Increasingly, restaurants are feeling the pressure to gain validation from the Instagram community. With consumers spending more time online in the wake of COVID-19, restaurant Instagram marketing is proving to be an important part of business success.
“People eat with their eyes,” says Christina Ho, team lead at California-based Media.Monks, formerly known as Mighty Hive. “In a space where people are actively looking for new [bars and restaurants] to share with family and friends, or simply scrolling to pass the time, it’s important for restaurants to be front-and-centre.”
So, how can restaurants use this platform to raise brand awareness and drive traffic? Certainly, using high-quality images of restaurant food and interiors is of utmost importance. Experimenting with lighting, plating styles and surface texture can make food stand out. Flat-lay images, in particular, are visually compelling. Instagram video content, such as Stories, Live and Reels, tend to perform better than static images, so maintaining a balance between the two is valuable.
“[Restaurants must] run thumb-stopping creative [content] that [boasts] branding within the first three seconds,” says Ho.
“The majority of our content is owned as we work with a roster of talented photographers and videographers to generate content,” says Stacey Hawkins, director of Marketing at Liberty Entertainment Group (LEG), developers and operators of numerous restaurant, nightlife and special-event venues in Toronto and Miami. “We have content shoots at each venue regularly.”
In terms of design, bars and restaurants can cater to their Instagram audience by considering vivid wall art, greenery and neon signs, all of which have become popular in recent years. Bathroom design shouldn’t be overlooked either as they offer the perfect setting for “selfies.” As a result, social-media-savvy consumers will love to share photos of the place they’re visiting, serving as an additional advertisement for businesses.
Next, targeting relevant audiences with the proper messaging is crucial. At LEG, “each brand has its own unique voice and is targeting a different audience,” says Hawkins. Its fine-dining restaurants, such as Xango, Don Alfonso 1890 and Blueblood Steakhouse, are likely to attract business professionals, tourists, families or affluent individuals, so content and messaging will reflect that.
In comparison, Ho says the target audience for the QSR segment can be tough to pinpoint, but “re-targeting audiences who have shown interest or engagement with a previous ad can help drive a higher chance of a store visit.” Tim Hortons, for example, a client of Media.Monks, maintains a “relatable, fun and friendly” brand personality to garner the attention of most Canadians.
Finally, having a clear call to action, incorporating thoughtful hashtags and collaborating with other businesses and influencers are all solid ways to boost awareness and enhance brand credibility.
When it comes to performing the work in-house or choosing an agency to do the marketing, independent restaurants will typically gravitate toward in-house marketing while chains will seek the help of an agency. In-house allows for focus and control, but agency offers expertise and diverse software and tools. However, a hybrid model seems to be an increasingly attractive option for bars and restaurants.
“We have an in-house team, but we also work with an agency,” says Hawkins. “By having a team in-house, it allows us to be timely with our posts and engagement while working with an agency allows us to plan more content in advance. Both have their advantages and we have found this hybrid approach to be successful.”
“The best work comes from a hyper-collaborative approach to the agency-client relationship. Many of our partners at Media.Monks cite multiple benefits for engaging a third-party agency to support and augment their internal team,” says Ho. “The ability to leverage a team of subject-matter experts who have extensive training and access to all the tools and teams needed isn’t always available internally on the client side. On the other hand, there are certain limitations especially when it comes to data, as privacy laws require clients to keep any personally identifiable information (PII) confidential.”
While there are plenty of other Instagram marketing strategies that can be implemented, trends are always changing, so it’s important for bars and restaurants to stay ahead of those trends to ensure the platform is being used to its fullest extent.
By Nicole Di Tomasso